Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash (born J.R. Cash, February 26, 1932 – September 12, 2003) was an influential American country and rock and roll singer and songwriter. Cash was the husband of country singer and songwriter June Carter Cash.

Cash was born J.R. Cash in Kingsland, Arkansas, the son of a poor farmer. His family soon moved into a farm in Dyess, Arkansas, which was provided at little cost by the government as part of the New Deal. Cash's father had a severe drinking problem and was physically and emotionally abusive to his family. By age five Cash was working in the cotton fields, singing along with his family as they worked. Cash was very close to his brother Jack. In 1944, a horrible incident occurred that affected Johnny Cash the rest of his life. His beloved brother Jack was killed in an accident. He was pulled into a whirring table saw in the mill where he worked and almost cut in two. He suffered for over a week before he died. Cash always talked of the horrible guilt he felt over this incident because he had gone fishing that day. On his deathbed, the young man had visions of Heaven and angels before he died. Almost sixty years later, Johnny still talked of looking forward to meeting his brother in Heaven. His early memories were dominated by gospel music and radio. He began playing guitar and writing songs as a young boy, and in high school sang on a local radio station. He was dubbed "John" upon enlisting as a radio operator in the Air Force, which refused to accept initials as his name. Thereafter, he was known as Johnny and sometimes as John R. While an airman in Germany, Cash wrote one of his most famous songs, "Folsom Prison Blues".

After his term of service ended, Cash married Vivian Liberto in 1954 and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he sold appliances while studying to be a radio announcer. At night, he played with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant (the Tennessee Two). Cash worked up the courage to visit the Sun Records studio, hoping to garner a recording contract. Sun producer Cowboy Jack Clement met with the young singer first, and suggested that Cash return to meet producer Sam Phillips. After auditioning for Phillips, singing mainly gospel tunes, Phillips told him to "go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell." Cash eventually won over Phillips and Clement with new songs delivered in his early frenetic style. His first recordings at Sun, "Hey Porter" and "Cry Cry Cry", were released in 1955 and were met with reasonable success on the country hit parade.

Cash's next record, "Folsom Prison Blues", made the country Top 5, and "I Walk the Line" was number one on the country charts, making it into the pop charts Top 20. In 1957, Johnny Cash became the first Sun artist to release a long-playing album. Though Sun's most consistently best-selling and prolific artist at that time, Cash began to feel constrained by his contract with the small label. Elvis Presley had already left the label, and Phillips was focusing most of his attention and promotion on Jerry Lee Lewis. The following year, Cash left Sun to sign a lucrative offer with Columbia Records, where his single "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" would become one of his biggest hits.

In 1955, his daughter, singer Rosanne Cash, was born. Though he would have three more daughters with his wife, their relationship began to sour, as Johnny was constantly touring. It was during one of these tours that he met June Carter, which he married in 1968. By June's account, in the liner notes to the compilation album Love (2000), the song "I Still Miss Someone" was written about her.

As his career was taking off in the early 1960s, Johnny Cash became addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates. Friends joked about his "nervousness" and erratic behavior, many ignoring the signs of his worsening drug addiction. For a brief time, Cash shared an apartment in Nashville with Waylon Jennings, who was also heavily addicted to amphetamines. Though in many ways spiraling out of control, his frenetic creativity was still delivering hits. His song "Ring of Fire" was a major crossover hit, reaching number one on the country charts and entering the Top 20 on the pop charts. The song was co-written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore and originally performed by Carter's sister, but the signature mariachi-style horn arrangement was conceived by Cash, who claimed to have heard it in a dream. The song, written about Cash, describes the personal Hell that Carter went through, as she revealed her forbidden love for Cash (as they were both married to different people at the time).

Although he carefully cultivated a romantic outlaw image, many fans are surprised to learn that he never served a prison sentence, though his wild activities and misdemeanors sometimes landed him in jail for short terms, usually only overnight. His most serious run-in with the law occurred while on tour in 1965, when he was arrested by the narcotics squad in El Paso, Texas. Though the officers suspected that he was smuggling heroin from Mexico, he was actually smuggling illegal amphetamines inside his guitar case. He only received a suspended sentence. He was also arrested the next year in Starkville, Mississippi for trespassing late at night onto private property to pick flowers. More notably, he voluntarily entered several prisons to perform a series of concerts for convicts, for whom he felt a great compassion.

The mid 1960s saw Cash release a number of concept records, including Ballads Of The True West (1965) — an experimental double record mixing authentic frontier songs with Cash's spoken narration, let down by the modern arrangements — and Bitter Tears (1964), with songs highlighting the plight of the native Americans. However, his drug addiction deepened, and his destructive behaviour led to a divorce and numerous problems performing.

