Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summer School of Rock ~ Johnny Cash

Normally, I introduce the bands and artists here, but Johnny always introduced himself. Always.

Johnny was born in 1932, the fourth of seven children in Arkansas. His parents couldn't think of a name, so he was given the initials J.R. at birth. He named himself John when he enlisted in the Air Force and took Johnny as his stage name in 1955 when he signed with his first label.

He grew up around music, listening to his mother sing hymns and folk songs. He picked up guitar early and was writing music by 12. One of the most formative moments in his life came when his older brother was killed in an industrial accident at the age of 15.

Cash had five children, four with his first wife Vivian. She divorced him in part because of his relationship with June Carter, who he went on to marry and have his last child with. Johnny and June worked together making music until her death in 2003. He passed just a few months later, some say he died in part from a broken heart.

Originally intending to be a gospel artist, those dreams were quickly put to a stop and his sound developed more into the blues that we all would come to love. His gospel sound was deemed too plain, and the producers wanted someone more edgy, more raw. So he did just that.  I Walk The Line was his first huge hit, recorded only a year after he signed his first deal.

Shortly after he started to become successful, he started working on refining that bad boy image he was urged to develop. He drank, he did drugs, he cheated on his wife, he was arrested over and over again but never sentenced to prison.

Only after a drug induced failed suicide attempt did he pledge to clean up his act in 1968, though he wouldn't stay clean for long. He finally landed in rehab in 1992.

Perhaps because of all those nights he spent in jail, Cash had an uncommon fondness for prisoners and spent a fair amount of time advocating on their behalf. His songs Folsom Prison Blues and A Boy Named Sue, inspired by them, went on to become two of his biggest hits.

He had his own show for a few years on ABC called The Johnny Cash Show which he used as a platform to showcase music and social issues, which was fairly unusual at the time. The show ushered in his adoption of black clothing and he became the Man in Black. He said he wore black for the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned.

He was inducted into both the Country and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame and is considered by most to be one of the most influential performers in the history of music.

My personal favorite recording of his is actually a cover of a Nine Inch Nails song, Hurt. One of the last songs he recorded, it received critical acclaim for the rawness he brought to it. He associated the songs with all the regret for the things he had done wrong in his life, for all the people he had hurt, and it's hard not to be moved by his performance.

It drives me to tears every time.

This is clearly the voice of an old man with a lifetime full of regret.

Johnny was one of the great ones. He commanded your attention. He made you listen, not just to the music, but to his words, to his causes.


The other bands and artists profiled already, in no particular order.


  1. I can't love this enough. Love me some Johnny.


Some of My Most Popular Posts