This is some blog description about this site

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Categories
    Categories Displays a list of categories from this blog.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Team Blogs
    Team Blogs Find your favorite team blogs here.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Posted by on in Interviews

Earl Poole Ball was gracious enough to sit down with me and discuss his beginnings, his time with Johnny Cash--and a plethora of other music legends--and his latest work, the great Pianography album.  It was a real treat to sit down with country music’s finest piano player for a couple hours on September 23, 2014 and January 9, 2015 to complete this interview for the Johnny Cash Infocenter.


Interview by: Jeff Emond


How did you get in the music business?


[When] I went into the music business I was young, and I had learned how to play the piano.  My mother had told me said if I took some lessons I’d be popular at parties.  And so I took piano lessons, and I enjoyed playing the piano.  I didn’t like classical music that much but I learned to play the pop songs through a chord book.  


Then these guys but a band together around Columbia, Mississippi, and they asked me to play with them, so I did.  I didn’t necessarily think that was what I would be doing for living, because I had other interests.  I wanted to go to college to study law, or theatre arts, or maybe some other stuff.  I liked political science when I was a teenager.  And then I got involved with this band, and I saw it was a pretty easy way to make money.  They were a little country-rockabilly band.  They were called the Hillcats.  Then I got involved with a lady and wound up marrying her, playing piano at night.  I dropped out of college, though I should have stayed in college and not got married.  But we make these mistakes when we’re young, we all do.  That’s what I was doing for a couple years in Mississippi.  


I’d been working with Jimmy Swan, a popular disc jockey there.  I got a job with him playing his TV show when I was a senior in high school, and then playing with him after I graduated.


So that’s how I became a piano player: it didn’t leave me any time to do anything else.  I just sort of drifted along with it.  


My marriage had gone bad in Mississippi so I moved to Texas for three years.  My father gave me two hundred dollars and a bus ticket one-way to Houston, Texas, and told me to get out of Mississippi and make something out of myself.   I played in Texas and became friends with Mickey Gilley.  I played there with a friend of mine who actually sang a lot of Johnny Cash tunes and helped me get that Memphis-style piano down.


I was pretty much in the music business just for a living at that time.  I was enjoying it, because as a young man I learned to drink beer and party a lot, and it went along with the job.  [Laughs.]  


Where you always attracted to country music?


Rock n’ roll and country, and rockabilly.  I played some blues with different people.  I love the blues.


What was it like to make your first album?


Well, my first recording, which wasn’t an album, was made in Houston with Mickey Gilley producing me.  He wanted to give me a chance.  I took the record to radio stations around Houston, and I got some air play and moderate success.  


After three years in Texas, I had moved to California, I got a job at the Palmino Club, which was world famous at the time for being the top country music club in the nation.  Then I became a member of a band called Red Rose and the Detours and everybody in the band got a chance to make a record for Crown Records.  They way they made those albums, they were kind of knock-off things.  You would record a really popular song, then you would fill the rest of the album up with your own original tunes, which you still owned the rights to.  So all the members of that band who sung and played recorded an album.  So for my album, the song “Love of the Common People” was popular by Waylon Jennings at the time.  I sang that song, then I filled the rest of the album up with originals.  I think we recorded each album in about two hours.  Then I didn’t cut another album for a long time.  


I recorded another one, first on cassette tape, called Earl Poole Ball and His Honky Tonk Piano.  It’s on my website store now.  I made the album while I was touring with Johnny.  Half of it is made of piano instrumentals, the other half is rockabilly.  A good cut on the album with “Crazy Arms” and there’s a great gospel tune there called “I’ve Got Jesus in My Soul.”


So let’s go back to California.  I jam sessions on the weekend with my own band called The Sessioneers.  We played The Aces Club on Friday and Saturday nights, and it was a big deal.  A lot of people came from San Diego and the large surrounding areas.  We started around 3:00 a.m. in the morning.  It was fun, but it was tiring.  I did it for about five years.  During that time, I got to know Cliffie Stone, who was a record producer and publisher.  He hired me to work at his publishing company, and that became my day job.  It was a great training ground.  Later on, I became a producer at Capitol Records.  I was also recording with Buck Owens and the Buckaroos at the time.  I was also working with Gram Parsons, on the International Submarine Band album, then Parsons pulled me over to record The Sweetheart of the Rodeo album with The Byrds.  I also cut a couple of tunes with The Flying Burrito Brothers.


I was with Capital in Texas until 1972, until I moved to a branch of Capitol Records in Nashville and worked there for about three years.  I moved because of the company.  I wouldn’t want to go on my own, I loved my California existence.  Then I met Johnny Cash through Harland Howard and Don Davis, and Cash asked me to join his band.  I put it off for about a year because I was enjoying playing sessions and not traveling, but then Cash made it such a good situation that I left Capitol Records and soon went to work with Cash.


Did Johnny hear a song that convinced him that you had to be his pianist?


I don’t know if there was a particular song.  I came into his picture when Don Davis, who had brought Cash the “One Piece at a Time Song.”  I demoed “One Piece at a Time” with the guy who wrote it.  I don’t know if he heard my piano playing on that or not, but Don Davis was producing “One Piece at a Time” with Johnny.  When I came back, he was producing Look At Them Beans and shortly after that he was doing The Rambler.  Cash had heard me play, and he really, really liked that I knew that Sun style of music.  The piano player he had at the time was getting ready to leave and form a gospel group.  


Don Davis was instrumental, because he worked with both Harland Howard and the music company owned by Tree.  He was also producing Johnny.  Davis was an ex-brother-in-law of Johnny; he had been married to Anita Carter.  He found some songs for Johnny, and Johnny was grateful that he did, so we recorded out of Johnny’s House of Cash Studios.  Johnny liked having his own studio.  


Do you remember the first song you played with Johnny?


I think it was one of the songs on Look At Them Beans, but I can’t remember which one.  


One album I wanted to talk about is one that is almost a cult-favorite, one that you produced, Rockabilly Blues.  How did that come about?


I had a song recorded by Johnny called “I Don’t Think I Can Take You Back Again.”  That song did two things.  It looked like Johnny’s contract was coming to an end with Columbia.  I went up to see Rick Blackburn.  I told that I had heard the rumor that Johnny was leaving the label.  I said, “I’ve got this great recording that he did called ‘I Don’t Think I Can Take You Back Again’ and I think it would be a great single if Johnny does leave the company.  I just want you to consider it, because I know you’ll want to release more Cash songs like Sun did even if he goes to a different label”   Blackburn looked at me quizzically.   It was a very stupid thing for me to do, but maybe it helped.  I was still naive at the time--I’m still not over naivety yet!  


I thought that I did the best I could for the song: I was the publisher, the writer and composer.  I left, and before long they wanted Johnny to do another album.  I don’t know if it was because I had been there, or they changed their mind about dropping him from the label.  Cash asked me to produce the record, and we started cutting some good songs.  


Then one day, we were walking down the street, he and I, going to our cars from the studio.  And I said, “Johnny, we’re doing these good songs but what are we doing to call this album?  Rockabilly something?”  He said, “Blues.  Rockabilly Blues.  Let’s call it that.”  So the title came after we started recording.  Then Cash wrote a song called Rockabilly Blues to have a song of that title on the record.  This was in the day before people did albums with great tunes just for the heck of having a great album.  Before, it seemed most of the artists in Nashville were getting a hit single and putting mediocre material around it to make an album.  But Rockabilly Blues changed that because it became an album with great tunes, but not big single.  But they learned that they had to promote an album as an album, and not just a collection of songs that could be singles.  

That’s how that came about.  Johnny asked me to do it and I did it.  He had a track that had been recorded with his son-in-law in England, Nick Lowe, and he had Jack Clement do a couple tracks.  We were challenged to add Bob Wootton and W.S. Holland to the Nick Lowe tune, and put proper sounding Johnny Cash electric guitar on that.  I worked with a very skilled engineer who managed to make it all gel together--he was fifty percent of the whole thing.  And Johnny had a lot of input, so I was mainly helping to keep everything coordinated.  I wish I had written a song for it, but I wasn’t writing much at the time.


It was really highly rated.  It was one of the top ten albums of the 1980s in Country Music Magazine.  Another album I produced with Merle Haggard, Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player, was also selected as one of the top ten.  I figured I wasn’t going to be able to top myself, so I might as well play the piano and travel around and see the world with Johnny, and have a good time.  That was about the same time I got my last divorce, and I was ready for a good time.


Did Rockabilly Blues feel like a hit album while making it?


It felt like something spectacular to me.  We had a Billy Joe Shaver tune, some Johnny tunes.  “The Twentieth Century is Almost Over” is one I thought would be a hit.  But Columbia just dropped the ball, they didn’t know how to promote that record.  That’s when I decided to quit being a producer


You played on the Gone Girl album?  




One of my favorite songs on there that you play on is “Song for the Life.”


Oh, yes.  That leads us to another subject.  I think that was just me, Johnny and Rosanne Cash.  That lead to a whole different chapter of my life.  Peter Bogdanovich, the movie producer, was a big fan of Johnny’s.  Peter was doing a movie in New York called Everybody Laughs.  Peter heard “Song for the LIfe” while he was doing this movie, and it came about that wanted to use “I Don’t Think I Can Take You Back Again” sung by Johnny Cash in the movie.  Some coordinators called.  I said of course they could use it, I gave them a decent little price, nothing they couldn’t afford.  Then I told them during a phone call that you don’t just need my song, you need me to come up and play the piano, I want to be in your movie!  They said really, what’s some of the stuff you’ve done?  I said that I’ve done some production and played on a lot of Johnny Cash records.  


It turns out, “Song for the LIfe” was a favorite of Peter Bogdanovich, he loved that song.  So I had a meeting with Peter in his suite at a big hotel in New York.  He decided he wanted to have me on to be the bandleader in his movie, and to help the singer.  She was an actress who could sing good, too, named Colleen Camp.  We played on the soundtrack for all of the songs.  That was a thrilling experience.


And that led to many small acting roles?


