John R. “Johnny” Cash (1932-2003) was an American singer, songwriter, musician, actor, and author!
He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 90 million records worldwide!!
He sang in a variety of genres:
-rock and roll
He is THE ONLY PERSON to be a member of THREE Hall of Fames. and that’s due to the crossover in the different genres.
He was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Johnny was born in Atlanta to a poor cotton farmers family.
later on he moved to Memphis, Tennessee where he rose to fame.
He was famous for his deep, calm bass-baritone voice and distinctive sound of his Tennessee Three backing band characterized by train-like chugging guitar rhythms.
he performed free prison concerts.
he was known for his trademark all-black wardrobe, which earned him the nickname “The Man in Black”.
it was a tradition of his to kick-off his concerts by introducing himself with ultimate simplicity followed by his signature song “Folsom Prison Blue”.
Folsom Prison Blue was written in 1953 and recorded in 1955.
It combines elements from two popular folk styles that Cash continued to use for the rest of his career:
- The train song
- The prison song
Cash got signed by Sam Phillips.
in that studio the Million Dollar Quartet was born.
the story of it is that on December 4th, 1956, Elvis Presley dropped in on Phillips while Carl Perkins was in the studio working on new tracks with Jerry Lee Lewis. Cash was also in the studio at the same time and the four of them started an impromptu jam session.
Phillips left the tapes running and the recordings, almost half of which were gospel songs, survived.
they have been released as the Million Dollar quatret.
Cash’s next record, “Folsom Prison Blues”, made the country top five.
His “I Walk the Line” became number one on the country charts and entered the pop charts top 20.
in 1957, Cash recorded Home of the blues and in that year he also became the first ever Sun artist to release a long-playing-album.
In 1958, Cash left Phillips due to the constrains on the types of music that Cash could release.
Cash signed with Columbia Records where he recorded his second album that was mainly a collection of gospel songs.
However, Cash did leave behind a couple of his recordings with Sun that Phillips used and released even after Cash’s departure, until 1964.
Therefore, Cash was in an unusual position of having new releases out on two labels simultaneously.
In the late 1950’s Cash began performing concerts at prisons.
his first famous prison concert was held on the 1st of January, 1958 at San Quentin State Prison.
two successful live albums emerged from Cash’s prison concerts: “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” (1968) and “Johnny Cash at San Quentin state” (1969). both reaching number one on the Billboard pop album music.
1969 was the year for Cash where he even overran the Beatles with 6.5 million albums sold and becoming an international hit!
Johnny Cash was also an activist for Native Americans.
in the 1950’s Cash sung about the India tragedy which was very unacceptable upon the country music community which was dominated by the image of the “righteous cowboy who simply makes the native’s soil his own”.
Cash released an album named “Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian” where he sung about the struggles of the Native Americans.
From June 1969 to March 1971, Cash starred in his own television show “The Johnny Cash Show” on the ABC network.
During the show he hosted a lot of performers including:
in 1970’s Cash was know as “The Man in Black”. he got that nickname for the fact that he always performed dressed in black, wearing a long black coat.
this unique look of his opposed the mainstream look that was worn by most of the country artist at that time, the rhinestone suits and cowboy boot.
Cash wrote a song explaining why he always dressed in black named “Man in Black” (1971).
Man in black:
“Well, you wonder why I always dress in black
Why you never see bright colors on my back
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone
There’s a reason for the things that I have on
I wear the black for the poor and beaten-down
Livin’ on the hopeless, hungry side of town
I weat it for the prisoners who has long paid for his crime
But is there because he’s a victim of the times
I’m the man…
Well I wear the black for those who’ve never read
Or listened to the words that Jesus said
About the road to happiness, throughr love and charity
Why do you think He’s talkin’ straight to you and me
We’re doing mighty fine I do supose
In our streak-a-lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes
But, just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back
Up front there ought to be a man in black
I’m the man, I’m the man in black
I’m the man, I’m the man in black
I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold
I wear the black in mourning for the lifes tha could have been
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men
Well, there’s things that never will be right, I know
And things need changin’ everywhere we go
But ’til we start to make a move, to make a few things right
You’ll never see me wear a suite of white
Oh, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day
And tell the world that everything’s O.K.
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back
‘Til things are brighter, I’m the man in black
I’m the man, the man in black
Oh yeah, I’m the man, the man in black…”
Other signature songs of his include:
– I Walk The Line – 1956
– Ring of fire – 1963
– Get Rhythm – 1956
Cash also recorded humorous numbers like:
– One Piece at a Time – 1976
– A Boy Named Sue – 1969
He wrote a duet with his future wife June Carter Called “Jackson” – 1963
they continued writing duets after their wedding as well.
Cash also wrote some railroad songs including:
– Hey, Porter – 1954
– Orange Blossom Special
– Rock Island Line