Monday, July 7, 2008

Johnny Cash - King Of Country, Emperor Of American Song

Thanks, Wikipedia.

Johnny Cash (February 26, 1932 - September 12, 2003) was a Grammy Award-winning American country singer-songwriter.

Cash is widely considered to be the most influential American musician of the 20th century.

Cash was known for his deep, distinctive voice, the boom-chick-a-boom or "freight train" sound of his Tennessee Three backing band, his demeanour and his dark clothing, which earned him the nickname The Man In Black.

He traditionally started his concerts with the introduction "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."

Much of Cash's music, especially that of his later career, echoed themes of sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption.

His signature songs include I Walk The Line, Folsom Prison Blues, Ring Of Fire, Get Rhythm, That Old Wheel (a duet with Hank Williams Jr), Cocaine Blues and Man In Black.

He also recorded several humorous songs, such as One Piece At A Time, The One On The Right Is On The Left, Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog, A Boy Named Sue and a duet with his wife June Carter called Jackson.

He was also a champion of Native American rights and aspirations and dedicated the songs The Ballad Of Ira Hayes and Apache Tears to the community.

He sold over 90 million albums in his 50-year career and came to occupy a "commanding position in music history".

Cash was of Scottish and Native American descent. He was born in Kingsland, Arkansas to Raymond Cash and Carrie Rivers.

He was one of 7 children and his younger brother Tommy also became a successful country singer.

By age five, Cash was working in the cotton fields, singing along with his family as they worked.

The family farm was flooded on at least one occasion, which later inspired him to write the song Five Feet High And Rising.

His family's economic and personal struggles during the Depression inspired many of his songs, especially those about other people facing similar difficulties.

Cash was very close to his brother Jack, who was two years older.

In 1944, Jack was pulled into a whirling table saw in the mill where he worked and cut almost in two. He suffered for over a week before he died.

Cash often spoke of the horrible guilt he felt over this incident.

Decades later, Cash spoke of looking forward to meeting his brother in Heaven.

He wrote that he had seen his brother many times in his dreams and that Jack always looked two years older than whatever age Cash himself was at that moment.

Taught by his mother and a childhood friend, Cash began playing the guitar and writing songs as a young boy.

In high school he sang on a local radio station; decades later he released an album of traditional Gospel songs called My Mother's Hymn Book.

He was also significantly influenced by traditional Irish music.

Cash enlisted in the United States Air Force. After basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and technical training at Brooks Air Force Base, both in San Antonio, Texas, Cash was assigned to a US Air Force Security Service unit as a Morse Code decoder on Russian Army transmissions at Landsberg, Germany.

While in Air Force training in 1950, Cash met Vivian Liberto. A month after his discharge, on August 7, 1954, they were married.

They had four daughters: Rosanne (1955), Kathleen (1956), Cindy (1959) and Tara (1961).

His constant touring and drug use put intense strain on his marriage and they divorced in 1967.

In 1954, Cash moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he sold appliances while studying to be a radio announcer.

At night he played with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant, known as The Tennessee Two.

Cash subsequently auditioned at Sun Records and released the hit singles Hey Porter and Cry Cry Cry in 1955 with reasonable success.

Cash's next hit Folsom Prison Blues made the country Top 5 and I Walk The Line became No. 1 on the country charts and entered the pop charts’ Top 20.

In the early 1960s, Cash toured with the Carter Family, which by this time regularly included Maybelle's daughters Anita, June and Helen.

As his career was taking off in the early 1960s, Cash started drinking heavily and became addicted to drugs.

Nevertheless, Cash kept delivering hit songs flawlessly.

His rendition of Ring Of Fire reached No. 1 on the country charts and entered the Top 20 on the pop charts. The song was written by June Carter.

Although Cash carefully cultivated a romantic outlaw image, he never served a prison sentence.

Despite landing in jail seven times for misdemeanours, each stay lasted only a single night.

His most infamous run-in with the law occurred while on tour in 1965, when he was arrested by a narcotics squad in El Paso, Texas.

The officers suspected that he was smuggling heroin from Mexico, but it was prescription narcotics that the singer had hidden inside his guitar case.

In the mid 1960s, Cash released a number of concept albums, including Ballads Of The True West (1965), an experimental double record mixing authentic frontier songs with Cash's spoken narration and Bitter Tears (1964) with songs highlighting the plight of the Native Americans.