For his album Bitter Tears, Cash recorded "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," a Peter LaFarge song that told the true story of a Pima Indian who was one of the Marine heroes of the epic WWII battle at Iwo Jima. Despite his heroism, Hayes returned home to crushing despair and to the racism that never disappeared: "Ira Hayes returned a hero, celebrated throughout the land / He was wined and speeched and honoured, everybody shook his hand / But He was just a Pima Indian, no water, no home, no chance / At home nobody cared what Ira had done, and when do the Indians dance?" Though "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" was a No. 3 country single, many stations refused to play it, deeming it too risky. Cash took out a full-page ad in Billboard denouncing country radio for its reluctance. " 'Ballad of Ira Hayes' is strong medicine," he wrote. "So is Rochester — Harlem — Birmingham and Vietnam."

Personal problems and calamity followed him to his new home on Old Hickory Lake in Hendersonville, Tennessee (outside of Nashville). His longtime guitarist, Luther Perkins, died in a house fire in August 1968. Less than two months later, the home of his next door neighbor and close friend, Roy Orbison, burned down, claiming the lives of two of Orbison's three young sons. Cash was profoundly affected by these incidents, and he attempted to take the first steps on the long, hard road to recovery. He locked himself in his home and underwent detox, relying heavily on his friends and his new wife, June Carter (a member of the Carter Family). The love ballad "Flesh and Blood" is one of the first of many songs Cash would write about his lifelong love for his wife.

With his wife's help, and influenced by a religious conversion experienced during a failed suicide attempt, he became a born-again Christian and began the battle against drug addiction. Over the next two years, he recorded and released two massively successful live albums, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968) and Johnny Cash at San Quentin (1969). The Folsom Prison record was charged by a blistering rendition of his classic "Folsom Prison Blues", while the San Quentin record included the crossover hit single "A Boy Named Sue", a Shel Silverstein-penned song that reached number one on the country charts and number two on the US Top Ten pop charts. Shortly after his historic concert at Madison Square Garden in the last days of the 1960s, his son John Carter Cash was born.

From 1969 to 1971, he starred in his own television show on the ABC network. Notable rock artists appeared on his show, including Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Cash had been an early supporter of Dylan even before they had met, but they became friends while they were neighbors in late 1960s Woodstock, New York. Cash was enthusiastic about reintroducing the reclusive Dylan to his audience. In addition to the appearance on his TV show, Cash sang a duet with Dylan on his country album Nashville Skyline, and also wrote the album's Grammy-winning liner notes. Another artist who received a major career boost from The Johnny Cash Show was songwriter Kris Kristofferson. During a live performance of Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down", Cash made headlines when he refused to change the lyrics to suit network executives, singing the song with its controversial references to marijuana intact: "On the Sunday morning sidewalks / Wishin', Lord, that I was stoned".

Immensely popular, and an imposing tall figure, by the early 1970s he had crystallized his public image. He regularly performed dressed all in black, wearing a long black knee-length coat, causing him to be dubbed "The Man in Black". This outfit stood in stark contrast to the costumes worn by most of the major country acts in his day – rhinestone Nudie suits and cowboy boots. In 1971, Johnny wrote the song "Man in Black" to help explain his dress code: "I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, / Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town, / I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, / But is there because he's a victim of the times."

In the mid-'70s, Cash's popularity and hit songs began to decline, but his autobiography, titled Man in Black, was published in 1975 and sold 1.3 million copies. (A second, "Cash: The Autobiography", appeared in 1998). His friendship with Billy Graham led to the production of a movie about the life of Jesus, The Gospel Road, which Cash co-wrote and narrated. The decade saw his religious conviction deepening, and in addition to his regular touring schedule, he made many public appearances in an evangelical capacity. He also continued appearing on television, hosting an annual Christmas special on CBS throughout the 1970s. He did a voice cameo on The Simpsons in the show's eighth season, playing the voice of a coyote that guides Homer on a spiritual quest.

In 1980, Cash became the Country Music Hall of Fame's youngest living inductee at age 48, but during the 1980s his records failed to make a major impact on the country charts, though he continued to tour successfully. In the mid-1980s he recorded and toured with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson as The Highwaymen, making two hit albums.

It was also in this time period that Johnny Cash appeared as an actor in a number of television films. In 1981, he starred in The Pride Of Jesse Hallam. Cash won fine reviews for his work in this film that called attention to adult illiteracy. In 1983, Cash also appeared as a heroic sheriff in Murder In Coweta County. This film was based on a real life Georgia murder case and Cash had tried for years to make the film that also won acclaim.

