Old Collectible Fifties Records          

Johnny Cash - The Man in Black

by Erika Cox

Johnny Cash is one of the most influential artists in country and rock and roll music. Despite all of his personal tragedies, Johnny Cash remained a survivor and his ability to overcome his personal problems made him only more of an influential figure and a highly respected artist.

His distinctive deep voice, subdue demeanor, and all black attire earned him the nickname, The Man in Black. Johnny Cash was born John Ray Cash on February 26, 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas. His family moved to Dyess, Arkansas when Cash was three years old. His family was very poor and Cash started working in the cotton fields at the age of five.

As he got older, Cash would listen to country, gospel and blues music on the radio after working in the fields. At twelve years old, he started writing songs and playing the guitar, combining the sounds of both country and gospel styles. In 1944, Cash would suffer his first tragedy when his older brother, Jack, was killed in a farming accident.

His brother was pulled into a whirling table saw and almost cut in half; some say it may not have been an accident but a murder. Whatever the case, Cash felt a horrible sense of guilt because he was not present when the accident happened and he kept that guilt all of his life.

Cash mentioned that his brother said on his deathbed that he saw angels and a vision of Heaven before he died. Sixty years later, Cash would speak of looking forward to seeing his brother again in Heaven.

After Cash was discharged from the Air Force he started pursuing his musical career by auditioning for a radio announcer. He eventually ran into Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant, two other aspiring musicians, and the three approached Sun Records to audition for the label in 1955. Sun signed the trio, which named themselves the Tennessee Two, and their first single “Cry, Cry, Cry” was a moderate success on the country charts.

After their second single “Folsom Prison Blues” became a hit, the group had their first major hit on the pop and country charts with “I Walk the Line”. The group performed at various locations and eventually made it all the way to the Grand Ole Opry in 1956. The group recorded two more hit songs that made it to the pop and country charts during this time as well.

Cash became the first artist with Sun Records to release a full-length album and was the label’s most successful artist at the time. However, he felt restrained and ignored by the label and decided to sign with Columbia Records in 1958. Feeling the strain of constant touring, the breakup of his first marriage and the death of a friend, Johnny Horton, Cash began taking amphetamines, tranquilizers and drinking heavily to cope.

Although he became addicted to all of these substances, he somehow continued to record hit songs. In 1964, Cash visited the Greenwich Village folk scene and appeared with Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival but despite his success, Cash continued to struggle with his addictions and was arrested for drug possession and later found near death in a small town.

In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, Cash decided to turn his life around and rediscover his Christian faith with the help of his second wife, June Carter. He continued to work with other artists, like Bob Dylan, record, and promote different causes close to his heart.

In the mid-1970’s, his career declined somewhat but he did make various appearances on TV shows. In the 1980’s he continued to appear in a number of shows and films, and in 1985 joined Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson touring and recording as part of the group The Highwaymen, which resulted in two successful albums.

After suffering a serious stomach injury, Cash turned back to drugs to ease the pain, but was able to overcome the addiction again while at the Betty Ford clinic. He again had another near death experience while having heart surgery, almost having the same vision his brother Jack had years ago. In 1997, Cash was diagnosed with Shy-Drager syndrome, which is associated with diabetes, he cut back on his touring but received a number of recognitions and awards for his accomplishments.

On September 12, 2003, four months after his wife June Carter died from heart surgery complications, Cash died due to complications associated with diabetes. Cash had a significant impact in rock and country music throughout the 1960’s, almost single handedly making country and western music popular with the mainstream pop audience.

He was one of the first rockabilly stars of the 1950’s and throughout the remainder of his career he was an influential and successful artist.

He is a true legend that will always be remembered and loved. In 1980, Cash became the Country Music Hall of Fame’s youngest living inductee at age 48. He also received numerous awards and recognitions, including being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.

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