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Tributes To Johnny Cash

Happy Birthday Johnny Cash 

February 26, 2003

Johnny Cash: An American Original Returns


On the cover of his album "Ragged Old Flag," Johnny Cash stands resolute, staring directly at the viewer and pointing to an American flag that is torn and tattered but still flying. His face looks as if it could grace Mount Rushmore. Like the flag behind him, that face is weathered and battle-worn, but nonetheless defiant. "She's been through the fire before," Mr. Cash intones on the album's title track, alluding to the flag and the country it represents, "and I believe she can take a whole lot more."

When "Ragged Old Flag" was first released in 1974, Mr. Cash intended the flag's scars to symbolize the shocks of American history, from the Revolutionary War to more contemporary upheavals like the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. When the album was reissued on Dec. 11, three months to the day after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it took on an unmistakable new meaning. The flag on the cover clearly evokes the one recovered at the World Trade Center and recently displayed at the Winter Olympics, a stirring image of the country's determination to survive a devastating blow.

What better artist to summon all that is worthwhile in the American spirit than the redoubtable Mr. Cash? Since 1997, he has struggled with autonomic neuropathy, a severe neurological disorder that has brought him close to death. For that reason, Mr. Cash was not feeling strong enough to participate in the various music-industry events that were organized immediately after Sept. 11. But with the rerelease of "Ragged Old Flag," along with his 1972 concept album, "America: A 200-Year Salute in Story and Song," Mr. Cash made an eloquent statement of his own.

"Sept. 11 broke my heart," Mr. Cash said by telephone from Jamaica, where he can often be found when he is not at his home outside Nashville. "I watched it on television, and I guess I wanted to kill somebody myself. I do love this country, and I saw somebody take a really good shot at it. It was a striking blow at our morale. But I've recovered from that, just as this country is recovering. I believe this country will prevail."

Interest in Mr. Cash has intensified at a time when his music with its patriotic themes and dark undercurrents, its independent-mindedness and its spiritual reach seems eminently suited to the cultural mood of the country. Tuesday marks Mr. Cash's 70th birthday, and to commemorate that event, Columbia/Legacy has begun an extensive reissue campaign that draws on the dozens of albums Mr. Cash recorded for Columbia between 1958 and 1993.

Earlier this month saw the release of "The Essential Johnny Cash," a superb two- disc collection that also includes eight of the legendary tracks (like "I Walk the Line" and "Big River") Mr. Cash recorded between 1955 and 1958 for the influential Sun label, where Elvis Presley also established his career.

In addition, remastered versions (with additional, contemporaneous tracks) of five of Mr. Cash's albums that have been out of print for years will be issued on March 19: "The Fabulous Johnny Cash" (1958), "Hymns by Johnny Cash" (1959), "Ride This Train" (1960), "Orange Blossom Special" (1965) and "Carryin' On With Johnny Cash and June Carter" (1967). Five more of Mr. Cash's albums will be reissued in July.

While they represent just a small portion of Mr. Cash's recorded output, the five albums that will come out next month demonstrate how all of the qualities that have made Mr. Cash an American icon were present at the very start of his career. Most tellingly, in their stylistic range and ambition, they dramatize Mr. Cash's continuing conviction that he should be guided by no one's musical lights but his own.

By the time of "The Fabulous Johnny Cash," Mr. Cash and his band, the Tennessee Two, had already established themselves as architects of the rockabilly sound, which blended the twang of country music with the raucousness of then-nascent rock 'n' roll. Just as important, Mr. Cash had already defined his persona as one of popular music's most incorrigible wild men, an amphetamine-fueled hellcat who had no patience for either country music's pieties or rock 'n' roll's teen-pop sentimentality.

Indeed, anyone who brings preconceived notions to Mr. Cash's music is likely to get upended. For example, Mr. Cash was an early, avid admirer of Bob Dylan at a time when conservative country audiences found little to like in Mr. Dylan's bohemian lifestyle or his politics of social protest. "Orange Blossom Special" includes three songs written by Mr. Dylan, and limned connections between folk music, country and rock 'n' roll that are now taken for granted.

"There's no doubt about Bob Dylan's influence on my music and myself," Mr. Cash said. "We became friends, but I already was a fan of his. I still am. I go to the record shop with every release he has and buy his new CD and his latest one, by the way, is the best yet. Bob is timeless. Invariably, before every day ends, there will be a Bob Dylan song that'll float through me."

