The Great Johnny Cash

A evocative tribute to the Man in Black. The video explains itself.  “The Johnny Cash Project” was one of the sweet surprises at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival

Biography for Johnny Cash

Date of Birth
26 February 1932, Kingsland, Arkansas, USA

Date of Death
12 September 2003, Nashville, Tennessee, USA (complications from diabetes)

Birth Name
 J. R. Cash

 Man In Black

 6' 2" (1.88 m)

Johnny Cash was born February 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Arkansas. He made his first single, "Hey Porter", for Sun Records in 1955. In 1958 he moved to Columbia Records. He had long periods of drug abuse during the 1960s, but later that decade he successfully fought his addiction with the help of singer June Carter Cash, whom he married in 1968. In 1971 he appeared in the western A Gunfight (1971) with Kirk Douglas. Cash made a few films but quite a few appearances on television, both in series and made-for-TV films, and was especially effective as a rural Southern sheriff in the 1930s determined to bring to justice a wealthy landowner who committed murder because he believed he was above the law, in Murder in Coweta County (1983) (TV), a drama based on a true story. In 1975 Cash wrote his autobiography, "Man In Black", which is now out of print. In the late 1980s he moved from Columbia Records to Mercury, then in the next decade moved again to American Recordings.

Amonst his biggest hit records was "I Walk the Line", "Ring of Fire" and "A Boy Named Sue".

After several years of ill health, he died of complications from diabetes on 12 September 2003, only a few months after the death of his beloved wife.

Spouse June Carter Cash (1 March 1968 - 15 May 2003) (her death) 1 child
Vivian Liberto (7 August 1954 - August 1966) (divorced) 4 childrenJohnny Cash

Trade Mark
All black clothing
Baritone voice
Always introduced himself with the words "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash"
Many of his songs are about outlaws or tough men who have had hard lives
His songs often had an underlying social meaning, and he expressed his disgust at injustice
His tough "outlaw" image and his defiant attitude
The "Boom-Chicka-Boom" sound of his backup band
Would often start his concerts with his signature "Folsom Prison Blues"


November 1997: Treated for pneumonia.

Father, with Vivian Liberto, of Rosanne Cash, Tara Cash, Cindy Cash and Kathy Cash.

Is the only person besides Hank Williams to have been inducted into the Songwriters, Country Music, and Rock And Roll Halls of Fame.

Brother of country singer Tommy Cash, Reba Hancock and Joanne Cash Yates.

Once had his truck catch on fire and burn down half of a national forest, when the judge asked him why he did it, he said, "I didn't do it, my truck did, and it's dead."

In the years shortly before his death, he recorded songs by other contemporary artists, including cover versions of U2's "One", Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus", Richard Thompson's "Tear Stained Letter", Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water", Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down", Loudon Wainwright III's "The Man Who Couldn't Cry", Ewan MacColl's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and the song "Thirteen" written especially for him by gothic rocker Glenn Danzig.

Recorded entire albums live in Folsom and San Quentin Prisons, in front of highly receptive audiences of convicts.

His album "Bitter Tears" contains original songs told from the viewpoint of Native Americans.

He chose songs for a running series of compilations of songs that comprised the main themes of his work. The first three compilations are titled "Love", mostly songs he wrote for June Carter Cash, "God", a series of gospels and "Murder", perhaps his favorite subject, but one whose title he encouraged people "not to go out and do". Released slightly later was "Life", mostly songs about hard work and economic struggling.

He suffered from a fear of flying and snakes.

Father, with June Carter Cash, of John Carter Cash.

His album, "The Man Comes Around", features his rendition of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt". NIN's frontman Trent Reznor admitted that at first he was angry about the cover, as he wrote it from a deeply personal point of view. However, when he heard the song and saw the video for the first time, he was deeply moved and found Cash's cover beautiful and meaningful.

The son of poor cotton farmers, whose economic and personal struggles during the Depression (when Johnny was growing up) shaped him as a person and inspired many of his songs.

Son-in-law of Mother Maybelle Carter.

The scar to the right of his mouth was the result of a botched attempt to remove a cyst while he was serving in the Air Force in Germany.

Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Johnny are the only three musicians to have been inducted both to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame

The US Air Force would not accept "J.R." as a given name when he enlisted, so he became John R. Cash. He signed for Sun Records in 1955 (a year after his discharge) and had his name changed again ... to Johnny Cash

He was addicted to speed (usually with alcohol or morphine as a chaser) through much of his 20s until 1967, when June Carter Cash and numerous members of his friends and family staged an arduous but successful intervention. It is thought that Cash had an addiction personality which he may have inherited from his genes, as many members of his family were addicts to various vices.
Johnny Cash 10 Years Old
His songwriting went from a brief process to a very long one as he aged and his health declined. He wrote the song "Big River" while on a short boat-ride across the Hudson River in the 1950s, while he spent weeks crafting "The Man Comes Around," one of the last songs he wrote.

Brother of Reba Hancock and Joanne Cash Yates.

Ex-brother-in-law of Ray Liberto.

His size varied considerably over time. Standing 6' 2", he weighed about 200 pounds as a young man, but then his weight plummeted to an unhealthy 140 pounds when his drug addiction was at its peak in the mid-1960s. His weight increased when he kicked his habits, and he eventually became overweight, weighing about 250 pounds by his 50s.

He went through much of the 1970s on a sanctimonious cloud, having associated himself with evangelists, turned his shows into gospel performances where he encouraged people to accept Jesus Christ and condemned blatant sexuality and violence in culture. Cash said in the 1990s that, although his faith remained as strong as ever and many of his songs expressed this, his attitudes had changes and he found his 1970s overzealousness distasteful, having learned to respect that people should have their own beliefs.

He had long since kicked his drug habit when, in a bizarre series of events in the early 1980s, he was attacked by a male ostrich he had been keeping on his farm after he had threatened the huge bird. He was put onto painkillers to survive the critical injuries and quickly became addicted. He checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic, successfully quit them and made friends with Ozzy Osbourne during his stay.

He was often at odds with his producers after he had discovered with his first producer (Sam Phillips) that his voice was better suited to a stripped-down musical style. Most famously he disagreed with Jack Clement over his sound, Clement having tried to give Cash's songs a "twangy" feel and to add strings and barbershop-quartet-style singers. His successful collaboration with Rick Rubin was in part due to Rubin seeking a minimalist sound for his songs.

He was friends with every U.S. President starting with Richard Nixon. He was least close with the last two, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, because of a personal distrust for both men and because of his declining health. He was probably closest with Jimmy Carter, who was actually a very close friend and distant relation of his wife, June Carter Cash. None of these friendships were about politics, as he never particularly supported any administration but was just friendly with the men.

Backed by the "Tennessee Two": Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins. Later named: The Tennessee Three, with W.S. Holland (drums) added. After Perkins' death, he was replaced by Bob Wootton.

He had assumed in his younger days that he was mainly Irish and preferred to think he was at least partially Native-American. However, upon researching his ancestry, he found he was of completely Scottish heritage. As a matter of fact, he found records of direct ancestors in Scotland who shared the name "Cash" dating back to the 16th century.

Although he could bear it, he disliked being defined as a "country" artist, feeling that his music wasn't really genre-defined and noting that he often stood well outside of the Nashville mainstream (particularly towards the end of his career). Technically, his music contains elements of rock 'n' roll, folk music, bluegrass, blues and gospel as well as country-style music.

Cash and "American Recordings" posted a "thank you" to the Nashville country music industry in Billboard Magazine after winning the Grammy for best country record for "Unchained" in the form of the infamous photo of Johnny angrily giving the middle finger to the camera taken back in 1969 during his San Quentin prison performance. Cash did this because he was enraged by Nashville having pretty much left behind him and other aging "country" artists who had defined the genre to make room for the more pop-oriented new country artists, like Garth Brooks.

After the 1950s, when he wrote almost all of the songs he performed, he performed many covers. On the average album, he was the writer of about a third of the songs.

Is mentioned in the Danish band Nephew's single "Superliga".

His older brother (the sibling Johnny was closest to as a child) died in a horrible accident involving a buzz saw when Johnny was young, and it was never clear whether it was accidental, suicide, or even murder. Wracked with guilt, Johnny, by most accounts, never got over the death (it was a little-known, personal obsession of his to investigate the incident) and it is widely thought that his dark world view was shaped by it.

Was often the subject of humorous sketches on "Saturday Night Live" (1975). He was usually portrayed by the late Phil Hartman and, later, has been occasionally played by Darrell Hammond. Coincidentally, both funnymen were best known for playing another famous Arkansas native, Bill Clinton.

Member of the Highwaymen, with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. The foursome had recorded several albums together in the 1980s & 1990s.

