Inductee number 10 and my second in the country genre is Johnny Cash. He was born February 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Arkansas, and died September 12, 2003, at age 71 just four months after the death of his wife, June Carter Cash. His mother wanted to name him John and his daddy wanted Ray so at birth they named him J. R. Cash.
When he enlisted in the Air Force he changed his name to John R. Cash and when he signed with Sun Records he started using Johnny Cash. He grew up working in the cotton fields of Dyess, Arkansas and saw his family struggle through the great depression. His early memories were of gospel music and was taught guitar by his mother and a childhood friend. He began playing and writing songs at 12 years old and had a high-tenor voice, before becoming a bass-baritone after his voice changed.
Cash enlisted in the Air Force on July 7, 1950, and worked as a Morse Code operator intercepting Soviet Army transmissions. He was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant o July 3, 1954. The distinctive scar, on the right side of his jaw, was caused by surgery on a cyst while in the military. On his return, he married his girlfriend, Italian American, Vivian Dorraine Liberto.
They had four daughters together. Their first daughter was Rosanne Cash, born May 24, 1955, is a singer-songwriter and author. Cash often escaped to Lake Casitas, where he explored his love of fishing, booze, and drugs — a combination that made him a fixture for the local police.
Most notably, Cash set off a forest fire in the area during one of his drunken stupors, which led to a hefty fine of $82,000. After Johnny Cash’s drug arrest in 1965, a newspaper printed a photo of him with Vivian Liberto. It caused an uproar among fans because readers thought Liberto was African American instead of Italian American. Lunacy over the presumed interracial couple triggered canceled concerts and protests in the South. More frightening were the death threats Cash and Liberto received from the Ku Klux Klan. Cash was having an affair with June Carter and Liberto divorced him in 1967. Back in 1954, John would play music with The Tennessee Two, Luther Perkins, and Marshall Grant who would become members of Cash’s backing band. He met Sam Phillips, Sun Records, and eventually won over the producer.
His first recording “Cry! Cry! Cry!”/”Hey Porter” met with success on the country hit parade and reached number 14 on the Billboard Country charts. On December 4, 1956, Elvis Presley dropped in on Phillips while Carl Perkins was in the studio cutting new tracks, with Jerry Lee Lewis backing him on piano.
Cash was also in the studio, and the four started an impromptu jam session. These recordings have since been released under the title Million Dollar Quartet. In Cash: the Autobiography, Cash wrote that he was the farthest from the microphone and sang in a higher pitch to blend in with Elvis.
The next single, “So Doggone Lonesome”/ “Folsom Prison Blues” made Billboard country number 4 followed the next year, 1956 with the number ones, “I Walk the Line”/ “Get Rhythm” and “There You Go”/ “Train of Love”. Johnny became the first Sun artist to release a long-playing album.
Feeling constrained and underpaid Cash signed a lucrative deal with Columbia Records in 1958. “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town”/”I Still Miss Someone” was his first Colombia single to make number 1. This year Cash would have releases on Sun and Columbia out at the same time. During this time period, he was given the nickname “The Undertaker” due to the fact that he wore black clothes all the time.
In the early sixties, Cash started touring with the Carter Family which by this time regularly included Mother Maybelle’s daughters, Anita, June, and Helen. Johnny’s career was handled by Saul Holiff, a London, Ontario, promoter.
In the sixties, he started drinking heavily and became addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates. Friends joked about his “nervousness” and erratic behavior, many ignoring the warning signs of his worsening drug addiction. Cash’s rendition of “Ring of Fire”/”I’d Still Be There”, during this period, was a number 1 country hit and his highest, so far pop hit at number 17.
He stayed in trouble starting another fire , being arrested several times but never serving a prison sentence. While on tour that year, he was arrested on October 4 in El Paso, Texas, by a narcotics squad. The officers suspected he was smuggling heroin from Mexico but found instead 688 Dexedrine capsules (amphetamines) and 475 Equanil (sedatives or tranquilizers) tablets that the singer had hidden inside his guitar case. Because the pills were prescription drugs rather than illegal narcotics, he received a suspended sentence.
Cash posted a $1,500 bond and then was released until his arraignment. He would certainly have earned his “Outlaw” persona. June, Maybelle, and Ezra Carter moved into Cash’s mansion for a month to help him get off drugs. Cash proposed onstage to June on February 22, 1968, at a concert at the London Gardens in London, Ontario, Canada.
The couple married a week later (on March 1) in Franklin, Kentucky. She had agreed to marry Cash after he had “cleaned up.” He also liked performing at prisons which spawned two of his albums, “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” (1968) and “Johnny Cash at San Quentin” (1969). These both were number ones on the Country charts and the latter was also number one on the Billboard 200 Album Chart. His release of “Folsom Prison Blues (Live)” was also Country number one. Also in 1968, he released the number one, “Daddy Sang Bass”. 1969 saw the single, from the San Quentin album, “A Boy Named Sue (Live)”. This release made it to number one Country and number 2 on the Billboard Pop Chart. In 1969, Cash became an international hit when he eclipsed even The Beatles by selling 6.5 million albums.