Yes it did.  I did Murder in Coweta County with Johnny because the bug bit me.  I also did The Pride of Jesse Hallam with Johnny.  Johnny would show up and know all of his lines, and seemed to be a natural.  Gary Nelson directed a lot of Cash’s movies.  Gary was a nice guy to work with, and he and his wife were really sweet.  He was a great director for John.  


And I did Texasville with Peter Bogdanovich.  It wasn’t a giant role but it paid really well, and I worked with Peter on some TV shows as well.  


Since you worked on Texasville and live in Texas, are you a fan of Larry McMurtry?


I’m a fan and I met him one time, when we were filming in New York.  He dropped by the set and I got to meet him.  I recorded with his son, James McMurtry, here in Austin.  He’s a good singer/songwriter.  I recorded two tunes on one of his albums about eight years ago.  


Johnny made the piano a prominent part of his live show.  How did that come to be?


Yeah, that just sort of fell into place.  It has the basic sound he liked from when he started in Memphis.  Johnny really liked the piano, and I played with him on a lot of the gospel sounds he was featured.  He especially liked the gospel sound on the piano.  He gave me a chance to sing and play some instrumentals, I played the “Tennessee Waltz” and “Last Date” a lot.  I’m glad that he liked it and kept me going.  Johnny and June became like family to me after a couple of years, they were just such great people.


Did you have a favorite song to play live?


I got the most reaction to “I’ve Got Jesus in My Soul.”  And “Music Box Dancer.”  People just seem to love that song.  I did it with a boogie-woogie part in the middle, then slowed it back down.  It was sort of a show piece, and Johnny had me play that everywhere: Europe, Australia, New Zealand.  Cash liked that for several years, and I think we wore it out a little bit.  


Did you meet any famous leaders or presidents?


I didn’t meet any presidents.  I met Billy Graham when Graham was in Nashville and John had me come down to have a meal.  I think we were at an Italian restaurant, and then I got to see him again at Johnny’s home.  That’s the most prominent person I think of, and Billy Graham sent me a Christmas card for years.


Do you remember doing many prison or Native American benefit concerts?


The first shows that I worked with Cash were prison concerts.  I think we did three in one day in California.  I started working with him in 1977, but I think it was at the end of 1976 that we played those concerts, as sort of an audition for me.  It was remarkable.   I did go into Folsom one time with Merle Haggard when I was working for Capitol Records in California.  But it was different this time with Johnny.  There were bigger audiences and Johnny played for the entire population of the center.


What can you tell us about Johnny’s activism or humanitarian work?


I remember going to Jamaica and playing there for an orphanage.  This was just before going to Europe, we went to Jamaica to raise some funds.  Hugh Waddell put together a fundraiser, Rock for the Animals, that was a fundraiser for animals.  We played that in Nashville.  I know Cash did a lot of individual humanitarian things.  He did some fundraisers for the Carter Fold out of Bristol. It was almost a humanitarian thing when we went to Czechoslovakia because those people really needed some sunlight in their lives.  But it was a paid performance situation.


Is there any live concert that you have a vivid memory of?


One of the concerts that really sticks out for me, maybe above all of them, is the very first Czechoslovakian concerts.  We did two days, and we played for over forty thousand people.  That’s on video.  


Is there any piece of advice Cash gave you that’s memorable?


Yeah, one in particular, and I think about it a lot when I have to go to the doctor.  Cash said, “Be careful of going to specialists, Earl.  Or else somehow they’ll figure out a way to work you into their speciality.”


There was one time in my career when I would have little panic attacks, and I’d feel like the stage was spinning around.  I went to a doctor for that, and he gave me medication that I took for maybe too long.  I decided it wasn’t the miracle drug I hoped it was, but something the doctor gave me to pacify me.  These panic attacks started on a freeway in California when big trucks surrounded me, and I had to pull over to the side of the road.  I had another in Nashville.  I finally got the right diagnosis and they recommended counseling.  


Sooner or later, I talked to Johnny about what was going on.  We had some important dates coming up that I felt I might not be able to make.  I was ready to change doctors to figure out what to do.  I told Johnny about what I was going through, and that I couldn’t make all these upcoming dates, but I’ll make what I can.  Johnny said, “Don’t worry about it Earl, make what you can.  I can handle it if you can.”  I never missed a paycheck, even when I had to get into a treatment situation.  I never missed a paycheck.  Johnny Cash was very loyal, and very caring about the people in his band.  He was always very, very good to his people.


It was such a pleasurable experience for twenty years.  At one point I got to thinking, when I was in my forties, that maybe I need to go to college now.  I told Lou Robin and W.S. Holland that.  I said maybe I need to go to school and figure out something else to do.  They both looked at me and said, “Earl, it’s too late now.”  I had an ideal job, and it was entertaining with different places, people and situations every day.  It wasn't like a job, the only hard part about it was traveling.  But the actual experience playing the shows, and being a part of a huge traveling family, was a really great experience for me.  And because I did that, at this point in my life I get enough work.  


Can you talk about how your latest record, Pianography, came about?


I had these songs laying around that I always wanted to record, some in my publishing company and some that I had written--all noteworthy songs.  A friend of mine who does record promotions, Terry Hendrix, suggested that I make a record.  She heard me singing in The Lucky Tomblin Band, a great that I was in.  She told me I had to make my own record, so I got the [recording] bug.  I had some extra money--lately I found out there’s no such thing as extra money--and I took the money and put it toward Pianography.  I got the band that I was playing with at the time, a rockabilly/blues band, with some great musicians in it, and we went into what I considered one of the best studios in sound.  Finally we got something acceptable down after mixing it three times, going through several different versions.  


Three or four of the tunes were recorded live a Johnny Cash tribute show, which were just part of the many that I did.  I didn’t even know they were being recorded.  I got my friend Lisa Morales to sing on it, she’s been my favorite gospel and blues singer forever.  I got a couple of other ladies to sing with me, [including] Cindy Cashdollar.  It was just something I felt I should do, though it was ridiculous for someone at my age.  I bought a ton of promotion with the press all over the world.  I didn’t take out ads, but I used a guy who does magazine promotions.  It went out mainly to Americana stations.  I don’t think stations that play the real country music got serviced that well, [but] I want to re-service it to those people.  In a sense, except for the few people who have heard it all the way through and got the message, it’s a lost cause.  If I had to do it all over again, I’d do the songs.  It’s the last production I’ll do, probably the last record I’m ever going to make.  People that have listened to Pianography more than once dig into it and they really like it.  


One song, “Something’s Gonna Get Us All,” is a really humorous song about mortality.  Did you write it?


No, it was written by a friend of mine, Bucky Lindsey.  I knew him from when I was in Nashville.  He’s a really great writer who writes a lot of blues.  He’s had some award-winning compositions.  He sent me a copy of “Something’s Gonna Get Us All” and I said, “Well that sounds great!”  So I learned it and taught it to my band, and we pretty much used his demo arrangement.  I like the song, I thought it was great for a good shuffle, and it as a great lesson, too.


You talk a bit about the musical horn arrangement on “Say You Love Me”?


Right at end [of the song] I put a Dixie Band thing together.  There’s a trombone and a tuba, and it fits in with the rest of the band.  That song had been written for a long time.  Joel Sonye and I wrote it years and years ago.  I thought it was a great song.  I got Julian Banks to sing that with me, she’s a really great singer.


The opening track, “Standing at the Edge of the World,” has some really cool whistling in it.


Jody Adere did the whistling.  She’s a girl who was in the band that we had, and she was a really good whistler.  The idea came about because she would whistle on stage.  She just started doing it one day, and I didn’t even know she could whistle.  And so, I got her to come in and whistle on it.


It’s a catchy song.


I always thought it was a catchy song.  Somebody might record that one of these days and have a big hit with it.  It has a lot of good verbal and musical hooks to it.


We talked about how the title track is autobiographical.  Were the songs “The Real Me” and “One of Those Old Things We All Go Through” also autobiographical?  


I wrote “The Real Me.”  It’s autobiographical too, but partly about me and partly about a friend I know.  I believe Joel Sonye and I wrote “One of Those Old Things We All Go Through” years ago, and it’s also autobiographical.


Sometimes I think that maybe, unless you’re a household name like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings or Johnny Cash, you shouldn’t even put out an autobiographical album.  A lot of people don’t have enough to read about you to know what you’ve been through and what you’ve done to know it’s an autobiographical presentation.


So what are you up to now musically?


Right now I play on Sundays nights with a band called Haybale.  We play from 9:45 to midnight on Sunday nights.  Tom Lewis organized the band and plays the drums.  Redd Volkaert is a preeminent electric guitar player.  Johnny Cox plays the steel guitar.  Dallas Wayne, a great singer, songwriter and disc jockey who hosts Willie’s Roadhouse on Sirius XM, plays the bass and sings.  Sometimes the original bass player for Willie Nelson plays the bass with us.  And I play the piano and sing.  It’s either a five or six piece lineup.  We play at the Continental Club, a preeminent kind of place in Austin.  It features rockabilly, country, and alternative music styles.  A lot of Americana acts come by there.


Last night I played with a band called Rick Broussard and Two Hoots and a Holler.  I just love playing with them.  I play with them once a month at a place called The High Ball.  He does a lot of cajun stuff.  He uses me to augment his band on one Thursday night a month.  Another band I play with is called Deuce Coupe.  Kevin Fox, a major songwriter for the group and a delightful and talented young man, has a drummer and a bass player that are some of the best rhythm section people that I’ve ever played with.  I work with them two or three times a month.  They work as a trio mainly, but for certain gigs they put me in.  Those are the main people I play with.  


I’m seventy-three years old.  It’s such a hassle to have your own band and keep them booked fully enough to keep the same people most of the time.  The nature of the beast here in Austin is one where very rarely will you have a really great guitar, drum or bass player, but very rarely will you have those particular three together.  All of them have other jobs and are in other bands.  You always have to call in substitutes, so nobody knows you original songs--you can only play the classics.  I’m in semi-retirement and I’ve abandoned the thought of having my own band for now.  I might want to create an all-girl band.  An old man and three beautiful women playing good music would be something kind of different--we might even be able to get work!  Without a hassle!  [Laughs.]   


