5 things you didn't know about Johnny Cash

5 things you didn't know about Johnny Cash

Here's a nice article found on the web. Perhaps there's something you indeed didn't know! Johnny Cash is such an old-school American: The deeply religious son of a sharecropper, Johnny Cash grew up on “New Deal” farmland, served in the military, married his sweetheart, had a family, became a rock star, tried to self-destruct on drugs, and then found salvation. His worldwide fame and appeal, however, is defined by another trait: Johnny Cash seemed in a constant state of earthly remorse and supernatural repentance. In music and in life he symbolized the cyclical conflict of the human conscience, of weakness, excess, regret, then atonement, and excess again. No matter how "outlawed" his image became, Johnny Cash always seemed to be wanting to do good and be a better person. 2008 marked the 40th anniversary of his landmark LP At Folsom Prison and 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the At San Quentin LP. With the reportedly imminent release of American VI, we saw fit to present five things you didn’t know about Johnny Cash, the one and only man in black.

1- Johnny Cash played at the request of a condemned killer

Few aspects of Johnny Cash’s career did more to solidify his outlaw image than his prison concerts. He played his first such show in Huntsville, Texas, in 1956, and following that, according to Cash, “word got around the prison grapevine that I was one of them, I guess.” That word reached Earl C. Green, a convicted killer on San Quentin’s death row (he’d beaten a man to death with a baseball bat) whose Reverend, Floyd Gresset, led a church in Johnny Cash’s Ventura, California, neighborhood. When Green’s sentence was commuted to life, he was sent to Folsom Prison and Gresett remained his Reverend. Via the prison radio, Green became the “voice of Folsom Prison” and lobbied Gressett for Johnny Cash to play there. In 1966, Gressett convinced Cash to play an unpublicized concert at Folsom Prison, and two years later he returned to the prison ready to record an album that would become an instant classic. Interestingly, the album contains at least two tracks Cash had never performed live in his life and had in fact only learned the night before: Shel Silverstein’s “A Boy Named Sue,” and a tune called “Greystone Chapel,” written by Folsom inmate Glen Sherley, whose career as a country western singer was supported and nurtured by Johnny Cash.

2- Johnny Cash wanted "I Walk the Line" off the radio

“I Walk the Line” was a hit for Johnny Cash not once or twice, but three separate times. However, the singer had little faith in the tune when it was first released as a single in 1956. In 2002, he told Larry King that he was in Florida when he called Sam Phillips at Sun Records and “begged” him to stop sending the tune to radio stations. “I just didn't think it was that good of a song. I just didn't think anyone would like it,” Johnny Cash admitted. Phillips refused, telling Cash they would give the song a chance and see what it could do. According to Johnny Cash, “And another week or two it was zoom, No. 1.” The tune is said to reflect the temptations encountered by a musician on the road and how, despite them, Johnny Cash remained devoted to his wife. Well-established history notes that while Cash’s sentiment was in the right place, often he found himself unable to walk that line, but who can blame him? In Johnny Cash: The Life of an American Icon, author Stephen Miller quotes Dolly Parton relating her first awestruck meeting with him. Gushing about his overwhelming "star" presence she wrote, “I was just a young girl from the Smokies, but I would gladly have given it up for Mr. Cash in the parking lot.”

3- Johnny Cash was a best-selling novelist

Johnny Cash’s 1986 novel Man in White, 10 years in the making, gave a fictionalized account of St. Paul the Apostle. The noted early Christian missionary and reputed author of about a dozen epistles in the New Testament: Saul of Tsaurus was on his way to Damascus intent upon laying waste to as many Christians as he could find when he was converted to the cause by a blinding white vision. Saul became Paul, who then devoted his life to Jesus Christ. Johnny Cash closely identified with his protagonist. In an interview with Scott Ross of the 700 Club, Cash called St. Paul a survivor and an inspiration “who had every kind of reason to quit and never did because of his faith in God.” The book’s title is a bit banal, but when Scott asked him if he’d considered changing his “attire to white for redemption,” the singer replied in classic Johnny Cash rhetoric: “That would look a little presumptuous.”

4- Johnny Cash plagiarized one of his most famous songs

In 1956, Cash cut his second single with Sun Records, “Folsom Prison Blues” and the tune was a hit, reaching No. 17 on the pop charts and No. 4 on the country charts. More important than that, however, is the contribution the tune made to his image as an outlaw and a rebel. The third line of the second verse is without question Johnny Cash’s most famous: “I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die.” Some have gone so far as to cite that line as being a progenitor of gangsta rap. If these pundits mean to suggest the "sampling" of another artistic achievement without permission, they might be on the right track. In fact, Johnny Cash’s lyrics often match, word for word, rhyme for rhyme, and sometimes line for line, lyrics written for the same traditional music two years earlier by jazz musician Gordon Jenkins. Jenkins did not react in 1956, but following the tune’s 1968 re-release as part of the live At Folsom Prison album, he evidently had enough and filed a lawsuit citing copyright infringement. According to Jenkins’ son Bruce, the author of Goodbye: In Search of Gordon Jenkins, Cash’s reps were quick to resolve the matter out of court for a sum believed to be $75,000. Reportedly, in the '90s Johnny Cash told a Canadian magazine that he first heard the Jenkins song while in the Air Force."At the time, I really had no idea I would be a professional recording artist; I wasn't trying to rip anybody off.” Johnny Cash deserves the benefit of the doubt here, not because of his iconic status, but because throughout his career he never hesitated to give appropriate credit and he'd even -- as was the case with Folsom inmate Glen Sherley -- go out of his way to secure the proper royalties contract for others.

5- Johnny Cash and his first wife wrote over 10,000 pages of love letters

Just a few weeks before the Air Force shipped him off to Germany, Johnny Cash met Catholic schoolgirl Vivian Liberto at a San Antonio roller-skating rink. They fell pretty hard for each other, a situation made even more intense by their separation over the next three years. In that time, Johnny Cash proposed marriage (by phone) and the two exchanged an astonishing 10,000 pages of love letters. Many of these pages were published for the first time in 2006, when Liberto wrote her take on the nasty love triangle between her, Johnny Cash and June Carter (as portrayed in the 2005 film Walk The Line). Incidentally, Liberto claims that Cash didn’t pursue June Carter at all (as the Joaquin Phoenix film portrays), but that it was the other way around -- Carter relentlessly pursued Cash. Much like Tupac Shakur, Johnny Cash’s career as a musician has only been slightly inconvenienced by his death. While alive, Cash was one of the most prolific recording artists in history, and his late-in-life collaboration with pioneer record producer Rick Rubin only furthered that tradition and reputation. As we have already noted, the ultimate motif in the life and music of Johnny Cash has dealt with trying to do the right thing in the face of so many tempting alternatives. This struggle with conscience is a universal human condition, open to endless examination and reinterpretation. Cash’s elevation to iconic status ensures his relative immortality, although he will probably come and go with the trends, the publication of a new biography or a controversial movie. Either way, Johnny Cash isn't going anywhere. Resources:

By Ross Bonander Ross Bonander is a published author and freelance writer out of Austin, Texas.
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