He was voted the 31st Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Artist of all time by Rolling Stone.

When invited to perform at the White House for the first time in 1972, President Richard Nixon's office requested that he play "Okie from Muskogee" (a Merle Haggard song that negatively portrays youthful drug users and war protesters) and "Welfare Cadillac" (a Guy Drake song that derides the integrity of welfare recipients). It was reported that Cash refused to play either song because he apparently found both songs morally reprehensible. However he refused to play either song because he did not have enough time to learn the songs with the band before the performance. He ended up playing a series of his own more left-leaning,politically-charged songs, including "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" (about a brave Native- American World War II veteran who was racially mistreated upon his return to Arizona) and "Man in Black" (which contains angry, anti-war lyrics, which Cash almost certainly wrote about the Vietnam War).

During his early shows the "Tennessee Two", he would frequently make mocking introductions of his bandmates. He would introduce laconic guitarist Luther Perkins, who was secretly terrified of performing in public, and add either that he was in "rigor mortis" or that his pulse had been checked beforehand to make sure he was still alive. Then he would introduce bassist Marshall Grant, who would usually hop around and dance with great energy as he chewed gum at shows, as "playing the chewing gum."

Cash's career was at an all-time low in the 1980s and he realised his record label of nearly 30 years, Columbia, was growing indifferent to him and wasn't properly marketing him, so to kill the relationship with the label before they did, Cash recorded "Chicken in Black". An intentionally awful song about Johnny's brain being transplanted to a chicken, it ironically turned out to be a larger commercial success than any of his other recent material. However, it wasn't long after "Chicken in Black" that Columbia and Cash parted ways.

He was given the name "J.R." because his parents Ray Cash and Carrie Cash couldn't agree on a name, only on initials. He adopted "John R. Cash" when he joined the Air Force, which did not accept initials.The Great Johhny Cash

In his song "Man in Black" he explained that he wore predominately black clothing to honour and remind others of the suffering of the world's poor and oppressed.

Was ranked #1 of the 40 greatest men in country music.

The video for "Hurt", from the album "The Man Comes Around" was voted greatest music video ever made accoridng to a panel assembled by the UK newspaper "The Guardian".

In the 1970s he tried to help his close friend, legendary Nashville guitarist Hank Garland, restart his career by bringing him into the studio to record.

Stated in an interview with Larry King that his favorite country singer is Dwight Yoakam.

The band Coldplay were supposed to record a song titled "Til Kingdom Comes" with him for their album "X&Y", but Cash died before that. They added the song as a hidden track and dedicated it to Cash. In their current "Twisted Logic Tour" they are playing this song in all the venues in addition to playing a cover of Johnny Cash's famous song "Ring of Fire". On the two nights(6 & 7 September 2005) at Madison Square Garden, New York they also dedicated the song "Til Kingdom Comes" to the victims of hurricane Katrina.

Kingsland, AR (pop. 477), is also the birthplace of Paul "Bear" Bryant, one of the greatest football coaches of all time (University of Alabama).

Contrary to popular belief, he never served more than one night in prison (he was held in jail overnight once after being caught smuggling 1,163 amphetamine tablets across from Mexico). He actually wrote "Folsom Prison Blues" after seeing the documentary Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951).

After his good friend Carl Perkins fell from grace due to a crippling car accident and alcoholism, Johnny took him on a touring guitarist and supported Perkins by performing songs written by him.

His good friend Kris Kristofferson admitted that he wrote his well-known and not-entirely-flattering "Pilgrim" about Cash.

Stepfather of Carlene Carter and Rosey Nix Adams.

10/24/03: Stepdaughter Rosey Nix Adams, a country music singer, died. Cause of death was accidental carbon monoxide poisoning from six heaters on her bus. She was 45.

January 2006: His long-time lakeside home in Hendersonville, TN, was bought by a corporation owned by The Bee Gees' Barry Gibb.

Apart from his performances at Folsom Prison and San Quentin, 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.

Mentioned in the song "Life Is a Rock But the Radio Rolled Me" by Reunion.

Founded his first band called "Landsberg Barbarians" while being a radio operator of the US Air Force in Landsberg am Lech, Germany.

His guitarist, Bob Wootton of The Tennessee Three, acted as Cash's stunt double anytime there was a scene that required him to ride a horse because he had a fear of horses.

Proposed to wife June Carter Cash over 30 times before she finally said "Yes".