Living here in Austin, I’ve noticed how the city is growing and changing from the city I moved to in 1999.  I floated around for about a year after Johnny quit touring and moved here because Dale Watson suggested that I should, and he was right.  I’m trying not to work a lot.  It kind of takes care of itself--if you don’t go out there and beat the bushes, people don’t think about you.  Other than that, I’m just hanging in there, trying to enjoy life a little bit.  I don’t have any major hobbies--music is my hobby.


What is one of your favorite books?


The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks.  I’ve just read a Jerry Lee Lewis life story called Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story by Rick Bragg.  It’s a new book and it’s very, very good.  Jerry Lee told the co-author his story, and the author elaborated on what happened, where it happened, what happened next.  I mostly read biographies and autobiographies.  Buck Owens has one too called Buck ‘Em!, and I [have found] that my favorite readings are about entertainers.  There’s one called Unconquered: The Saga of Cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley, written by J. D. Davis that I’ve read.


Thank you so much for your time.


Feel free to read our review of Pianography, or check out Earl Poole Ball's official website to keep up with tour dates and recordings.


Last modified on
Hits: 2249

Posted by on in Interviews

On March 22, 2014, Dave Roe Rorick, Johnny Cash's bass player from 1992 to 2003, was generous enough to give the Johnny Cash Info Center an exclusive interview!  On behalf of myself and the JCI team, we would like to thank Mr. Rorick for his time and participation!


Interview by: Jeff Emond


1) When and how did you first meet up with Johnny Cash and become his bassist?

I met Johnny in the 80’s. I was playing in June’s daughter Rosie Carter’s band. I was called in '91 and offered the job in '92.


2) I understand that you started off with the electric bass, but now you primarily play upright.

I never played upright till I joined Johnny’s band. Learned on the job.


3) What was touring with Cash like after he signed on with Rick Rubin and the "American Recordings" label?

After the Rick Rubin thing started, we went from playing for mostly Johnny’s aging fans to playing a lot of everything-concerts, punk rock clubs, everything got a whole lot more rock and roll.


4) What songs did you record in the studio with Cash?  (We know you recorded "I'm on Fire" with Cash which has an awesome, driving bass part!)

I played on about a third of the Rick Rubin stuff. I couldn’t even begin to to tell you which ones.


5) How did you come to be a backup singer for Cash on songs like "Get Rhythm" during live shows?

I’ve always been in demand as a background singer. I went from being Vern Gosdin’s main background singer, to Johnny’s, and then on to Dwight Yoakam’s [background] singer. I make part of my living singing in the studio.


6) Did you have any favorite songs that you performed on stage?

I loved playing "Big River" and "I Walk the Line" the most.


7) What was it like playing at the England Glastonbury Festival in 1994?

Glastonbury was awesome! So many people-all really loving Johnny. Loved that gig and Royal Albert Hall the most.


8) How did you first discover Johnny Cash?

I’ve known his music since I was very young--my mom loved him.


9) What is your favorite Johnny Cash song?

Favorite song--Bottom of [the Mountain]. Favorite record--the first on on Sun.  [Which was "Cry, Cry, Cry" and "Hey Porter."]


10) Were there any routines that went on before or after a show?

Johnny was pretty much the same all of the time. Very comfortable with who he was.


11) You've recorded or performed with an impressive list of people.  Care to drop a few names and memories?

I have so many great memories from different points in my career.  It’s all so good!


12) Even though your website states that you're a session player, is there anyone you perform with regularly now?

I’m in a really good band with my dearest friend Kenny Vaughan--Marty Stuart’s guitar player. We play a lot of our own material. Every Monday night at a little place called 12 South Taproom. Big fun.


13) Are there any words of advice or wisdom that Johnny Cash shared with you that you wouldn't mind sharing with us?

One time when I had a really bad cold, Johnny gave me this advice--“Have a shot of liquor--it won’t make you feel better, but at least you’ll feel better!”


14) Johnny Cash is known for his humanitarian works.  Can you share experience with Cash on that topic?

I don’t know much about that stuff as it concerns Johnny, however, I do know that he was very intent on making sure that everyone around him was happy, in particular his family and his employees.


15) Are there any forthcoming projects or albums that you are featured on that you can tell us about?

I’m very involved with my band with Kenny--that’s number one with me right now.  I’m also involved with a musical that John Mellencamp has written with Steven King.  I’m also on Ray Lamontagne’s new album due out soon. Busy is what I really like to be.


For more information about Dave Roe, check out the official website for this legendary Nashville Bassist



Last modified on
Hits: 2919

Posted by on in Interviews

On September 27, 2013, Mr. Henry Vaccaro, Sr., a personal friend of Johny Cash, was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his relationship with The Man in Black for the Johnny Cash Infocenter.  On behalf of myself, and the entire JCI team, thank you Mr. Vaccaro, for taking the time to share some stories about John Cash! 


Interview by: Jeff Emond


When did you first meet Johnny Cash, what was it like?


I first met Johnny at a reception following a show at Garden State Arts Center here in New Jersey in 1973.  I was formally introduced to him in 1976 at a similar reception.  I was in the construction business but had just invested in [the] Kramer Guitar [company].  That next day Johnny introduced me to Bob Wootton at their hotel. I took Bob and Marshall to the Kramer factory only 5 miles away. They were so impressed that night on stage [that] Bob, Marshall and Jerry Hensley all played Kramer instruments.  Bob and I really hit it off and I invited he and Earl Poole Ball to Bimini Bahamas on a fishing trip.  Bob enjoyed it so much that he told Johnny about it so the following year Johnny, John Carter, Bob and I went back to Bimini on one of our several trips together.


How did you get started in the guitar business?


I started in the guitar business when a young man came to my office and wanted to rent a vacant warehouse building that I owned.  I was so impressed with the guitar with an aluminum neck that I invested, eventually becoming the largest stockholder and Chairman of the Board. In 1987 Kramer was voted on by Guitar Player as the top guitar in the country.


You were a witness to Johnny Cash received the Shalom Peace Award.  Do you know any details on the work Cash did to get such a prestigious award?


In 1986 Johnny was Roasted at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis where he received the Shalom Peace Award from the Jewish National Fund for his work in promoting peace around the world. Johnny made a movie called Gospel Road in Israel.


Can you tell me how Johnny helped revive your religion?


I was a usher in Bob’s wedding party in Philadelphia, Mississippi.  After [the] wedding, Johnny, John Carter and I flew back to New Jersey in a learjet. While on [the] plane it was thunder[ing] and lightning; [and the] plane was shaking when John turned to me and asked what church I went too.  I told him that I didn't go to church, [and] he asked why. I told him [and] he said there is a God up there you should go back to church.  [To] make the story short, I did go back to church and the last five times that Johnny Cash ever came to Asbury Park he went to church with me.


Johnny Cash was deeply involved with Asbury Park, lived there for a time, and recorded a concert there--can you tell us about his involvement in Asbury and “The Great Lost Performance”?


Johnny and June were limited partners in the Berkeley Carteret Hotel restoration and maintained an apartment there from 1985 until 1993.  Johnny did several concerts at the Paramount Theater just across the street from the hotel.  Johnny did a ceremony for the local VFW and the MIA's. The lost performance I paid to have recorded along with a man named Clark Ensley.  On his own, several years later, Clark put out the CD and added his wife's vocals even though she never performed with John.


Cash was your business partner at some point.  How did that professional partnership begin?


The business partnership began while on the movie set [for] "Murder in Coweta County,” filmed in Georgia.  While on Johnny’s bus I showed June pictures of Asbury Park and the vacant hotel that I was buying. She fell in love with it and told Johnny [about the hotel] when he got on the bus.  We talked and he wanted to be part of it.  That's how it all started.


Is there any advice or words of wisdom that you remember Johnny giving you, or any comments he made that really stick with you to this day?


Words of wisdom. In 1993, I went bankrupt [and] Johnny invited me to spend Christmas and New Years with he and his family in Jamaica. We had a long talk one day and he said, “Henry, remember this: The only thing that went bankrupt was your wallet." He pointed to my head and my heart [and said,] “[A]s long as that brain is working and that heart keeps pumping you will be fine and will come back bigger and stronger than before.”


If you had to pick one song, and one album of Johnny Cash’s, what would be your favorite picks?


Favorite song: "Ways of a Woman in Love.”  Favorite album: Live at Folsom Prison.  Other top songs: “Flesh and Blood,” “Forty Shades of Green,” “Far Side Banks of Jordan,” and “Meet Me in Heaven.”  


What encouraged you to write your book, “Johnny Cash is a Friend of Mine,” now, several years after Cash’s passing?


I always wanted to write a book about my memories of him.  But I am not a writer.  So I hired an author, but he wanted [$50,000] to write the book [and] at that time, three years ago, my business was very slow and I didn't have the money.  So my son purchased a camera and said, “Dad, talk into this and tell your stories.”  I did, and for several weeks I sat and talked.  After finishing we found [an] online a service that would type [what is said] in a word document.  We hired them and soon all my stories were down on paper.  I never had a computer in my life, so at age 70, I [got] a computer and typed, one finger at a time, the entire book from that transcribed document. [O]nline we found an editor for two grand who we hired. The editor sent back [a] marked up manuscript which I revised [and] sent out to several artist agencies and book publishers [but] none would print it as I was not an experienced author and they felt it was a "niche book.”  My son found this company called Createspace, owned by Amazon, [and] we sent them the book including photos.  Next thing I know I am an author.


For more information on Mr. Vaccaro’s book "Johnny Cash Is a Friend of Mine" (which contains more stories and personal photos of Johnny Cash) please visit his Facebook page, Johnny Cash Is a Friend of Mine.