His drug addiction was at its worst at this point and his destructive behaviour led to a divorce from his first wife and cancelled performances.

In 1967, Cash's duet with Carter, Jackson, won a Grammy Award.

Cash quit using drugs in 1968, after a spiritual epiphany in the Nickajack Cave.

June, Maybelle and Ezra Carter moved into Cash's mansion for a month to help him defeat his addiction.

Cash proposed on stage to Carter at a concert at the London Gardens in London, Ontario on February 22, 1968. The couple married a week later on March 1 in Franklin, Kentucky.

June had agreed to marry Cash after he had 'cleaned up'.

Cash felt great compassion for prisoners. He began performing concerts at various prisons starting in the late 1950s.

These performances led to a pair of highly successful live albums, Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison (1968) and Johnny Cash At San Quentin (1969).

Cash advocated prison reform at his 1972 meeting with United States President Richard Nixon.

From 1969 to 1971, Cash starred in his own television show The Johnny Cash Show, on the ABC network.

Those who performed on his show included the Carter Family, Carl Perkins, Neil Young, Louis Armstrong, James Taylor, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan.

He was friendly with every United States President starting with Richard Nixon. He was closest with Jimmy Carter.

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 satirical Merle Haggard song about people who despised youthful drug users and war protesters) and Welfare Cadillac (a Guy Drake song that derides the integrity of welfare recipients).

Cash declined to play either song and instead played a series of more left-leaning, politically-charged songs including The Ballad Of Ira Hayes (about a brave Native American World War 2 veteran who was mistreated upon his return to Arizona) and his own compositions, What Is Truth? and Man In Black.

In 1980, Cash became the Country Music Hall Of Fame's youngest living inductee at age 48.

In the mid 1980s, he recorded and toured with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson as The Highwaymen, making two hit albums.

During this period, Cash appeared as an actor in a number of television films.

In 1981, he starred in The Pride Of Jesse Hallam. Cash won fine reviews for his work in this film that called attention to adult illiteracy.

In 1983, Cash also appeared as a heroic sheriff in Murder In Coweta County, which co-starred Andy Griffith as his nemesis. This film was based on a real-life Georgia murder case.

In 1986, Cash published his only novel Man In White, a book about St Paul. He also recorded Johnny Cash Reads The Complete New Testament in 1990.

His career was rejuvenated in the 1990s, leading to popularity amongst a younger audience not traditionally interested in country music.

In 1993, he sang the vocals on U2's The Wanderer for the group’s album Zooropa.

Cash and his wife appeared on a number of episodes of the popular television series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman starring Jane Seymour.

The actress thought so highly of Cash that she later named one of her twin sons after him.

He lent his voice for a cartoon cameo in an episode of The Simpsons, with his voice as that of a coyote that guides Homer on a spiritual quest.

In 2002, he recorded the song Hurt with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.

June Carter died at 73 on May 15, 2003. Cash followed on September 12, 2003 at the age of 71.

His first wife Liberto died on May 24, 2005 of cancer.

Among Johnny Cash's children, his daughter Rosanne Cash (by Liberto) and his son John Carter Cash (by June Carter) are notable country musicians in their own right.

In total, he wrote over a thousand songs and released dozens of albums.

In 1999, Cash received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Johnny Cash Number 31 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artistes Of All Time.

Walk The Line, an Academy Award-winning biopic about Johnny Cash's life starring Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter (for which she won the 2005 Best Actress Oscar) was released in the US in 2005 to great critical acclaim.

Phoenix received the Grammy Award for his contributions to the Walk The Line soundtrack. John Carter Cash, the only child of Johnny Cash and June Carter was the Executive Producer of the film.

Cash was the personification of country music to many people around the world. He was a musician not tied to a single genre.

He recorded songs that could be considered rock and roll, blues, folk and gospel and exerted an influence on each of those genres.

He had the unique distinction amongst country artistes of having "crossed over" late in his career to become popular with alternative rock fans.

His diversity was evidenced by his presence in three major music halls of fame: the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame (1977), the Country Music Hall Of Fame (1980) and the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame (1992).

Only 13 performers are in both of the last two and only Hank Williams Sr, Jimmie Rodgers and Bill Monroe share the honour with Cash of being in all three.