Johnny Cash Biography
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 known for his deep and distinctive voice, the boom-chick-a-boom or "freight train" sound of his Tennessee Three backing band, and his dark clothing and demeanor, which earned him the nickname "The Man in Black." He started all his concerts with the simple introduction "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."
Much of Cash's music, especially that of his later career, echoed themes of sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption. His signature songs include "I Walk the Line", "Folsom Prison Blues", "Ring of Fire", and "The Man in Black". He also recorded several humorous songs, such as "One Piece at a Time", "The One on the Right Is on the Left", and "A Boy Named Sue"; rock-and-roll numbers such as "Get Rhythm"; and various train-related songs, such as "The Rock Island Line".
He sold over 50 million albums in his nearly 50 year career and is generally recognized as one of the most important musicians in the history of American popular music.
As his career was taking off in the early 1960s, Cash began drinking heavily and became addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates. For a brief time, Cash shared an apartment in Nashville with Waylon Jennings, himself heavily addicted to amphetamines. Cash used the uppers to stay awake during tours. Friends joked about his "nervousness" and erratic behavior, many ignoring the signs of his worsening drug addiction.
Although 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 No. 1 on the country charts and entering the Top 20 on the pop charts. The song was written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore and originally performed by Carter's sister, but the signature mariachi-style horn arrangement was provided by Cash, who says it came to him in a dream. The song describes the personal hell Carter went through as she wrestled with her forbidden love for Cash (they were both married to other people at the time) and as she dealt with Cash's personal "ring of fire" (drug dependency and alcoholism).
Cash sometimes spoke of his erratic, drug-induced behavior with some degree of bemused detachment. In one incident, his truck caught fire, triggering a forest fire that burnt down half of a national forest. When the judge asked Cash why he did it, Cash said in his then-flippant style, "I didn't do it, my truck did, and it's dead so you can't question it."
While an airman in West Germany, Cash saw the B-movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951), which inspired him to write an early draft of one of his most famous songs, "Folsom Prison Blues".
Cash felt great compassion for prisoners. He began performing concerts at various prisons starting in the late 1950s. These performances led to a pair of highly successful live albums, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968) and Johnny Cash at San Quentin (1969).
The Folsom Prison record was introduced by a powerful 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 novelty song that reached No. 1 on the country charts and No. 2 on the US Top Ten pop charts. The AM versions of the latter contained a couple of profanities which were blipped out in that more-sensitive era. The modern CD versions are unedited and uncensored, and thus also longer than the original vinyl albums, giving a good flavor of what the concerts were like, with their highly receptive audiences of convicts.
Apart from his performances at Folsom Prison and San Quentin, and various other U.S. correctional facilities, Cash also performed at Österåkeranstalten (The Österåker Prison) north of Stockholm, Sweden in 1972. The recording was released in 1973. Between the songs Cash can be heard speaking Swedish which was greatly appreciated by the inmates.
After he quit using drugs in the early 1970s, Cash rediscovered his Christian faith, taking an "altar call" in Evangel Temple, a small church in the Nashville area. Cash chose this church over many other larger, celebrity churches in the Nashville area because he said he was just another man there, and not a celebrity.
After Columbia Records dropped Cash from his recording contract, he had a short and unsuccessful stint with Mercury Records from 1987 to 1991 (see Johnny Cash discography).
His career was rejuvenated in the 1990s, leading to unexpected popularity and iconic status among a younger audience not traditionally interested in country music, such as aficionados of indie rock and even hip-hop. In 1993, he sang the vocal on U2's "The Wanderer" for their album Zooropa. Although he was no longer sought after by major labels, Cash 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 album featured several covers of contemporary artists, and saw much critical and commercial success. 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. 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. He did a cameo in an episode of The Simpsons, playing the voice of a coyote that guides Homer on a spiritual quest. In 1996, Cash released a sequel, Unchained, and enlisted the accompaniment of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which won a Grammy for Best Country Album. In 1997, Cash believing he did not explain enough of himself in his 1975 autobiography Man in Black wrote another autobiography entitled Cash: The Autobiography.
In 1997, Cash was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease Shy-Drager syndrome, a diagnosis that was later altered to autonomic neuropathy associated with diabetes. His illness forced Cash to curtail his touring. He was hospitalized in 1998 with severe pneumonia, which damaged his lungs. The albums American III: Solitary Man (2000) and American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002) contained Cash's response to his illness in the form of songs of a slightly more somber tone than the first two American albums. The video for "Hurt", a cover of the Nine Inch Nails song, and generally recognized as 'his epitaph' , from American IV received particular critical and popular acclaim.
June Carter Cash died of complications following heart valve replacement surgery on May 15, 2003 at the age of 73. June had told Cash to keep working, so he continued to record, and even performed a couple of surprise shows at the Carter Family Fold outside Bristol, Virginia. (The July 5, 2003 concert was his final public appearance). At the June 21, 2003 concert, before singing "Ring of Fire", Cash read a statement about his late wife that he had written shortly before taking the stage. He spoke of how June's spirit was watching over him and how she had come to visit him before going on stage. He barely made it through the song. Despite his health issues, he talked of looking forward to the day when he could walk again and toss his wheelchair into the lake near his home.
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.
On May 24, 2005, Rosanne Cash's birthday, Vivian, his first wife and mother to Rosanne, died from surgery to remove a lung.
In June of 2005, his lakeside home on Caudill Drive in Hendersonville, Tennessee, went up for sale by the Cash estate. In January 2006, the house was sold to a corporation owned by Bee Gees vocalist Barry Gibb for $2.5 million. The listing agent was Cash's younger brother Tommy.
One of Johnny Cash's final collaborations with producer Rick Rubin, entitled American V: A Hundred Highways, was released posthumously on July 4, 2006. The album debuted in the #1 position on Billboard Magazine's Top 200 album chart the week ending July 22, 2006. The vocal parts of the track were recorded before Cash's death, but the instruments were not recorded until about 2005. American VI is expected to be released in late 2006.
Cash received multiple Country Music Awards, Grammys, and other awards, in categories ranging from vocal and spoken performances to album notes and videos. For detailed lists of music awards, see Johnny Cash discography
In a career that spanned almost five decades, Cash was the personification of country music to many people around the world, despite his distaste for the Nashville mainstream. Cash was a musician who was not tied to a single genre. He recorded songs that could be considered rock and roll, blues, rockabilly, folk and gospel, and exerted an influence on each of those genres. Moreover, he had the unique distinction among country artists of having "crossed over" late in his career to become popular with an unexpected demographic, young indie and alternative rock fans. His diversity was evidenced by his presence in three major music halls of fame: the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1977), the Country Music Hall of Fame (1980), and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1992). Only ten performers are in both of the last two, and only Hank Williams Sr. and Jimmie Rodgers share the honor with Cash of being in all three. His pioneering contribution to the genre has also been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1996.
Cash stated that his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980 was his greatest professional achievement.
Cash was the father of musicians Rosanne Cash and John Carter Cash, and stepfather to Carlene Carter. See Johnny Cash family