Among "The Highwaymen", Johnny was old friends (or "blood brothers" as he put it) with Waylon Jennings. Kris Kristofferson idolized Cash and the two become close friends while in "The Highwaymen". Cash was least close with Willie Nelson, but the two were always friendly, despite the competitive eye they kept on one another.

Johnny's "Hurt" was the theme song of WWE's Raw Tribute to the late Eddie Guerrero. The song plays while Guerrero's memorial is playing.

Along with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, he was a member of celebrated "The Million Dollar Quartet". They got that name because they were money-makers for Sam Phillips' Sun Records Label.

2001: He was awarded the American National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment of the Arts.

Godfather of John Keach, the son of Jane Seymour and James Keach.

In the 1980s he found love letters to wife June Carter Cash from Elvis Presley in their attic. Upon finding these, he burned them.

Great-uncle of Kelly Cash.

Was a friend of Elvis Presley.

Recorded over 1500 songs throughout his career.

Stepfather-in-law of Nick Lowe.

His album "Ring of Fire" (1964) was the first country album to ever reach the top of the US pop charts.

Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 7, 2003-2005, pages 73-76. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.

He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 6320 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.

According to tell-all books "Anchored In Love", by Cash's son John Carter Cash, and "I Was There When It Happened", by longtime friend and band member Marshall Grant, Cash was addicted to drugs for most of his adult life. Cash confessed much of this in "Johnny Cash: The Autobiography", published in 1997 by Harper Collins. Cash did not completely stop using drugs after his well-storied withdrawal in 1967. He was drug-free from 1970 through 1977, when he started taking amphetamines again. A 1983 attack by an ostrich (the animal was part of Cash's menagerie near Nashville) required hospitalization, where it was discovered that Cash was sneaking more painkillers than he'd been prescribed. Cash entered the Betty Ford Clinic in 1983 and stayed clean for a short time. His next relapse put him into Nashville's Cumberland Heights Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center in 1989. After another battle with drugs in the early 1990s, he discovered that his wife, June Carter, and his son, John Carter Cash, were both addicted to narcotics. The younger Cash cleaned up shortly before the deaths of his parents in 2003. According to John Carter Cash, his mother never confronted her addiction. It is not known for certain whether or not Johnny Cash ever completely extricated himself from drug abuse.

According to the biography Johnny Cash: The Life of an American Icon by Stephen Miller, while Cash was in the Air Force and serving as a code intercept operator at Landsberg AFB in Germany, he was the first American radio operator to receive the news of the death of Joseph Stalin.

Personal Quotes

How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man.

I am not a Christian artist, I am an artist who is a Christian.

I did not vote for Mr. Bush [President George W. Bush]. Let's leave it at that.

[in acknowledgment of his similarity to today's "gangsta" rappers] I wouldn't let anybody influence me into thinking I was doing the wrong thing by singing about death, hell and drugs. Beause I've always done that, and I always will.

I learn from my mistakes. It's a very painful way to learn, but without pain, the old saying is, there's no gain.

[in 2002, on his beloved brother Jack, who died in 1943 when Johnny was 11] There's never been two months gone by that I haven't dreamed about him. He's tried to help turn me to the way of life.

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.

You've got to know your limitations. I don't know what your limitations are. I found out what mine were when I was twelve. I found out that there weren't too many limitations, if I did it my way.

After about three lessons the voice teacher said, "Don't take voice lessons. Do it your way".

You've got a song you're singing from your gut, you want that audience to feel it in their gut. And you've got to make them think that you're one of them sitting out there with them too. They've got to be able to relate to what you're doing.

Success is having to worry about every damn thing in the world, except money.

Ain't nothin' too weird for me. People call me wild. Not really though, I'm not.I guess I've never been normal, not what you call Establishment. I'm country.

[on performing at Folsom Prison] A prison audience is the most exciting in the world. The men are with you, feeding you every second, Maybe because they need you so bad...I gave them a stiff shot of realism, singing about the things they talk about, the outside, shooting, escaping, girl friends, and coming to the end. They knew it was for them. Just them and me.

I kept thinking I could have been down there listening with the prisoners. Only been in jail twice, and just overnight, but you don't need much to see what it's like. Both times it was for pills, dexedrine. Second time I woke up in a Georgia jail not knowing how I got there. Could've ended up on a chain gang, but the jailer was a fan of mine and he let me go.

The Man in Black


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