Last modified on
Hits: 2184

Posted by on in Interviews

On January 1st, 2013, I was given the chance to interview Johnny Cash's daughter Kathy Cash-Tittle.  For over an hour she graciously answered my questions and shared some stories about her father.  It was an amazing experience, and I feel like there will be some stories that even the oldest Cash fans never heard, printed here for the first time.  I'm sincerely thankful to Kathy Cash, who was wonderfully friendly and made the first day of the new year one that I will never forget.


Interview by: Jeff Emond


Did Johnny Cash always have a broad acceptance of different genres of music and musical artists?


Always. He loved every type of music you could imagine. He was interested in everything from rock, to pop, gospel, country, you name it, he liked it. He would always research music, too. He’d tell the women who worked at his office, “Here’s some money go buy me all the top 10 [songs on Billboard the charts.]” He studied music like he studied the Bible, like he studied everything else.


Was he into any specific genre most of all?


When he had downtime and listened to [music] for enjoyment, he would listen to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Blind Boys of Alabama… it was usually gospel.


What was his favorite gospel group?


The Blind Boys of Alabama.


Do you have a favorite song of your father’s?


Of all his songs I have three that I can listen to forever and ever. “Flesh and Blood,” “Forty Shades of Green,” and “I Walk the Line.” Contrary to what some people might think, he did write “I Walk the Line” for my mom, and I think it’s beautiful. I think those are all so artistic and poetic. I remember being little and I thought “Home of the Blues” was such an incredible song; I could picture all of it. “Forty Shades of Green” turned out to be funny because after going to Ireland, when I was probably 18 or 19, we went to a pub to have lunch and someone recognized dad—of course everyone knew him, it was in the 70s. And the man said “Someone said you wrote ‘Forty Shades of Green.’” And [Johnny] said, “I did.” And the man said “That’s a classic Irish folk song.” And [Johnny] said, “I wrote it” and the man said “No you didn’t” and they argued about it. There’s just something about that song that makes you picture every single bit of it. When Johnny and [Vivian] first went to Ireland, Johnny looked out the window of the airplane and said, “Oh my God, there has got to be forty shades of green!” and he wrote that down on a yellow legal sized notepad he always carried on him.


What style of music do you cherish most?


I’m into all kinds of things. I’ve got everybody from Bonnie Raitt to Led Zeppelin to 70s hip. As far as dad’s music. . . I can listen to the old stuff without being emotional, because it’s from when I was a kid; it still makes me feel good and it’s comforting. But the older stuff, when he was older and he got sick—it’s hard for me to watch the “Hurt” video and it’s hard for me to listen to those songs. And when he died [Hurt] was playing everywhere, and few weeks after he died John Carter and I went to accept the award for the song. That one is hard for me to watch because it wasn’t long before dad and June would pass away. A lot of people don’t know this, but [Johnny] was pretty much blind the last couple of years that he was alive, and he was in a wheelchair. The first time he showed me “Hurt” was in his office. I just started crying and he asked, “What’s the matter, honey?” And I said, “It’s so sad but it’s beautiful!” He said, “Aw, that’s art! It’s part of life.” I said, “I know, but watching it is really hard.” He said, “Look at it from an artistic point of view.” He was trying to talk me out of being upset, but it’s hard to watch. That was obviously his goodbye song, he did record several after that, but that was hard. I still have a little trouble watching it. I can look at pictures of dad when he was young and it doesn’t affect me like it does when I see pictures of when he was older. To me he was two different people, he was daddy and then he was Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash was the public guy and daddy was daddy—he was so different at home I never thought about it much until we left home and [fans] would be waiting outside the gates.


Is there a specific time period of Johnny Cash’s music you like the most?


I didn’t like Mercury too much—he didn’t either.  I didn’t like that period of his music. I was disappointed because I knew he wasn’t doing things that he wanted to do. I was working in dad’s publishing company at the time and he would just get so frustrated. “They won’t let me do what I want to do.” So Sun, Columbia, and of course Rick Rubin’s years are all important to me. I don’t pay much attention to [Mercury]. I’m sure Mercury won’t be happy.


Johnny Cash has recorded some powerful political songs like "Don't Go near the Water." Did they have special meanings to him?


Yes. He was very careful about how he chose his words [when speaking] publically about the world and what was going on, but he talked about it a lot at home. He woke up every morning between 4 and 5 thirty and the last 3 or 4 years that he was alive I spent the night over there with him and June at least 3 or 4 times a week and we’d—it was pretty funny—he’d walk by my room and cough really loud or do something to make sure I’m awake. Then when he got in the wheelchair he’d just holler. We would have coffee and watch CNN every morning for about an hour and then he’d turn the TV off and talk about [the news]. Then he’d say “Okay, let’s go shake that off. Let’s go outside.” So we’d go outside and listen to the birds, and he’d throw his head back and just listen to all the nature sounds. We’d talk about different things, but when CNN was first turned off, he’d always comment on what was going on. He knew exactly what was going to happen.


In March 2002 we watched CNN and President Bush was on there and he turned the TV off and looked in my direction and said, “Baby, I’m really, really worried.” I said, “About what, dad?” He said, “This President’s going to take us to war.” I said, “It sounds like it, doesn’t it?” And he said, “No, he’s going to take us to war and it’s going to be hard. I worry and I pray and I cry for my children, my grandchildren and even my great grandchildren, because killing never solves anything.” He said, “It causes a lot more problems and that’s just not something I believe in.” I said, “Yeah, I know. I don’t either.” He said, “I’m not going to be here, but I really worry about what’s going to happen when [Bush] takes us to war. It wasn’t long after that [Bush took us to war]. I was with dad the morning it was announced and he said, “I told you this was coming. It’s going to bad.” We talked about it for a little while and he said, “Let’s go shake it off. Let’s go outside.” So we went outside and listened to the bird. You know that line in “Flesh and Blood” when he says that “A Cardinal sang just for me and I thanked him for the song?” It never failed, he did this every time we’d go outside--he’d always throw his head back and close his eyes and just listen and I’d be really quite out there with him, and he’d open his eyes and say, “Thank you!” The first time he did it I [asked], “Who are you talking to, dad?” He [asked], “You didn’t even hear those birds sing for us, did you?” I was ashamed, I said, “No, I was looking at squirrels and wasn’t paying attention.” He said, “Honey, you got to pay attention. If you don’t spend a few minutes with nature each day you’re losing something.” After that, every time he’d close his eyes and listen he’d always holler, “Thank you!” and he was thanking the birds for their song. So that line in “Flesh and Blood” is true, he really did thank the birds, and I thought that was pretty sweet.


Many people say that it was during Johnny Cash’s tour of Vietnam that he adopted a pacifist stance towards war, is this true?


Well, he was like that before, but I think when he went to Vietnam it really hit him—it really got to him. He was so upset when he came back; he talked about men that had shrapnel in them, and [how] they had used Agent Orange, and all these things that he was just horribly baffled by, and he really became more vocal about it. He saw firsthand what kind of harm and damage it was doing, and the families that were being affected, and the men and the women that were over there fighting. And he said, “For what? For what, why are we here? This is just senseless to me.” He did become more vocal about it, but he was really careful in public about what he said, because he had been to the White House and met every president since the 60s, and he was trying to appear to be in the middle line, but he really wasn’t. He was completely against war; he was completely against fighting because of someone else’s religion when they had been fighting for centuries over it.


He said, “[Vietnam is] none of our business, we have no business being over there.” He said, “We need to take care of our country, protect us, and that’s all we need to do—take care of us.” He said, “This is just senseless sending our young men up there and putting them in harm’s way when it’s not our fight.” He said, “I understand why some of the presidents feel that they should [go to war], but I still think it’s wrong, it’s just stirring up more hatred, aggression and violence.” He’d say, “Nothing good comes from violence.” And that’s true.

So when people in this last election and the election before, when people say, “If Johnny Cash were here, he’d be a republican!” and I thought, “He’d better not come back; Boy, you didn’t know him.”   He certainly was not for a lot of the stuff that is going on, he’d be horrified. All over the world, he’d be horrified, but he knew it was coming.


Can you tell us something about Johnny Cash’s charity work?


He hardly told us anything that he did [for charity]. The only reason we knew anything was if the press showed up. But when dad died, [and I was] at the funeral home, I had at least four people come up to me and say, “Did you know that your dad changed my life?” and they were sobbing. I said, “No what do you mean?” One said, “He sent me to college. I was an A student, but my family didn’t have the money to send me to college.” I asked, “How did he know you?” He said, “Oh, I was so-and-so’s housekeeper’s son.” I said, “Really?” And he said, “Yeah I met him twice, and he paid for my college, and now I’m an attorney.” And I was like, “What, really?” And I heard that all day at the funeral home.


[Johnny Cash] and his friend, John Rollins—of Rollins Protective Services and Pest Control—they both had houses in Jamaica, and started the S.O.S. children’s village in Jamaica. Jamaica is so poverty stricken, that people all over Jamaica were finding little babies in the trash and abandoned in churches, so they started the S.O.S. children’s village in Jamaica. It started out with one house, two parents, and twelve children. Now it has spread like crazy. [Johnny Cash] supported and contributed to autistic children, [children with] cerebral palsy. . . God, I don’t’ know how many charities. He sent people to college that I didn’t even know about until he passed away. He did so much, it’s unbelievable. I remember in Nashville, he was going down the street, and there was a man sitting there was a man with one leg sitting there, but he was a veteran. Dad asked, “Where are you going?” The man said, “I’m trying to get to Vanderbilt, I think they’re gonna get me a prosthetic leg. I’m gonna have to pay a little bit for it, but my G.I. bill will pay for the rest.” I don’t know how much money my dad gave him, and then he told him to get in the car. [Cash] drove him to Vanderbilt and told the people [at Vanderbilt] to send the bill to him and to fit [the veteran] with the best leg they have. He just did stuff like that all the time.