When Mr. Cash left Sun Records for Columbia in 1958, he cited the label's refusal to allow him to record an album of spirituals as one of the reasons for his departure. That particularly surprises younger listeners, for whom Mr. Cash is primarily known for being the forbidding "Man in Black," a precursor of hip-hop stars for whom courtrooms, boardrooms and the top of the charts are equally familiar. "Hymns by Johnny Cash," in fact, was Mr. Cash's second Columbia release. "I could not convince Sam Phillips about how important that music was to me," Mr. Cash said, referring to the founder of Sun Records. "His answer always was, `I don't know how to sell hymns.' I understood that Sun was a very small company. But I didn't want to be restrained. I didn't want to be held back from doing anything that I felt was important for me to do on record or as a writer."

Over the intervening decades, gospel music has remained one of the mainstays of Mr. Cash's repertory. In 2000, Mr. Cash released a thematically organized three-disc compilation called "Love God Murder," with each disc addressing one of the primary subjects that has preoccupied him throughout his life. He sees little difference among the three concerns. "My faith in God has always been a solid rock that I have stood on," Mr. Cash said. "I was a bad boy at times, but God was always there for me, and I knew that. I guess I even took advantage of that fact. It's hard to justify, I'm sure, so far as you're concerned. But to me it's not."

"Roy Orbison wrote a song called `My Best Friend,' and there's a line in there that says, `A diamond is a diamond/ And a stone is a stone/ But man is part good/ And part bad.' I've always believed that the good will ultimately prevail, but there's a bad side of us that we have to keep warring against. I know I do."

Because of his illness, Mr. Cash no longer performs in front of audiences, and his public appearances are rare. But he does continue to record, and he is up for a Grammy this week in the category of best male country vocal. Since he left Columbia in 1993, Mr. Cash has made three albums with the producer Rick Rubin that are regarded as among his finest. They are notable both for their austere sound emphasizing the gravitas of Mr. Cash's incomparable voice and the boldness of their song selection. On those records, Mr. Cash has performed versions of his own songs, traditional ballads, spirituals and material written by artists as varied as Beck, Glenn Danzig, Neil Diamond and Nick Cave.

The Essential Johnny Cash CD Sony Records

Track List CD #1

  1. Hey Porter
  2. Cry Cry Cry 
  3. I Walk The Line
  4. Get Rhythm 
  5. There You Go
  6. Ballad Of A Teenage Queen
  7. Big River 
  8. Guess Things Happen That Way
  9. All Over Again
  10.  Don't Take Your Gun To Town
  11. Five Feet High And Raising 
  12. The Rebel-Johnny Yuma
  13. Tennessee Flat Top Box
  14. I Still Miss Someone
  15. Ring Of Fire
  16. The Ballad Of Ira Hayes
  17. Orange Blossom Special
  18. Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)

Track List CD #2

  1. It Ain't Me Babe (With June Carter Cash)
  2. The One On The Right Is On The Left
  3. Jackson (With June Carter Cash)
  4. Folsom Prison Blues (Live)
  5. Daddy Sang Bass
  6. Girl From The North Country (With Bob Dylan)
  7. A Boy Named Sue (Live)
  8. If I Were Carpenter ( With June Carter Cash)
  9. Sunday Morning Coming Down
  10. Flesh And Blood
  11. Man In Black
  12. Ragged Old Flag
  13. One Piece At A Time
  14. Ghost Rider's In The Sky
  15. Song Of The Patriot (With Marty Robbins)
  16. Highwayman ( Waylon Jennings Willie Nelson & Kris Kristofferson)
  17. The Night That Hank Williams Came To Town (With Waylon Jennings)

A Johnny Cash Chronicle I've Been Everywhere 

An exhaustive inventory of tour dates, albums releases and movie and TV appearances that traces the "Man In Black's" history from his parents marriage in 1920 to his appearance at the Chet Akins funeral last years 

Author Peter Lewry
Publishing Company, Helter Skelter 

January 2002 Billboard Article

To commemorate the upcoming 70th birthday of country music legend Johnny Cash (Feb. 26), Columbia Legacy will release a new compilation, "The Essential Johnny Cash," and reissue five of his vintage albums. The 36-track "Essential" set will cull material from Cash's career on the Sun, Columbia, and Mercury labels, while the reissues concentrate on Columbia albums originally released between 1959 and 1967.

