Showing posts with label Addiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Addiction. Show all posts

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Cash Preferred

“...Two million dollars... Last year, Johnny Cash made twice that much, singin’ about hard times.” -Bob Hope

His sound and image were inexplicable yet deceptively simple and accessible. An inimitable
brand of country music fused with blues, rock, gospel and folk invoked the raw character of working rural Americans shaped by the land, broken dreams and death itself. Perhaps it’s precisely what is missing from popular music today. Ironically, Cash’s voice and music resonate with contemporary young music fans much as they did during the latter part of the 20th Century.

Born J.R. Cash on February 26, 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas, “John” Cash began using the name “Johnny” only after beginning a music career in Memphis, Tennessee as a recording artist for Sam Phillips’ Sun label in 1954. Just when Elvis Presley was beginning his music career there, Cash began working with a backing group called the Tennessee Two, playing gospel and later transitioning to the trendy new ‘rockabilly’ sound, a blend of “hillbilly” rock and roll that incorporated rhythm and blues. 

Cash’s Sun hits included the classics “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line.” They featured a distinctive rhythm and beat accented by Cash’s unmistakable deep baritone. His lyrical themes were universal in nature and ranged from heartbreak and loneliness to crime, tragedy, punishment, salvation and the American spirit. If that weren’t enough, the man could also write and sing some pretty funny stuff to boot.

After leaving Phillips for Columbia Records, Cash toured extensively and honed a trademark image that saw him dressed in all-black attire. Some of his greatest-selling recordings were albums produced from free concerts given for felons within the walls of various prisons. Cash saw these inmates, like the American Indians, as examples of the forgotten and underrepresented. 

During this period Cash also began touring with June Carter of the famed Carter Family country act. The two would eventually be married in 1968.

With and without June, he scored more chart successes but concurrently developed severe issues with drugs and alcohol.

By 1969, Cash was hosting The Johnny Cash Show on ABC, videotaped at Nashville’s hallowed Ryman Auditorium. The popular music program was an influential one, showcasing not only himself but also introducing many new recording artists of the era to Cash’s audience.

Despite a troubled personal life that saw frequent addiction, abuse and run-ins with the law, Cash continually found renewal and redemption in the Almighty. He regularly performed at Billy Graham’s ‘Crusades’ and wrote a Christian novel and a screenplay which he produced on the life of Jesus in addition to his two autobiographies written in 1975 and 1997.

Though several illnesses eventually slowed down Cash’s life and career, his stardom would have a final resurgence with a back-to-basics album series known as the American Recordings which featured stark cover versions of eclectic songs by some unlikely contemporary artists.

Sadly, Johnny Cash passed away on September 12, 2003, four months after June’s passing. His musical legacy is difficult to explicate yet easily noticeable in the multitudes of musicians he played with and influenced.

Cash’s songs and the values he strove to embody would seem practically essential in our current world ripe with confusion, crisis, doubt and disillusion. Indeed, there is something unequivocally missing from the time in which we live because — up front, there ought to be a man in black.

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Christopher Robinson