Cash relapsed into addiction in the early 1980s, after a stomach injury caused him to begin abusing painkillers. During his recovery at the Betty Ford Clinic in 1986, he met and befriended Ozzy Osbourne, one of his son's favorite singers. At another hospital visit in 1988, this time to watch over Waylon Jennings (who was recovering from a heart attack), Jennings suggested that Cash have himself checked in to the hospital for his own heart condition. Doctors recommended preventative heart surgery for Cash, and he underwent double bypass surgery in the same hospital. Both recovered, though Cash refused to use any prescription painkillers, fearing a relapse into dependency. Cash later claimed that during his operation, he had what is called a "near death experience". He said he had visions of Heaven that were so beautiful that he was angry when he woke up alive.

As his relationship with record companies and the Nashville establishment soured, he occasionally lapsed into self-parody, notably on "Chicken In Black". After being dropped from his recording contract with Columbia Records, he had a short and unsuccessful stint with Mercury Records.

In 1986 Cash published his only novel, Man in White, a book about Saul and his conversion in becoming the Apostle Paul. That same year, he returned to Sun Studios in Memphis to team up with Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins to create the album, Class of '55.

His career was rejuvenated in the 1990s. Though unwanted by major labels, he was approached by producer Rick Rubin and offered a contract with Rubin's American Recordings label, better known for rap and hard rock than for country music. Under Rubin's supervision, he recorded the album American Recordings (1994) in his living room, accompanied only by his guitar. The video for the first single, the traditional song "Delia's Gone", was put into rotation on MTV, including a spot on Beavis and Butt-head. The album was well received by critics, while his versions of songs by more modern artists such as heavy metal band Danzig and Tom Waits helped to bring him a new audience. Cash wrote that his reception at the 1994 Glastonbury Festival was one of the highlights of his career. This was the beginning of a decade of music industry accolades and surprising commercial success. In addition to this, Cash and his wife appeared on a number of episodes of the popular television series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman starring Jane Seymour. The actress thought so highly of Cash that she later named one of her twin sons after him and another after Christopher Reeve.

For his second album with Rubin, 1996's Unchained, Cash enlisted the accompaniment of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. In addition to many of Cash's own compositions, Unchained contained songs by Soundgarden ("Rusty Cage") and Beck ("Rowboat"), as well as a guest appearance from Flea, bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Despite being virtually ignored by country music radio and the Nashville establishment, Unchained received a Grammy for "Best Country Album". Cash and Rubin bought a full-page ad in Billboard magazine sarcastically thanking the country music industry for its continued support, accompanied by a picture of Cash displaying his middle finger.

In 1997 Cash was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease Shy-Drager syndrome — a diagnosis that was later altered to autonomic neuropathy, associated with diabetes — and his illness forced him to curtail his touring; he was hospitalised in 1998 with severe pneumonia, which damaged his lungs. The album American III: Solitary Man (2000) contained his response to the illness, typified by a version of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down", as well as a powerful reading of U2's "One".

Cash released American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002), consisting partly of original material and partly of covers, some quite surprising. The video for "Hurt", a song written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, was nominated in seven categories at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards and won the award for Best Cinematography. It also won a Grammy for Best Short Form Video at the 2004 Grammy Awards.

His wife, June Carter Cash, died due to complications following heart valve surgery on May 15, 2003 at the age of 73.

Less than four months after his wife's death, Johnny Cash died at the age of 71 due to complications from diabetes, which resulted in respiratory failure, while hospitalized at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. He was interred next to his wife in Hendersonville Memory Gardens near his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Johnny Cash discography