From June 1969 to March 1971, Cash starred in his own television show, The Johnny Cash Show, on the ABC network. My family never missed one of the 58 episodes. Johnny, Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers, and The Tenessee Three appeared in every episode with June Carter Cash only absent for one.
His influence spread over many generations of different people. I loved him as a singer and writer.Mick Jagger – The Rolling Stones
The TV show was a who’s who of country artists with the likes of Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins, Chet Atkins, Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell, Lynn Anderson, Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams Jr., Sonny James, Roger Miller, Jeannie C. Riley, Tex Ritter, Roy Acuff, Merle Travis, Bill Monroe,
Not only has the world lost a legend, but we in country music have lost one of our family. I know both Johnny and June will always be looking down and watching over us all. The stars in heaven are just a little bit brighter.Loretta Lynn
Floyd Cramer, Hank Snow, Kris Kristofferson, Buck Owens, Bill Anderson, Jerry Reed, Tom T. Hall, Waylon Jennings, Mac Davis, Anne Murray, George Jones, Bobbie Gentry, Ferlin Husky, Faron Young, Ray Price, Kitty Wells, and The Oak Ridge Boys to name a few.
He didn’t stop there, having many folk, pop, and rock guests also. Linda Ronstadt, Gordon Lightfoot, Cass Elliott, Joni, Mitchell, Jackie DeShannon, Melanie, Burl Ives, Burl Ives, Brenda Lee, Arlo Guthrie, The Everly Brothers, B.J. Thomas, Bob Dylan, Lulu, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Cowsills,
I’m just shocked and saddened and still finding myself stunned by the news of his passing. But am eternally grateful for ever having had the opportunity to know him and to share a friendship with him. I will be forever honored that John allowed me the privilege of his companyDwight Yoakum
The Monkees, Mason Williams, Liza Minnelli, Ricky Nelson, Peggy Lee, Bobby Sherman, Stevie Wonder, Mac Davis, The Guess Who, Bing Crosby, Eric Clapton, Jim Nabors, James Taylor, The Carpenters, Derek & The Dominos, and Neil Diamond to name a few of them.
By the early 1970s, Cash had established his public image as “The Man in Black”. He regularly performed in entirely black suits with a long, black, knee-length coat. This outfit stood in contrast to the rhinestone suits and cowboy boots worn by most of the major country acts of his day. He released 67 studio albums and 16 Live albums over his years.
This sounds like just a record plug and it’s not… People were always asking my why I wore black. I’ve worn black basically ever since I’ve been in the music business. But I never did really answer the reporters when they asked that question.Johnny Cash
Besides music he also did some acting, in one of my favorite Coloumbo episodes, Johnny was the killer. He also appeared in Wagon Train, The Partridge Family, Little House on the Prairie, North & South: Book 1, North & South, The Magical World of Disney, Renegade, The Simpsons, and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman to name a few.
He continued to record into the 2000s even covering “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode and “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails commented that he was initially skeptical about Cash’s plan to cover “Hurt”, but was later impressed and moved by the rendition. The video for “Hurt” received critical and popular acclaim, including a Grammy Award.
The highlight of my musical career. When [Johnny] sings a song, you listen to what he has to say. And he draws from his own experience to make that song believable and get people to understand it.Chris Cornell – Soundgarden and Audioslave
Johnny Cash wrote over 1000 songs and in 1999, received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2015, a new species of black tarantula was identified near Folsom Prison and named Aphonopelma johnnycashi in his honor. Besides Doyle’s Space Music Hall of Fame he is also in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1977), the Country Music Hall of Fame (1980), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1992), GMA’s Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2010). and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame (2013).
- The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression between 1929 and 1939 that began after a major fall in stock prices in the United States. The economic contagion began around September 4, 1929, and became known worldwide on Black Tuesday, the stock market crash of October 29, 1929. The economic shock transmitted across the world, impacting countries to varying degrees, with most countries experiencing the Great depression from 1929. The Great Depression was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century and is regularly used as an example of an intense global economic depression.
- In June 1965, Cash’s camper caught fire during a fishing trip with his nephew Damon Fielder in Los Padres National Forest in California, triggering a forest fire that burned several hundred acres and nearly caused his death. Cash claimed that the fire was caused by sparks from a defective exhaust system on his camper, but Fielder thinks that Cash started a fire to stay warm and in his drugged condition failed to notice the fire getting out of control. When the judge asked Cash why he did it, Cash said, “I didn’t do it, my truck did, and it’s dead, so you can’t question it.” The fire destroyed 508 acres, burned the foliage off three mountains, and drove off 49 of the refuge’s 53 endangered California condors. Cash was unrepentant and claimed, “I don’t care about your damn yellow buzzards.” The federal government sued him and was awarded $125,172. Cash eventually settled the case and paid $82,001.