He was such a sweet man. He never told anybody about most of the [charity work] he did. I found out a lot after he passed away. I got letters saying, “Because of you, I started by own business . . . or thanks to you I became partners with. . .” He was really, really tender-hearted. Uncle Tom, dad’s younger brother, tells a story about when in the late 50’s [Johnny Cash] had just come into money, and he was playing at a high school. [Johnny] was in a locker room, and Tom asked “What are you doing?” Johnny said, “I’m looking in these lockers.” Tom asked, “What for?” Johnny said, “The most worn-out pair of shoes I can find.” Uncle Tom asked, “What are you doing that for?” Dad said, “To find who needs new shoes the worst.” So he kept looking until he found them, then he left a hundred dollar bill in locker with the most worn-out shoes. He always did stuff like that.


What were Johnny’s religious views; I understand he was always nonjudgmental in his views.


[Johnny Cash was] very [nonjudgmental]. He never tried to preach to anybody or anything like that. He said, “Example is the best way, and I always feel that I always do the best I can.” And when asked what religion he was, he’d say “Southern Baptist,” because that’s how he was raised. But he’d usually say, “I’m just Christian, I just believe in Jesus Christ. That’s all I know, I don’t have all the answers.”


What were his thoughts when he recorded the audiobook, Eye of the Prophet, which combines Christian, Islamic and Buddhist philosophies?


He believed in all of that. He believed in whatever was good for an individual, as long as they believed in something. He’d say, “I just think it’s good to believe in a higher power, it doesn’t matter who it is—if it’s Buddha, Jesus, a guru, whoever. It’s important that everyone believe in someone higher than themselves.” He encouraged us [children] to. . . like, one time, Rosanne was reading a book when we were in our teens on reincarnation. He walked in and asked, “Are you interested in that?” She said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well then read everything you can about it—learn all you can about it.” She asked, “Do you believe in reincarnation?” He said, “No, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. You need to make up your own mind about what you believe in.” I was reading Edgar Cayce books around the same time, and we talked about prophets. He said, “You know the bible talks about false prophets.” I said, “Yeah I know.” He said, “There is one I truly believe in—Edgar Cayce fascinates me.” I said, “Daddy, you just said you don’t believe in prophets.” He said, “Well, I believe that Edgar Cayce had a gift from God and used it for the well-being of everyone he could reach.” And he loved talking about [Cayce] and read all his books. He was very versatile with being open to anything. He made his mind up for himself. But there were a lot of people who really fascinated him, and he didn’t question them or think they were the work of the devil or whatever. I remember when I was working in the publishing company he wrote that song, “You’re so Heavenly Minded you’re No Earthly Good.” He walked in with the lyrics and the tape and asked, “Can you get this published for me?” I said, “Okay. That’s an interesting title.” He said, “Well, it’s a true title. We’ve all met those people that think they’re so high-and-mighty they can’t do good for anybody else.” I said, “That’s true.” He said, “Well, that’s what I wrote that about.” He said, “You have to live what you believe in, you can’t just say it and expect people to believe. I don’t have any use for people who talk about [doing good], but do nothing to help each other.” He wrote “What on Earth Will You Do for Heaven’s Sake” around the same time, and I published that song, too.


Was it different having a dad who was and is a celebrity?


A lot of people have asked me since I was born, “What is it like to have Johnny Cash for a dad?” I don’t know anything else, it felt normal to me. I guess I realized in the 70s how famous he really was, it kind of took me by surprise. I thought, “Well, I live in California, I spend summers with him and Christmas and whenever he comes to spend time with us.” But to me he was just dad and I didn’t know anything else. I don’t think I realized how big of a celebrity he really was until I was in my teens.


Most of my memories are all family memories and great times that we had and great talks that we had. I really miss him. He was the smartest man I ever knew—and not just because he was my dad, [but] because he was.  From what I’ve seen, it seems that Johnny’s family, June’s family, and Vivian’s family were very close.


My mom [Vivian] was understandably really hurt at first; [the hurt] lasted a little while. But she was such a good mom [and she] wanted her whole life to be a mother, and [she] did the best job she could. She set [all the problems] aside. I have pictures of mom and her husband at dinner with dad and June and all of us at dad’s house. Dad game to graduations, sometimes June came sometimes she didn’t, but it was never an issue if she did. John Carter came to my mom’s funeral. June always said, “There’s no stepchildren in this family; they’re all our children.”   I remember Rosey [Nix Adams]—June’s daughter—staying at our house in Venture for three weeks at a time, she loved my mom. Of course, she loved us, too.  We were a very well blended family. I think it was very successful the way they made sure all of us were sisters, all of us were family. We didn’t act weird or awkward [around each other.] It’s impressive when you’re a kid and you think, “How’s all this going to work out?” And then they get in the same room and everything’s just fine and you think, “Thank God that worked!”


There was so much love for us [children] from dad and mom and June that there just wasn’t any hateful, nasty stuff that a lot of families go through. I never heard dad say one bad thing about mom, and I never heard mom say one bad thing about dad—ever. She loved him until she died and she would value that. She was respectful and June was respectful and it was good. [Vivian] came to Tennessee after June died—it was in July, June died in May—and she had a two hour visit with dad. Vivian asked me to take her to dad, and I said, “Sure I’ll be glad to.” I called dad to ask how he was feeling, he said “I want to see Vivian.” So I brought her up there and they laughed and they talked. But of course, it started off a little somber, mom told him how sorry she was about June and they both cried for a few minutes. Then dad said, “Okay, let’s talk about something else.” They talked about different things and mom said, “I’ve written a book that I don’t want to publish unless you say it’s okay.” He said, “Vivian, if anybody should write a book, it should be you. Of course it’s okay.” And he gave her his blessing and wrote it on paper. She said, “I don’t need it on paper.” He said, “Yeah, you will. Some publisher is gonna ask you for it.”

I tried to leave the room a couple times and they both said, “No stay, stay!”  It was just me and dad and mom. I thought maybe they don’t want me to stay, maybe they have something to say to each other—but I stayed in there the whole time. It was really a sweet visit and I’m so glad she came to Tennessee and saw him, because he died in September.


What was it like performing with Johnny Cash?


I didn’t do that [for] long, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all. I’m not shy at all, but he put me on stage and my knees were knocking. I didn’t enjoy it at all. So he gave the opportunity: if you want to sing, sing; if you don’t, don’t. I [sang] four or five times and finally said, “This just isn’t me.” And he said, “That’s okay baby, if it’s not you, it’s not you.” So I sat it out. Rosanne, Carlene, Cindy and I all sang for a while, but I just didn’t enjoy it. I don’t know why, I just didn’t like being on a stage in front of thousands of people.


What was it like singing on the Johnny Cash Christmas special with all of his daughters and stepdaughters?


I remember it well. [Johnny Cash] was trying not to cry because Maybelle [Carter] had just died. We were at the Beverly Hills hotel and he came in to tell us that Maybelle had died, and were supposed to start filming the next day. I remember he and June talking about cancelling the show, and dad said, “If I do that, I’ve got a contract, and it is going to be a legal problem. What would I do? I’m fine with cancelling it if I need to but. . .” They talked about it for a long time, and finally he came in and said, “Okay girls, we’re gonna do this show. Then we’re all going to Tennessee for the funeral.” I remember the wardrobe department asking us about what we want to wear, let’s keep it all the same color, blah blah blah. I was like, “God, I don’t want to do this.” But I’m glad I did, because it meant a lot to dad. If you’ll notice at the beginning he says, “This year we’re doing this without Mother Maybelle Carter,” he was really trying not to cry. That was one of the few times I saw him cry—when Mother Maybelle died, when my grandma died, and of course when June died. I only saw him cry a few times, but I think that’s the first time I saw him cry. I thought that dad’s not going to do this [show] very well, but he did.


What was Johnny Cash like around Christmas?


Well, around Christmas, for the last several years, he wasn’t here. In November he would have a huge family dinner to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’d exchange presents, then [Johnny and June] would go to Jamaica until March because he couldn’t take the winter, [because] he had pneumonia. When he got in a wheelchair, he couldn’t go [to Jamaica].   [Johnny and June] would love being in [Jamaica] in warm weather while we were here freezing.  They’d invite us to come down there for a week or so and hang out. But for the last three or four years they were here, because they needed to be taken care of. I stayed with them a lot; I finally talked dad in letting nurses stay [with him] around the clock.


A lot of people helped—my sisters came—we’d stay a week or two at a time. We were afraid; dad wasn’t feeling well and he was in a wheelchair. [Johnny and June] moved into and owned the house across the street [from where they lived] which had on level, which they bought my grandparents when they moved [to Tennessee] from California. When my grandparents died, [Johnny and June] kept the house. When dad [had to use] a wheelchair full-time, they moved into that house for a while and had an elevator put into the big house so dad could go down the floors in his wheelchair. But until then, it was pretty rough, because [Johnny] was pretty much stuck on the third floor. I’d say, “Come on daddy, let’s take a road trip.” And I’d get him and his chair and we’d go to Wal-Mart, or Lowe’s, or Walgreens or Sam’s Club. And I’d ask, “What are we looking for?” And he’d say, “Oh, I don’t know. We’ll know when we see it.”


I remember he thought it was fun and he came back with a ton of Simpsons stuff. He gave everybody cool Simpsons stuff that Matt Groening signed. I still have what dad gave me, and my kids do too. We all had an autographed cartoon picture of the Simpsons and he gave my son a Simpsons chess set. He gave me a Simpsons day planner. He gave us all a bunch of stuff, it was all really cool. When I saw the episode, I thought it was just great. He thought [The Simpsons] was funny, he liked [the show]. He [would] brag, “They asked me to be on The Simpsons.” I asked, “What are you going to play?” He said, “I don’t know; I think a dog or something.”  I said, “Well that’s interesting.” Then he ended up being the coyote, and I thought that was better than a dog.


Did he like acting and his acting roles?


He loved acting. He basically played himself.  I was on the Columbo set when he did that, and he really enjoyed that. Before that he did Westerns and Five Minutes to Live which was just God-awful. But he really liked [acting] after he did Columbo, and he said, “That was so much fun. I really like this for something different. I get to stay in the same place for a while.” I was there when he did Murder in Coweta County.


Do you remember anything about his movie with Eli Wallach, "The Pride of Jesse Hallam"?


