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 News Archive: Johnny Cash

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 He was a little dark, right from the beginning ...

Page 2

 The man in black has some advice for today's rappers ...

Page 3

 "I was on amphetamines really, really bad ..."

Artists On Cash

  Bono, Tom Morello, Kid Rock, And More On Johnny Cash...

Cash On 'Hurt'

  Johnny Cash Says Unlike Most Videos, 'Hurt' Wasn't Too Painful ...

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Cash may have set up shop as "the man in black" in order to distinguish himself from the gaudier denizens of the pop-music world, but the image resonates on a deeper level in his music.

All of which is kind of ... gangsta, in a way. Johnny Cash has drawn on a deep well of murder and mortality in American music, and everybody pretty much agrees the man's a master, a modern icon. Today's rappers, however — who deal with the same subjects in a, shall we say, more immediate way — get nothing but flack. Cash has gotten some flack, too, over the years, but he's paid it no mind. And he has some advice for under-fire rappers.

  "You can't let people delegate to you what you should do when it's coming from way in here..."
"Ignore it," Cash says. "Do what you do. You can't let people delegate to you what you should do when it's coming from way in here [taps heart]. I wouldn't let anybody influence me into thinking I was doing the wrong thing by singing about death, hell and drugs. 'Cause I've always done that. And I always will."

Johnny Cash is a country man, and he's been a fixture on the country charts for much of his nearly 50-year career. But the hits he had right out of the box — starting with "Cry Cry Cry" in 1955, and continuing with "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Walk the Line," "Ballad of a Teenage Queen," "There You Go," "Home of the Blues" and "Guess Things Happen That Way" — also remain undeniable emblems of the dawning rock and roll era. (His trademark singles from this period are widely available, and conveniently assembled on a Rhino Records compilation called Johnny Cash: The Sun Years.)

Unlike today, when big rock acts tend to tour in coordination with the release of albums that can take as long as a year to cobble together, '50s rock stars were expected to stay out on the road pretty much permanently, in order to milk what was presumed to be, and usually was, their very transient moment.

So Cash and his Sun stablemates — Perkins, Orbison, the truly unhinged Jerry Lee — were sent out by rattletrap bus on package tours that took them all over the country and up into Canada, too: an endless series of one-nighters fueled by liquor and ambition and whatever else was at hand.

"We were young and wild and crazy," Cash says today. "As crazy as you can get. At the time we were doin' these tours, we discovered amphetamines. Or I did, anyway."

  Bono, Metallica, more on the man in black
Cash left Sun to sign with Columbia Records in 1958, and he continued having hits: "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," "I Got Stripes," "Five Feet High and Rising." But he was also sinking into a morass of drugs and alcohol, and he stayed sunk for nearly a decade.

He would occasionally bobble up for air, though. In 1963, he scored a top 20 pop hit with "Ring of Fire," a song co-written by June Carter, of the fabled country-music clan, the Carter Family. (The song has since been covered by everyone from Blondie to Grace Jones to Social Distortion.)

Carter and Cash started working together, and were attracted to one another early on. Unfortunately, each was married to someone else at the time.

So Cash continued his downward spiral. Raised as a devout Christian, he'd originally hoped to record gospel songs; but now he was more often than not angry and violent and unreliable. He trashed the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, a venerable country showcase, when told he couldn't perform there. He was arrested in Texas for attempting to smuggle amphetamines across the Mexican border in his guitar case. Eventually, inevitably, he overdosed.

Next: 'When God forgave me, I figured I'd better do it, too ...'
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Photo: Columbia

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