Spanning two discs, "Essential," due Feb. 12, joins a long line of previous re-packagings of Cash's recorded output (which began in 1959 with Sun's "Greatest!" collection), including Columbia/Legacy's own 1992 three-disc set "The Essential Johnny Cash (1955-1983)." Songs included here that were also on that set benefit from advances in digital remastering techniques, and are paired with several songs not included on that anthology of Cash's Columbia and Sun years.

The new "Essential" includes such No. 1 Billboard country singles as 1956's "I Walk the Line," 1958's "Guess Things Happen That Way," 1963's "Ring of Fire," and 1969's "A Boy Named Sue" (also a No. 2 Billboard Hot 100 hit). Also featured are several notable collaborations -- "Jackson," recorded in 1964 with wife June Carter; "Girl From the North Country," with Bob Dylan in 1969; 1980's "Song of the Patriot" with Marty Robbins; and the fruit of 1993's meeting with U2, "The Wanderer," which appeared on the band's Island set "Zooropa."

The packaging for the birthday set will feature more than 30 testimonials and well wishes to the artist from a diverse list of celebrities, including Willie Nelson, George Jones, Paul McCartney, U2's Bono and the Edge, Shelby Lynne, Leonard Cohen, Keith Richards, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Slipknot's Shawn Crahan and Cory Taylor, Metallica's Kirk Hammett, Al Gore, Nick Cave, and Trisha Yearwood.

While each attempts to explain the impact Cash has had on his or her life, actor/filmmaker Tim Robbins' words most succinctly articulate what all try to express. "Johnny Cash is fierce," he writes. "He has walked as a prisoner and as a poet, a heart as large as large, a giver, a forgiver, a lamb who lies with his lion. I am so lucky to know you. Happy Birthday, Johnnny."

On March 12, Columbia/Legacy's "American Milestones" series will expand five classic Cash albums -- 1959's "The Fabulous Johnny Cash," 1959's "Hymns by Johnny Cash," 1960's "Ride This Train: A Stirring Travelogue of America in Song and Story," 1965's "Orange Blossom Special," and 1967's "Carryin' On With Johnny Cash and June Carter." Each digitally remastered title will feature bonus tracks from the period of the original recording sessions, and will include the original and newly commissioned liner notes.

Among the bonus gems is "Oh What A Dream," now attached to "The Fabulous Johnny Cash." It's the first take of the song recorded at Cash's first Columbia recording session, with guitarist Luther Perkins, steel guitarist Don Helms, bassist Marshall Grant, drummer Morris Plamer, and pianist Marvin Hughes backing him up. Seven other tracks -- mostly alternate takes never before released in the U.S. -- round out the album.

Similarly, "Ride This Train" boasts the inclusion of a version of "The Ballad of the Harpweaver," recorded in December 1959, that has never before been released. The song, based on a work by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, was re-recorded in 1963 for the album "The Christmas Spirit."

Continuing the birthday celebration, in May Sony Nashville will release a Johnny Cash tribute album. Produced by Marty Stuart, the album will feature contributions from Bruce Spingsteen, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Shelby Lynne, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, and Travis Tritt, among others.

In addition, several more reissued titles are expected through the balance of the year, according to a spokesperson. Although it has not yet been determined exactly which or how many albums will be given the revamp treatment, another batch should see the light of day in July, along with a possible live album release.

Cash, who was hospitalized twice in the past year while battling bronchitis, suffers from autonomic neuropathy, a disease of the nervous system that makes him susceptible to pneumonia. He has been hospitalized with it four times since 1998. Nonetheless, he has continued to record, releasing three studio albums in the last seven years -- "American Recordings," "Unchained," and "American III: Solitary Man" -- all produced by Rick Rubin and released on his American Recordings imprint.


All will be expanded editions featuring bonus tracks, new liner notes, and classic archival photography:

                          #1 "The Fabulous Johnny Cash" 1958
                          #2 "Hymns By Johnny Cash" 1959
                          #3 "Johnny Cash - Ride This Train" 1960
                          #4 "Carryin' On With Johnny Cash & June   1967        
                          #5 "Johnny Cash - Orange Blossom Special" 1965

Revised: September 03, 2007


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