He really did a great job on [The Pride of Jesse Hallam]. He actually got into the role so much that, weeks before [the movie was filmed], he was sounding out words and trying to find out what it felt like to not be able to read. He was really playing that part at home. After he did that movie, I volunteered to be a teacher at the Literacy Council in Summer County, which was a great experience for me. I got to teach people to read, which was nice. He inspired me to do that from the movie. I didn’t realize how many people illiterate people we have in this state (Tennessee). It was shocking, so I helped the Literacy Council for about a year, [and] then I developed a tremor disorder and had to quit. But I really enjoyed [teaching], and I might [join a Literacy Council] again. There was even a little eighty-year-old man there trying to learn how to read, and it was really inspiring to see someone that old try to learn how to read. It’s a great thing that [the Literacy Council does].


What do you think about the Johnny Cash museum coming to Nashville?


I’m excited about it; I think there should be something to honor dad in Nashville. There’s not much. There’s a mural downtown, and different artists honor him, but I think [the museum] is going to be really successful. Bill Miller has collected [Cash items] since he was a kid, and I know for a fact he has the largest collection of [Cash items] for any one person. [Bill Miller] is doing something really good, and I think it is important that dad gets honored in [Nashville].


Can you tell us anything about your website and store?


My poor blog, I let it go for a long time. I just started writing again a few weeks ago. On my website is an online store. There are some pretty cool things you can buy through that. It’s been there four or five years. For the most part, I’m pretty happy with what we have.


I understand your husband, Jimmy Tittle, worked for Cash. Is that how you met him?


Actually, [Jimmy] worked for Merle Haggard in the 70s and I met him through my sister Rosey. I was a single parent, and I had little guitar pulls at my house. We’d have maybe fifteen or twenty people; I wanted to keep it small because my house was small. And I had a small son, and I didn’t want him up all night. So I would have these dinners and guitar pulls, and Rosey brought Jimmy one night, and that’s how we met. We were really good friends for a few months before we started dating.


[Jimmy] worked with Merle Haggard—he was one of the Strangers in the 70s. Then he came back to Nashville and worked with The Carter Family and a bunch of other people. We became friends, and he started hanging out at my house a lot. We’d go bowling, go out to dinner. . . at lot of stuff like that. Dad called one day and said, “I hear you know Jimmy Tittle.” I said, “Yes, sir, he’s standing right here.”  Johnny said, “You’re kidding.” I asked, “Why?” He said, “I need a bass player.” I said, “Do you want to talk to him?” He said, “Yeah.” Dad was going to do Saturday Night Live in two or three week. Johnny said, “I don’t know what I’m going to sing from night to night, so just listen to my records and learn what you can.” Jimmy got off the phone and said, “Oh my God! How many records do you have of your dad?” I said, “All of them.” And he said, “I need all of them. I think he’s going to test me.” I said, “Knowing dad he will.” A couple weeks later we went to New York City and Jimmy was on Saturday Night Live, and that was one of his first gigs. [Jimmy] worked with [Johnny Cash] until we got married and had two children; he quit shortly after our daughter was born. When dad started working with Rick Rubin, he used [Jimmy] for every session. [Jimmy] played bass, sang harmony. . . he was at every session. They were really good friends. It was very sweet that dad would call him and say, “James, what are you doing?” Jimmy would say, “Nothing, John,” and Johnny would say, “Want to take a road trip?” Then he and Jimmy would go somewhere like Lowe’s and just look around or to the studio. It hit Jimmy as hard as it hit me when dad died.


Is Jimmy Tittle currently working on any new music?


He’s always doing something. He’s been producing, and he has a couple things going. One is a book he’s working on. He has a nice little setup here with equipment. He’s not actually working on a new album right now, [but] he’s working on some songs that he started a while back. We just moved last year, and it’s been a lot of transition getting rid of things and storing things. He has a website with some of his videos there.


I had one last question: I know that Johnny Cash was an avid reader. Did he have a favorite author or book?


He was into books about the Civil Wars and prisons. His library was huge. He had thousands of books in his office, and he said to me one time, “You know, I’ve read every one of these books?” I said, “I don’t doubt it.” He said, “Some of them I’ve read twice.” He read up on Roman history. He was a real buff on several different things. He loved anything he could get his hands on about history and the saints—of course he wrote The Man in White about Paul—it took him nine years to write that. He loved books, and he had read every one of them.


For more information on Kathy Cash, you can visit her website.

Last modified on
Hits: 10045

Posted by on in Interviews

On April 14, 2012, I had the privilege to interview Mr. Johnny Western, a country singer and songwriter and a living western legend.  Mr. Western generously gave me a part of his day talk about his experiences with Johnny Cash and his own career, specifically for the Johnny Cash Infocenter website.  I want to thank him again on behalf of the Johnny Cash community for his contribution of some of the best Cash stories I have heard, and I have heard a lot.  Thank you again, Johnny Western! 


Interview by: Jeff Emond


What is the first memory you have of hearing Johnny Cash?


Riding down the freeway in L.A., listening to KXLA radio in 1955. When I heard Folsom Prison Blues I almost wrecked my car on the freeway, I just couldn’t believe that sound. I started weaving all over the freeway with the beat of that thing and it absolutely just took over my mind. I had an image of what this guy who I had never heard of must look like. I thought he must be over six feet tall with jet black hair and it turned out when I saw my first picture of him he looked exactly like how I thought he would look. 


What was your first impression when you met Johnny Cash?

I met him very briefly in 1956 in Toronto, Canada when I was working for Gene Autry doing the Canadian National Exhibition. Johnny was playing for a week at the Casino Theater in downtown Toronto. I went down after the Autry show every night and caught his show. He had the flu the whole time we were there and so we met very briefly. He was a really, really nice guy and I felt so sorry that he was having to perform under those conditions. In fact, they even had a cot backstage at the theater so he could lie down between shows. A few years later in 1958 when he moved out to California we reconnected and that is when I went to work with him.


How did you end up becoming part of the Johnny Cash Show?


I was recording for Columbia records with the same producer as Johnny was, Don Law. I had originally signed for Columbia records with Mitch Miller in New York when I did the Paladin theme for Have Gun Will Travel, but after one record they switched me over to the Nashville country and western division. Don Law produced Marty Robbins, Ray Price, Billy Walker--all the Columbia acts including Johnny Cash. So, we were both on the same label, both living in California. He called me one day and asked if I would like to work three dates with him. I thought, “That sounds like a lot of fun, work three dates with Johnny Cash? That sounds pretty good.” We worked them and they were all sold out. About a week later he called me and said “We got sixteen dates out in the Midwest, want to go?” I said, “You bet.” And that started it. By the time we finished up the last show it turned out to be 39 years and 11 months that I toured with him.


I understand you provided vocals on some big songs for John Cash that was later overdubbed in Cash’s voice. What were some of the songs?


There were two major songs. His Irish song, Forty Shades of Green, and a civil war song, The Big Battle. I did those on the same session. Johnny was running a temperature of 103 that night and all these musicians had been called; it was a huge record session with seven singers, a big orchestra, Don Law had flown from Nashville to be there. Johnny was so sick he needed to go to a hospital. He couldn’t even talk, much less sing. All these musicians were being paid and Don Law said, “Your voice is the same range as his, you go ahead do the vocals.” I had been hired on the session as a guitar player. Don said, “Put the guitar down and you do the vocals. We’ll bring Johnny in when he’s well to overdub those songs,” and that’s exactly the way it happened. 


What was it like to work with the Carter Family and the Tennessee Three in the studio?


It was like family. In fact, it was a family. I worked with Tennessee Two way before there was a Tennessee Three. I came on the Cash Show in November of 1958, and W.S. “Fluke” Holland, the drummer, didn’t come on until the end of 1960. We worked without a drummer for a long time on the road. We did have drummers on record sessions, but they were Nashville drummers or Los Angeles drummers. Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant were two of the greatest guys in the world, and a lot of times it was just the five of us: My roommate on the Johnny Cash Show was a fiddle player, Gordon Terry, one of the greatest fiddlers in the world. We roomed together for about seven years on the Cash Show, about 200 days a year. Luther Perkins, Marshall Grant--no drummer--Johnny Cash, Gordon Terry and myself.

It was originally supposed to be a pilot for a TV show, they hoped it would sell and go into syndication. The idea was to use a song each week for the TV show. We used a cowboy theme because they used the song, “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” Then they wanted to do another show with David Dudley singing his truck driver songs like “Six Days on the Road” and get Tennessee Ernie Ford to do “Sixteen Tons” and the coal mining songs. However, it didn’t sell as a TV pilot so they shot more footage and added a few more minutes to it and made it a selective short subject movie. Around that time movies, like Spartacus, were coming out and were three hours long so theaters were looking for a shorter movie for a double bill, especially for the drive-ins. So, they sold it to Crown International Pictures and released it in theaters. It never did play on TV but it played a lot of theaters at that time.


You also played guitar on some Johnny Cash songs; do any of the songs really stick out to you now?


All of them. The first one I did, on August 14th, 1969, was the theme song for “The Rebel - Johnny Yuma.” I did five songs with Johnny at that time, including my favorite, where I played his big red Gibson guitar that had his name on the neck of it, and then we did “The Little Drummer Boy” on the same session with Christmas stuff. I did 71 singles and 5 albums with him through the years, from 1959 to 1965, and songs like “Tennessee Flat Top Box” was a huge record for him, and I played on that one. And “Bonanza” was a big record, and I played on that one. Through the years there was some wonderful Gospel things we recorded that he loved doing. The 71 singles and 5 albums were all for Columbia records.

Cash was known to do a lot of prison concerts and concerts on Indian reservations. Have you ever attended these concerts with Cash and if is there any special that you can recall from one of these concerts?

