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Cash, Johnny

country hit pop records

deep-voiced country singer; b. Kingsland, Ark., Feb. 26, 1932. Johnny Cash grew up in Dyess, Ark., where he had moved at the age of three. Following his discharge from the Air Force in July 1954, he traveled to Memphis and eventually auditioned for Sam Phillips of Sun Records in March 1955. Signed to Sun, Cash managed pop hits with his own “I Walk the Line,” “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” “Guess Things Happen That Way,” and “The Ways of a Woman in Love.” In 1957 W. S. Holland joined his backup band, becoming one of the first drummers in country music. In August 1958 Johnny Cash switched to Columbia Records and soon hit with “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” Moving to Calif., Cash started working with June Carter, of the legendary Carter Family, in 1961. He began feeling the strain of constant touring and the collapse of his first marriage and grieved the death of friend Johnny Horton. As a consequence, Cash started taking amphetamines and tranquilizers to cope with his hectic life.

In 1963 Johnny Cash scored his first major pop hit on Columbia with “Ring of Fire.” He soon began hanging out on the periphery of the Greenwich Village folk music scene, and his next hit, “Understand Your Man,” had a distinctive folk feel to it. In 1964 he appeared with Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival. During this time, Cash recorded a number of folk songs, including Peter LaFarge’s “Ballad of Ira Hayes” and Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” and, with June Carter, “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” another country and pop hit.

Despite increasing popular success, Johnny Cash’s life seemed to deteriorate. In October 1965 he was arrested at El Paso International Airport in possession of hundreds of stimulants and tranquilizers. After being found near death in a small Ga. town in 1967, Cash decided to reform. With June Carter providing moral support, he cleaned up his act. The couple scored a smash country hit with “Jackson” in 1968, the year they married. In 1970, they hit the pop charts with Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter.”

Johnny Cash began a series of successful TV appearances in 1967, and his 1968 Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison remained on the album charts for more than two years and revitalized his career. The album yielded a top country hit and moderate pop hit with “Folsom Prison Blues.” In early 1969 Cash scored another top country and moderate pop hit with Carl Perkins’s “Daddy Sang Bass.” Cash’s penchant for novelty songs culminated in his biggest pop hit, “A Boy Named Sue,” from Johnny Cash at San Quentin, another best-seller. The 1969 debut show for his ABC network TV series featured a film of Cash and Bob Dylan recording “Girl from the North Country.” The song later appeared on Dylan’s first country album, Nashville Skyline . Later shows featured artists such as Gordon Lightfoot, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Joni Mitchell. During the 1969 Newport Folk Festival, Johnny Cash introduced Kris Kristofferson, later recording his “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and bolstering his early career.

Johnny Cash again demonstrated his social consciousness in the early 1970s with the hits “What is Truth” and “Man in Black.” He also narrated and co-produced the soundtrack to the Christian epic Gospel Road and assisted in the production of The Trail of Tears, a dramatization of the tragedy of the Cherokee Indians, broadcast on public television (PBS). Cash scored another pop novelty hit with “One Piece at a Time” in 1976 and hit the country charts in 1978 with “There Ain’t No Good Chain Gangs,” recorded with Waylon Jennings. His last major country hit came in 1981 with “The Baron.” Future country star Marty Stuart was a member of Cash’s band from 1979 to 1985.

In 1985 Johnny Cash joined Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson to tour and record as the Highwaymen. They hit the top of the country charts with Jimmy Webb’s “The Highwayman.” The following year, Cash reunited with old Sun Records alumni Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison for Class of ’55, contributing “I Will Rock & Roll with You.” Cash was dropped from the Columbia Records roster in 1986 and he subsequently signed with Mercury Records, switching to American Records in 1993. In 1990 he joined Jennings, Nelson, and Kristofferson as the Highwaymen for another album and round of touring. Cash sang “The Wanderer” with U2, included on their Zooropa album. In 1994 he recorded the moody, acoustic American Recordings album for American Records under producer Rick Rubin, best known for his work with Run-D.M.C, Public Enemy, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The following year, Cash once again joined the Highwaymen, to tour and record for Liberty Records The Road Goes on Forever . However, he retired from active performing in 1997, after announcing he was suffering from a degenerative nerve disease. Helping to broaden the scope of country-and-western music and popularize country music with rock and pop fans, Johnny Cash became the first international country star and may have done more to popularize country music than anyone since Hank Williams. Indeed, his TV series (1969–71) was instrumental in widening the audience for country music. Additionally, he was instrumental in introducing Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson to broader public acceptance. Johnny Cash was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.

Cash, Rosalind (1938–1995) [next] [back] Casey, Bernie (1939–)

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