1957 - Johnny Cash and His Hot and Blue Guitar

1958 - Johnny Cash Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous

1959 - The Fabulous Johnny Cash

1959 - Hymns by Johnny Cash

1959 - Songs of Our Soil

1959 - Greatest Johnny Cash

1960 - Johnny Cash Sings Hank Williams

1960 - Ride This Train

1960 - Now There Was A Song

1961 - Now, Here's Johnny Cash

1962 - Hymns from the Heart

1962 - The Sound of Johnny Cash

1962 - All Aboard the Blue Train

1963 - Blood, Sweat and Tears

1963 - Ring of Fire

1963 - The Christmas Spirit

1964 - Keep on the Sunny Side

1964 - I Walk the Line

1964 - The Original Sun Sound of Johnny Cash

1964 - Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian

1965 - Orange Blossom Special

1965 - Ballads of the True West

1965 - Mean as Hell

1966 - Everybody Loves a Nut

1966 - Happiness is You

1967 - Johnny Cash & June Carter: Jackson

1967 - Johnny Cash's Greatest Hits

1967 - Carryin' on with Cash and Carter

1968 - From Sea to Shining Sea

1968 - At Folsom Prison

1968 - The Holy Land

1969 - At San Quentin

1969 - Johnny Cash

1969 - Original Golden Hits, Volume I

1969 - Original Golden Hits, Volume II

1969 - Story Songs of the Trains and Rivers

1969 - Got Rhythm

1970 - Johnny Cash Sings Folsom Prison Blues

1970 - The Blue Train

1970 - Johnny Cash Sings the Greatest Hits

1970 - Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash: Jackson

1970 - Johnny Cash: The Legend

1970 - The Walls of a Prison

1970 - Sunday Down South

1970 - Showtime

1970 - Hello, I'm Johnny Cash

1970 - The Singing Storyteller

1970 - The World of Johnny Cash

1970 - Johnny Cash Sings I Walk the Line

1970 - The Rough Cut King of Country Music

1970 - The Johnny Cash Show

1970 - I Walk the Line - Movie Soundtrack

1970 - Little Fauss and Big Halsy - Movie Soundtrack

1971 - Man in Black

1971 - Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis Sing Hank Williams

1971 - Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music

1971 - The Johnny Cash Collection: Greatest Hits Volume II

1971 - Understand Your Man

1971 - Original Golden Hits, Volume III

1972 - A Thing Called Love

1972 - Give My Love to Rose

1972 - America

1972 - The Johnny Cash Songbook

1972 - Christmas: The Johnny Cash Family

1973 - The Gospel Road

1973 - Any Old Wind That Blows

1973 - Now, There Was a Song

1973 - The Fabulous Johnny Cash

1973 - Johnny Cash and His Woman

1973 - Sunday Morning Coming Down

1973 - Ballads of the American Indian

1974 - Ragged Old Flag

1974 - Five Feet High and Rising

1974 - The Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me

1975 - Johnny Cash Sings Precious Memories

1975 - The Children's Album

1975 - John R. Cash

1975 - Johnny Cash at Osteraker Pirsion

1975 - Look at Them Beans

1975 - Strawberry Cake

1976 - One Piece at a Time

1976 - Destination Victoria Station

1977 - The Last Gunfighter Ballad

1977 - The Rambler

1978 - I Would Like to See You Again

1978 - Greatest Hits, Volume III

1978 - Gone Girl

1979 - Johnny Cash - Silver

1979 - A Believer Sings the Truth

1980 - Rockabilly Blues

1980 - Classic Christmas

1981 - The Baron

1981 - Encore

1982 - The Survivors

1982 - A Believer Sings the Truth, Volume I

1982 - The Adventures of Johnny Cash

1983 - Johnny Cash - Biggest Hits

1983 - Johnny 99

1983 - Songs of Love and Life

1984 - I Believe

1985 - Highwayman

1986 - Rainbow

1986 - Class of '55: Cash, Perkins, Orbison & Lewis

1986 - Heroes: Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings

1986 - Believe in Him

1987 - Johnny Cash: Columbia Records 1958-1986

1987 - Johnny Cash is Coming to Town

1988 - Classic Cash

1988 - Water From the Wells of Home

1990 - Johnny Cash: Patriot

1990 - Boom Chicka Boom

1990 - Johnny Cash: The Man in Black 1954-1958

1991 - The Mystery of Life

1991 - Johnny Cash: The Man in Black 1959-1962

1991 - Come Along and Ride this Train

1992 - The Essential Johnny Cash

1994 - American Recordings

1995 - Highwaymen: The Road Goes on Forever

1996 - Unchained

1996 - Johnny Cash: The Hits

1998 - VH1 Storytellers: Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson

1998 - Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison and San Quentin

1998 - Johnny Cash: Crazy Country

1998 - Johnny Cash: Timeless Inspiration

1998 - Johnny 99

1999 - Johnny Cash: Super Hits

1999 - Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins: I Walk the Line/Little Fauss and Big Halsy

1999 - Just as I am

1999 - Rickabilly Blues

1999 - Cash on Delivery: A Tribute

1999 - The Legendary Johnny Cash

1999 - Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash: It's All in the Family

1999 - Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

1999 - Sixteen Biggest Hits

2000 - Return to The Promised Land

2000 - Love, God and Murder

2000 - At San Quentin

2000 - Super Hits

2000 - American III: Solitary Man

2001 - Sixteen Biggest Hits: Volume II

2002 - American IV: The Man Comes Around

2003 - Unearthed [Box Set]

2004 - My Mother's Hymn Book

2005 - The Legend Of Johnny Cash

2005 - The Legend [Box Set]

2005 - The Road Goes On Forever: 10th Anniversary Edition