The first one was January 1st, 1960, at San Quentin penitentiary in California. Merle Haggard was sitting in the front row, he was a prisoner there. He was a trustee in the prison band. I got to talk to him backstage and he said he wanted to be a country singer when he got out and he thought he was going to be out for parole later that year, and he was. The next time I saw him was in Bakersfield singing at a nightclub after he got out of prison and we talked about that at that time and we have ever since. And that was a memorable thing, not only because it was the first of many penitentiaries--over 20--I have played through the years, most of them with Johnny, but then the fact that Merle Haggard was there was an added plus as far as memories are concerned. It was a very unusual thing considering what he did with his career after he was out of the penitentiary.


Is there any song or album of Cash’s that stands out as your favorite?


I think “Forty Shades of Green” is a masterpiece--of course I think many pieces he wrote were masterpieces. I didn’t play on “Ragged Old Flag”, but I think that is a masterpiece that he wrote. The most beautiful lyrics and music he ever wrote was in 1960, when Cash and his first wife, Vivian, were on a trip to Ireland. That was around the time I went in and recorded for him and did the overdub. I think out of all the songs I ever recorded with him that is my absolute favorite.

I understand you worked with Cash from 1958 to 1997. Was there a big change in the feel of the shows from the Columbia years to the American records years or did the shows you played always have the same feel?

Oh yeah. He just kept getting bigger and bigger. He was big in 1858 because by that time he had Sun records and songs like “I Walk the Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “Ballad of a Teenage Queen.” But when he signed with Columbia records it got bigger because Columbia had bigger promotion worldwide. And I started recording with him in ‘59, but he had those records out in ‘58. So when I came on board at the end of ‘58, before I started recording with him in ‘59, he was really, really big. By that time he had “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” out. But it just kept growing and growing, and his popularity became more, and we watched the size of the auditoriums grow from places that seat 3-4-5,000 to 10,000, sometimes 15,000. And the farther we got into the music business, the larger the auditoriums and audiences got, especially state fairs where we might see 20,000 people in one night.


Johnny Cash has endured in a competitive music industry for over 50 years. Besides having a unique voice and musical talent why do you think his fan base continues to grow?


He was different from anyone else. He had a feel for the common man, who could better identify with his songs. At the time I was working with him all the time, you’d see as many Johnny Cash records in beautiful homes in New York City and Beverly Hills as you would in a shotgun shack in Arkansas or Texas. He just appealed to everybody, he dropped all the barriers. Even though he recorded basically all country and folk flavored stuff, it just crossed all the barriers. Rock n’ rollers loved him, rock n’ rollers love him to this day. Look at the statements Of course, he did record with U2. People in the rock n’ roll field just idolize him to this day. A lot of the rock n’ rollers big records say that their influence was from Johnny Cash. He had something that crossed all of these barriers. He was different from everybody else, including great singers like Marty Robbins and Ray Price who had a definite audience going--basically a country or cowboy audience. And then Cash broke down all those barriers by doing nothing more than what Cash did. It was just something that people identified with and so his scope was much broader than anybody else’s that I ever knew.


In February you attended the annual Johnny Cash Cruise with W.S. Holland, Jack Clement, and Joanne Cash, among others. What was your favorite part of the cruise and do you plan on attending the event next year?


We had people from all over the world there: from Australia, Austria, Germany, Asia, virtually every state in the U.S. and Canada. It was just incredible what his draw is throughout the world to this day. In fact, Bear Family Records in Germany, which is the largest record company in the world, sells more Johnny Cash records than anyone in their catalog and always have worldwide.


What was your favorite part of the cruise and do you plan on attending next year?


I don’t know if Bill Miller is going to invite me back next year, but it was wonderful to be part of this one. The highlight was the concert we did for the fans. Jack Clement was there, who wrote “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” and “I Don’t Like It But I Guess Things Happen That Way,” and “Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog.” Jack did those songs, and Joanne Cash did gospels songs, and I did a medley of the Johnny Cash songs I recorded with Cash through the years. W.S. Holland played the drums and there was a wonderful group called The Branson on the Road Band, and their girl guitar player Debbie played every note that Luther Perkins ever played. I felt like I was back on the stage with the original Tennessee Three, especially with W.S. Holland playing drums. It stood the hair up on the back of my neck. I was reliving so many great memories. We used to work 16 to 18 days in a row, and every night was Saturday night--there just weren’t any empty seats out there. The response of those crowds were wonder, and I got to emcee those shows so I was the first one onstage and the last one off, and I loved emceeing those shows as well as playing on them.

Forty years of my life is tied up with that guy and I loved him from the minute I met him and I adored him on the day that he died. It broke my heart the day I went to his funeral and I could not believe he was laying there in that jet black coffin in that jet black suit because there was a time you couldn’t kill Johnny Cash with an axe. What he had was autonomic neuropathy which is a variation of diabetes. He was a voracious reader and he read so many wonderful things. He took me into his library in Tennessee and showed me six dozen books of every category you could think of and he just loved these books. He was a very complex guy, probably the most complex guy I have known in my life. He had a heart bigger than Charlie Daniels’ cowboy hat, and Charlie Daniels wears the biggest cowboy hats in the world. It was an absolute heartbreaker when he died.


Can you talk about how you first got your start in the music industry?


When I was five years old I saw a Gene Autry movie and I just wanted to be him. I didn’t want to be anything else in the world. I would have never dreamed that sixteen years later Gene Autry would put me under contract and take me with him around the world until he retired. Gene Autry was the biggest thing in the world, bigger than Garth Brooks ever thought about being. Johnny Cash loved Gene Autry and Gene loved Johnny. When I was 13 I joined up with some musicians from Tulsa and we did a recording; it turned out there was room for one song left on the tape so I sang “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” The record company thought the guys from Tulsa were too twangy, but they liked me, so by the time I was 14 I was given my own radio show. I wanted to drop out of school but I couldn't because my father was in charge of the P.E. department at my school. When I graduated high school I was 17 and went to TV, then I moved to the west coast and signed up with Gene Autry when I was 20.


Can you talk about your early TV work which eventually led to a spot on the “Have Gun--Will Travel,” television show?


There were ten westerns on ABC, ten on NBC, ten on CBS. There were thirty shows per week after Gunsomke came on. I had a small part in a pilot for a movie called Pony Express, and it gave me an in. I ended up doing 22 pictures my first year, mostly for TV. Then through the years I did 5 feature pictures with people like Ben Johnson and Joel McCrea, which gave me a total of 37 pictures by the time I was done.  It was fun stuff.  I was getting paid for playing cowboy! I was getting to work with all the top people--I did two episodes of Gunsmoke with Jim Arness. That led to “Have Gun--Will Travel” because I was doing a TV series called “Boots and Saddles” and the interiors were shot in Hollywood at the same studio where Gunsmoke was. That’s where they did “Have Gun--Will Travel” starring Richard Boone, and the same casting director who hired me for Gunsmoke happened to be casting for Have Gun. I asked him if there was ever a part for a nasty would-be gunfighter that wants to duel Richard Boone I’d love to do that. I was into fast-draw at the time and thought it would be really fun. The casting director came back to me on the set of Boots and Saddles, and told me I didn’t even have to audition, I had a part.

We finished the episode of Have Gun--Will Travel at 9:00 at night on March 13, 1958. The next morning at 7:00 I had a baby daughter born in California. Walking around the kitchen of my house, I picked up my guitar and played Ghost Riders in the Sky just to calm my nerves until I could go back to the hospital and see my daughter again. And all of a sudden this idea I had in the back of my head, “Paladin, Paladin, where do you roam?” started forming and I wrote the whole song in 20 minutes. Then I tried to record it on my home tape-recorder, but it wouldn’t work. So I called a friend of mine who owed me some studio time in downtown Hollywood. I recorded for 15 minutes, just The Ballad of Paladin in an echo chamber, and I had two copies made. I took the copies to Richard Boone and Sam Rolfe, who created Have Gun, as musical thank-you cards. The next weekend, without my knowledge, they took the song over to CBS and played it for them. They called me the following week and had me go to CBS, and when I walked out of there that afternoon I had contract with Mitch Miller in New York with Columbia records, and a contract with CBS as the singer and writer for the theme song for Have Gun--Will Travel, which at the time was the second highest rated song in the world. I was 23 three years old!


Is there a story behind your last name and your strong association with western music?


No, I just lucked out. I always said, “If I was a symphony conductor, it would have worked against me.”


I understand during your early musical career, you worked with Gene Autry. How did that come about and what was it like?


I dreamed of the Gene Autry thing since I was a child. I knew him from my radio show, I had him as a guest on my Minnesota radio show when I was 15, and my television show when I was 16. He said if I ever come to Hollywood, he’d give me a helping hand.

I sang at a private party at a ranch in the San Ferando Valley one night, and Gene and his wife were there along with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and all the Sons of the Pioneers and their wives, and I was entertainment. As luck would have it, two weeks later Johnny Bond, who had been with Gene for 30 years and was his personal guitarist, decided to retire and get off the road. Gene had remembered what I did on the stage two weeks before and got ahold me. Then boom, I was with Gene. For two years, ‘56 and ‘57, I worked with Gene, who was the biggest thing in the world, and that gave me prestige for my first film.


I understand you’re an authority on the western genre. Could you recommend a western song, movie and book that every western fan should check out?


The best song would be “The Searches” from the John Wayne movie of the same name, which is itself the best western ever made. I was lucky enough to record that on my Have Gun—Will Travel album with the Sons of the Pioneers. The song was written by Stan Jones, who wrote “Ghost Riders in the Sky”.   I think Jack Shafer’s Shane might be my favorite western book of all time. Shane was also a wonderful movie with Alan Ladd, which might be my second favorite western movie.


What was it like working as a Kansas DJ for many years and being inducted into the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame?


It was a nice deal with the Hall of Fame. I had known the owners of Great Empire broadcasting in Wichita since 1958, and then the Cash Show played for KA radio in El Paso. Mike Oakland was the disc jockey there and we became great personal friends. When he left El Paso in 1964 and formed Great Empire Broadcast with Mike Lynch the two of them ended up having 15 radio stations in the Midwest. Mike Oakland kept telling me, “You’re going to get tired of the road, and when you do I want you to come work with us.” And he said I’d be free to do concerts on the weekends, to go with Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings whenever they called me to do a concert. So it was the best of two worlds. It was a chance to be home five days a week for the first time in 50 years of my life. As of January this year, I’ve been on the road over 4 million miles. 100,000 miles with Johnny Cash, 100,000 miles with Gene Autry, and then all the concerts with my own band.

