Hello, I’m Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash was born 78 years ago today in Arkansas and, like most popular musicians following their deaths, his records are still being released and his music is as popular as ever. The sixth and, presumably, final release in the Rick Rubin-produced American Recordings series came out this week. American VI: Ain’t No Grave was put together from songs left over from the sessions for the previous instalment. Like most of the albums in the series, the songs deal with death and mortality. To aid my research I’ve been reading a graphic novel about Cash that I’ve borrowed from my friend John via our mutual acquaintance Dave. Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness was originally written in German by Reinhard Kleist and it chronicles the major moments in Cash’s life. His story is quite familiar to fans of music following his two autobiographies, a couple of BBC documentaries and the film Walk the Line. Despite this familiarity, Kleist’s graphic novel is a welcome addition to the Cash story. It’s a quick read, which may be explained by the author’s drawing style but also by the areas of Cash’s life that he focuses upon. The story is narrated by an inmate at Folsom Prison and mainly deals with Cash’s life as a young boy up to the concert at that prison in 1968. These narrative elements move along quickly and give the reader little time for more introspective moments. However, the story is broken up at certain points by visual inserts of some of his more popular songs. Like John, I felt that the novel’s weakest aspect was the dialogue although this is often a problem in graphic novels as it needs to fill in some of the story background. Now it’s time for some musical background. I’ve put together some songs written about Mr Cash, a selection of covers by others plus a number of originals and interpretations by the Man in Black

Alabama 3 is an English band that fuses elements of blues, country, gospel, dance and rock into their music. These influences can be heard on their 2005 single that namechecks many of Cash’s most popular songs and features a similar boom-chicka boom musical style to the one he employed in his early music. Lead singer Larry Love has been known to entice audience members to come up with their best Johnny Cash impressions during live renditions of the song. Ry Cooder also mentions the titles of Cash’s songs on the track from his album, I, Flathead

Hello… I’m Johnny Cash – Alabama 3

Johnny Cash – Ry Cooder

Emmylou Harris is responsible for a wonderful tribute to Gram Parsons, Boulder to Birmingham. Her tribute to Johnny appears on Anchored in Love: a Tribute to June Carter Cash

Song To John – Emmylou Harris

A couple of indie bands from the British Isles share a title on songs that are less obviously about the Man in Black. From Cork, The Frank & Walters track appears on their 2006 album A Renewed Interest in Happiness while the one from Glasgow’s Sons & Daughters was their first single release a year earlier

Johnny Cash – The Frank & Walters

Johnny Cash – Sons & Daughters

Nickajack Cave is a huge flooded cave in Tennessee where Johnny Cash paid a visit in 1968. He had been heavily addicted to amphetamines and alcohol at this time and experienced some form of spiritual awakening there that helped him to get over these addictions. Gary Allen’s song about this incident appears on his Tough All Over album from 2005

Nickajack Cave (Johnny Cash’s Redemption) – Gary Allan

Shel Silverstein was a prolific songwriter whose humorous songs were recorded throughout the 70s by a number of acts that performed in the country genre. Some of his most famous credits include The Cover of the Rolling Stone, Sylvia’s Mother and The Ballad of Lucy Jordan for Dr Hook, the latter one later made famous by Marianne Faithfull. He wrote one of Johnny’s most famous hits, A Boy Named Sue, and also 25 Minutes to Go. Here, the narrator of this song recounts how he tries to make a childhood dream come true

A Front Row Seat To Hear Ole Johnny Sing – Shel Silverstein

Johnny Cash had been a star for a few years before Bob Dylan started making albums. Cash was a fan from Dylan’s first album on and really liked The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan record. The two started writing letters to each other and would go on to become friends and even record together. You Are My Sunshine is a song that was written in 1939 and comes from the Nashville Skyline sessions from 1969

You Are My Sunshine – Johnny Cash & Bob Dylan

Rodney Crowell had been married to Johnny’s daughter Roseanne from 1979 to 1982. He is joined by his former father-in-law on his “revisited” version of I Walk the Line from 2001′s The Houston Kid. He is also joined by fellow Texan Nanci Griffith on a track from her second full album of covers, Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back to Bountiful) (1998)

I Walk The Line (Revisited) – Rodney Crowell with Johnny Cash

I Still Miss Someone (Johnny Cash cover) - Nanci Griffith with Rodney Crowell

One of the best songwriters to emerge from the late 70s UK punk and new wave movement, Elvis Costello, grew up listening to American country music. He paid tribute to some of these artists on his 1981 album of country covers, Almost Blue. Half a decade later, he released his own album of original songs that drew on country music, King of America. The Big Light appears on that album and was covered the following year by Johnny Cash. Elvis returned the favour by recording Ring of Fire for the Anchored in Love album

The Big Light (Elvis Costello cover)

Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash cover) – Elvis Costello

Even before the arrival of Rick Rubin and the success of the American Recordings series, Cash had always been a fine interpreter of other writer’s work. Here are his takes on some well-known songs by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Tim Hardin and The Rolling Stones. Satisfied Mind was written by Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes and was first a hit for Porter Wagoner. Johnny’s version was produced by Rick Rubin and first appeared on the soundtrack to Kill Bill Vol Two. It also appears on American VI: Ain’t No Grave

It Ain’t Me, Babe (Bob Dylan cover)

No Expectations (Rolling Stones cover)

I’m on Fire (Bruce Springsteen cover)

Reason to Believe (Tim Hardin cover)

A Satisfied Mind (Porter Wagoner cover)

Cash’s return to popular and critical acclaim in the last decade of his life followed a less successful time in the 80s and appeared in an unlikely place. Buyers of U2′s eight album must have been taken aback by its final track, The Wanderer. Unusually, the song features a synthesised bassline, a drumbeat and no guitars. Even more unusually, it is one of the few U2 songs that doesn’t feature Bono on lead vocals (surely enough of a reason to check it out). It is followed by three more Irish-flavoured songs sung by Cash

The Wanderer – U2 featuring Johnny Cash

Galway Bay (by Frank Fahy)

I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen (by Thomas Westendorf)

Forty Shades Of Green

Cash’s lack of success in the 80s was partly due to his ambivalence towards the Nashville scene and what he perceived as his record company’s failure to market him. As a result, he decided to write a really bad song about how his brain gets transplanted into a chicken with him receiving the brain of a bank robber instead! The song was a bit of a hit and I actually like it. It’s followed by another humorous effort called Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart. As a soldier, Cash was stationed in Germany and released some of his songs in that language. I got Wo Ist Zu Hause, Mama? from this When You Awake post and Wer kennt den Weg from this Any Major Dude With Half a Heart post. Finally, Hurts Like Teen Spirit is a mashup of Johnny’s version of Nine Inch Nail’s Hurt along with songs from Nirvana, Blue Oyster Cult and New Order

The Chicken In Black

Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart

Wo Ist Zu Hause, Mama? (Five Feet High & Rising)

Wer kennt den Weg (I Walk the Line)

Hurts Like Teen Spirit

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2 thoughts on “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash

  1. Not at all, Webbie. And a great addition it is, too: the holy trinity of Marley, Cash & Strummer. All gone, sadly

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