Johnny Cash, "The Man in Black" who became a towering figure in American music with such hits as "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Walk the Line" and "A Boy Named Sue," died Friday, 12th September. He was 71.
After a lengthy battle with autonomic neuropathy (a disease of the nervous system) and pneumonia, Johnny Cash passed away early this morning from respiratory failure stemming from complications due to diabetes. Although that is a relatively young age, he packed more into a life than most do with 20 extra years.
With one of the most distinctive voices around, his music spans numerous genres and generations. Recording right up until the end, he had a long, rich and rewarding life. Although the ChartAttack staff, like music fans everywhere, are deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Cash, we want to celebrate his life, rather than mourn. What follows is a far too short list of why Johnny Cash was cool. There aren't words enough to pay true tribute to this great man. Johnny, you'll be missed.
1. "Ring Of Fire." Co-written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore, "Ring Of Fire" ranks among the greatest love songs of all time. It's romantic, yet it oozes with passion rarely seen then or now. When Johnny sang that it burns, you can feel the heat searing your heart.
2. He married June Carter in 1968, after proposing to her earlier in the year during a concert. They remained married and obviously in love until her death this past May. Their duet "Jackson" features June calling Johnny "you sweet talkin' man." He may have looked like a tough guy, but you know she meant it when she said it.
3. He began his recording career in 1955 with the single "Cry Cry Cry"/"Hey Porter" on Sam Phillips' Sun label. Phillips was also instrumental in the careers of (among many others) Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison.
4. He was The Man In Black, pretty much single-handedly defining cool rock 'n' roll style.
5. He began writing songs when he was 12 years old and though he went to college, joined the Air Force and worked at a radio station, music was always where his heart was.
6. "Folsom Prison Blues." Go to a karaoke bar and sing it. Trust me.
7. He befriended some of the finest singers, producers and songwriters in country and rock 'n' roll. Among them, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Elvis Costello, Nick Cave, Rick Rubin and Merle Haggard. He often blurred the boundaries between country, rock and folk music in his personal and professional lives, including recording Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" in 1965.
8. In recent years he produced a series known as American Recordings with Rick Rubin. Most of these albums were comprised of songs by younger musicians, including Beck, Soundgarden (Cash's version of "Rusty Cage" is even more intense than the original), Tom Petty, Glenn Danzig and U2.
9. The video for his last hit, a cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt," featured an older Cash sitting at a huge feast while footage of him as a younger man played. Seeing Johnny and June throughout the decades was so moving, it was difficult to watch with dry eyes. Johnny knew he was dying and this was a dignified and gutsy way to say goodbye.
10. "Sunday Morning Coming Down." It was written by Kris Kristofferson, who spent a long time trying to get the song to Johnny before succeeding when he took a helicopter and landed it on Johnny's front lawn. It became a hit despite the word "stoned" figuring prominently.
11. In 1998, an ad in Billboard magazine featured a picture of Cash giving the finger. The ad read "American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to acknowledge the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support." Producer Rick Rubin said it was meant as an eye-opener for the Nashville music industry. Fellow country great Willie Nelson came out in support of the ad, saying that it radio insulted older artists by not playing their records. He truly was a badass who fought the good fight.
12. He battled and overcame addictions to drugs and alcohol.
13. Cash won Grammy awards right up to the end. The last one was for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for "Give My Love To Rose."
14. He wrote two autobiographies, "The Man In Black" and "Cash." Both showed both the good and bad in Cash's life. That he was unafraid to show his darker side drew his already rabid fans even closer to this solid citizen.
15. The man recorded enough albums that it can be said that 45 remain in print. We'd like to see any band today try to top that. God, we'd like to see any band today even record 45 albums worth of material. 25? 10?
16. In 1969, Cash's Folsom Prison and San Quentin albums were the biggest selling records of the time. That includes The Beatles.
17. From 1969-1971, he hosted The Johnny Cash Show, a prime-time variety show on which guests as awesome as Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder, Gordon Lightfoot, Dennis Hopper and Neil Young performed.
18. As immersed in the secular world as he was, Cash was a Christian who was unafraid to spread word of his beliefs. In 1971, he travelled to Israel to film Gospel Road, a film about the life of Jesus and modern-day life in Israel.
19. He made a funny little song about an unfortunately named kid written by children's author/Playboy humourist Shel Silverstein into a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic. "A Boy Named Sue," about a man that gives his son a girl's name so that he'll grow up to be strong, remains one of Cash's best-loved songs.
20. In January 1960, Cash performed his first though far from his last free performance in a prison. The venue was San Quentin and an incarcerated Merle Haggard was in the audience.
21. To conclude, let's look at one of Cash's biggest hits, "I Walk The Line." It's lyrics are fairly simple, but speak volumes. Let's look at them and bid a fond farewell:
I Walk The Line I keep a close watch on this heart of mine I keep my eyes wide open all the time. I keep the ends out for the tie that binds Because you're mine, I walk the line
I find it very, very easy to be true I find myself alone when each day is through Yes, I'll admit I'm a fool for you Because you're mine, I walk the line
As sure as night is dark and day is light I keep you on my mind both day and night And happiness I've known proves that it's right Because you're mine, I walk the line
You've got a way to keep me on your side You give me cause for love that I can't hide For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide Because you're mine, I walk the line
Joanne Huffa from ChartAttack [with files from other Johnny Cash fans]