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— by Kurt Loder

(Johnny Cash died on September 12, 2003, due to complications from diabetes. The following interview took place just three weeks earlier at Cash's home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, which was destroyed by fire on Tuesday (April 10, 2007). Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash, lived in the house — where they entertained numerous celebrities and at least one president (Jimmy Carter), and where the groundbreaking video for "Hurt" was filmed — from early 1968 until their deaths in 2003. Read and watch more about Cash and the house in the following article and extended MTV News interview.)

HENDERSONVILLE, Tennessee — Johnny Cash, a prototype of the hard-living, finger-flipping rock and roll hell-raiser, is 71 years old now, and still resident in the grand, rambling old house he bought more than 30 years ago on the banks of old Hickory Lake, half an hour outside of Nashville.

Here, he's surrounded by the memories of a long life and the artifacts of a lustrous career. There are framed singles — his earliest hits, some on old 78 rpm discs; a room filled with more than 70 guitars, many of them rare (he's been a life-long collector); and personal letters of admiration from the last five U.S. presidents. Johnny Cash has a lot to look back on.

  Kurt Loder visited Cash's sprawling home to conduct one of the last interviews with the American legend. Watch the entire interview right here.
He was present at the creation of white rock and roll, which is to say rockabilly. Signed to the pivotal Sun Records label in Memphis in 1955, he became part of a pioneering rockabilly roster that included Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and, briefly, the original rockabilly, Elvis Presley.

Rockabillies were, as the name implies, rhythm-and-blues-addled Southern white boys prone to speaking in bop-cat cadences, sculpting their hair into oily pompadours and twitching around in taste-defying threads tailored in eye-catching pink-and-black color schemes. Grown-ups were naturally not thrilled about this, but a nation of bored 1950s youth got real interested right away.

Rockabilly was loud, clattersome, revved-up music, and Johnny Cash was right in the thick of it. But he was never completely a part of it. His stark, almost muttering baritone was a little too dignified for the form, his simple bass-and-guitar backup was a little too austere to raise a real ruckus, and his country inclinations (he grew up on an Arkansas cotton farm, and started out fronting a country trio) were something he never cared to obscure.

He was also a little dark, right from the beginning. On his second Sun single, "Folsom Prison Blues," released in 1956, he famously sang: "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die." This was not especially transgressive in itself — both rock and country music are rich in songs of mayhem. But death has remained an unusually pervasive theme throughout Cash's career. Love, God, Murder — a three-disc compilation he released in 2000 — devotes one whole CD to songs of homicide, including "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," "The Long Black Veil" and, of course, "Delia's Gone" — the video for which shows Cash shoveling dirt onto the just-dug grave of his recently deceased beloved, who'll be troubling him no more.


Next: Cash has some advice for today's rappers, and attempts to smuggle amphetamines across the Mexican border ...
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Photo: Universal

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