There was a tremendous amount of stuff to use on the air. I loved it. I got to play all my old friend’s records; it was a country gold record. I did all the booking for the radio stations and I got to put all my friends on the tours. It was fun to work with them when they came into are area and to keep those guys working, the guys who made country music what it is. It was really the best of two worlds, and I loved it for 25 years.


I understand a rare live version of you singing a song from early in your career, “Ten Years,” is has been released by Bear Family records as part of the “Unseen Cash” album.


Jack Clement wrote “Ten Years” and I recorded the Columbia Records version of it the night that we recorded Johnny Yuma and the Little Drummer Boy. There was time for one more song; Johnny Cash’s band backed me up on that song. Richard ?, the president of Bear Family records, always liked that song. Richard interest in releasing that song for “Unseen Cash” is because all of Johnny Cash’s musicians are on that song and it was written by Clement, who had written so many hit songs for Cash. I loved that song, and it was my first commercial record. “Paladin” was my first record, but I consider that a western record and it was for TV.


Do you have any plans for a future album release?


I don’t think so; I think I’ve reached the end of the line. I’ll be 78 in October. I’m still doing a few concerts, big Western Film festivals and memorial concerts. But I don’t feel that I’m singing as well now. I don’t want a permanent record of me when I’m not at the top of my game. I’ve had a lot of friends who just can’t get off the stage, whose voices are all over the place. That’s not how I wanted to be remembered.


After the interview, I thanked Mr. Western for his time and he so kindly thanked me for taking interest—and added that Cash was worth the interest. It was an honor to interview one of my heroes about one of my heroes. I hope everyone enjoys reading this as much as I have enjoyed sharing it.


To see where Johnny Western is touring and to purchase an autographed CD, visit the Official Johnny Western website.  His most recent record appearance is on Unseen Cash.

Last modified on
Hits: 3860

Title: “Recounting Cash: An Interview with The Man in Black”

Is Part Of: The 700 Club, 1984

Authors: Ross, Scott


SCOTT: John, looking back over 30 years in the music business, just give us an overview.


JOHNNY: It's been a good 30 years... It's been a great spiritual experience sharing my feelings with my audience. And that's what performing is. It's communicating your feelings through lyrics, recitation, or dialogue between songs. I found it to be a great challenge yet a most rewarding thing and probably the most rewarding vocation a person can have...


SCOTT: If you hadn't had your spiritual experience with the Lord where do you think you'd be now?


JOHNNY: I'd be dead a long time ago. I have a terminal disease called chemical dependency. I can't ever use any medication that alters your mood. One is too many and 1,000 is not enough. I wrote about it in Man in Black. I called these drugs "a demon called deception." And with all the alcoholic/drug treatment centers in the world, if they don't have that spiritual element that returns you to a one-on-one communication with God, then they're not worth the land they're built on... The first time, in 1967, when I got in trouble with my medication, it was the love of God and the love people like June, my mother, and close friends... I locked myself in my house for a month, and I whipped it. For ten years or more, I didn't have a problem until I had an accident. The doctors gave me pain medication. It stops the pain and makes you feel good, but they don't make pain medication that doesn't alter your mood. It's the old demon called deception. He tells you it's okay and anything this good couldn't be wrong, but you get back on the cycle... All this medication had a way of burning holes inside, and I got bleeding ulcers. I had to have surgery that meant strong medication. I weaned myself off them in the hospital through prayer and daily commitment to refrain from it... And then I went to Betty Ford's center in California to study the disease, to study myself, to go into group therapy, to have a daily counseling session with a clergyman, and to renew my daily commitment to God. It's a spiritual program that gets you back on the right track. They like to say "higher power." I like to say God, and Jesus Christ is my way to Him.


SCOTT: You started out about the same time as Elvis with Sun Records. Elvis didn't make it. Would you account this experience with the Lord as the reason you made it and he didn't?


JOHNNY: No. Elvis may have had a stronger relationship with God than I did. God gives us life and takes us away as He sees fit. I don't say Elvis died because of drugs. I say God decided it was time for him to die. I don't believe any of the trash I've read about him. God's the final judge for Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash too. That's solely in the hands of God.


SCOTT: A good woman is hard to find. You have found a good woman in June Carter Cash.


JOHNNY: She's more to be desired than pearls or rubies, of which she has quite a few... She's my anchor. She's also my spark plug. When I'm shy, she'll always get the conversation going. Mainly she's the one, through her strong prayer and commitment, who keeps me on course.


SCOTT: You started writing a book a number of years ago called Man in White.


JOHNNY: Man in White is a novelization of the conversion of St. Paul about his life before and

immediately after his conversion and the first years of the primitive church. It came to a halt when I got sick. I haven't written but a little in the last year. I have to study the life and writings of Paul so it really doesn't matter to me if it takes 20 years 'cause I need to study Paul's writings that long any way.


SCOTT: In the study you've done about Paul, what do you identify with the man?


JOHNNY: What I admire about him... through Jesus Christ he was able to overcome every kind of adversity known to man. He was evidently a small man but very strong, very durable -- a survivor too. He had every kind of reason to quit and never did because of his faith in God. Paul was my inspiration. Jesus Christ is the one who laid it out for us and showed us what to do and Paul's the one that showed us how it could work.


SCOTT: Have you ever thought of changing your attire to white for redemption?


JOHNNY: That would look a little presumptuous.


SCOTT: What's important to you right now in your life?


JOHNNY: The things that have always been important: to be a good man, to try to live my life the way God would have me, to turn it over to Him that His will might be worked in my life, to do my work without looking back, to give it all I've got, and to take pride in my work as an honest performer. You know, money really doesn't figure into it. You gotta have it to pay the bills and take care of everything but over the last 30 years what's meant most to me is feeling justified in the moves I've made and being happy in my relationship with my wife, my children, and God.


SCOTT: Is it difficult for a shy, reticent man to be a public figure?


JOHNNY: Yeah, I was scared to come down here and talk to you this morning. I'm very shy really. I spend a lot of time in my room alone reading or writing or watching television.


SCOTT: Do you write out of that experience?


JOHNNY: Oh, I have a lot of experiences that I can write of.


SCOTT: You're writing to the heart of a lot of people out of your own pain. Paul said the death that worked in him brought life in others.


JOHNNY: Sharing life. I hope to have done a little bit of that. I feel like I was resurrected almost nearly a year ago. They were placing bets on whether I'd live through the night. For some reason I knew I wasn't going to die. When I realized that I was making it, I wanted to share that life with other people.


SCOTT: Do you have church fellowship at home?


JOHNNY: Yeah, I belong to the First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee.


SCOTT: Do you have close cadre of friends there to lean on?


JOHNNY: I got a lot of good Christian friends, but I got a lot that are not. That's another thing that Christians have to try to do is to be a Christian and not condescend or compromise no matter what element they're with. Some of my best friends are not Christian. And I'll be the same with a Christian that I will with a non-Christian. The influence is worth the times.


SCOTT: Jesus was a friend of sinners.


JOHNNY: Yeah, He was.

Last modified on
Hits: 2236

Posted by on in Interviews

Interview with Peter Lewry

(this is an edited and updated interview that first appeared in issue #47 of the Johnny Cash Fanzine in June 2006)

Copyright Peter Lewry

Having interviewed many people associated with Johnny Cash in previous issues the tables are turned this time and photographer Alan Messer interviews the fanzine editor about his life, his work on the fanzine and other projects he has been involved in.

Let's start with a few basic questions Peter. Where were you born and in what year?
I was born in Worthing, West Sussex on the south coast of England on 7 October 1956.

And have you lived in Worthing all your life?
All my life, yes.

Where did you go to school and when did you leave?
I went to West Tarring Secondary Modern in Worthing although school was never a favourite period of my life. I left in 1972 and went straight out to work. I left with no qualifications but looking back I have no regrets as I am happy with what I have achieved since then.

So at school were you good at English language and writing?
Not particularly. My best subject was maths but as I said I was never a great pupil. 

What was your first job?
It was with an instrument makers. It was a five-year apprenticeship and when you are just fifteen and out of school five years seems a lifetime and I did not stay there very long.

What kind of instruments?
Slide rules and other navigation instruments.

Not musical instruments?
No, although I would have probably stayed the course had it been to do with music.

Which is quite interesting as you went on to play drums?
Well I fooled with them! It was actually my wife Carole who got me started playing drums. I think she got fed up with me tapping my hands and the cutlery on the dining room table and booked me a lesson for my fortieth birthday. I took lessons for just over a year and managed to master the basics although I was never going to get a gig anywhere. A couple of friends played guitar and bass and whilst not in the same league as them we used to practice once a week - mainly blues as it was about the only thing I could keep rhythm with!

You mention your wife Carole. When did you meet her and how old were you when you married?
We met in 1980 when she used to come into the shop where I worked and we were married in August 1982.

What were your early musical influences and who were you listening to when you left school?
I remember The Beatles in the mid to late sixties but it was the early seventies that I really began to take notice of the charts. That era was a time of glam rock so I used to listen to artists like David Bowie, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Suzi Quatro, Slade and T-Rex. This was the music that was all around in those days, in the clubs, discos and on the radio.

Was that the music you were going to the record shops to buy?
Yes, although in those days I was buying more singles than albums. But that soon changed and the record collection started growing. In fact it hasn't stopped.

At some point you made the transition to other types of music, Elvis Presley, Linda Ronstadt and of course eventually Johnny Cash. When did you get into their music?
I became a big fan of country music in the late seventies and early eighties and my musical taste shifted dramatically. Country music had become popular in the UK and artists like Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris and, of course, Johnny Cash began to gain more recognition. It was through my liking of Emmylou Harris that I started to collect a wider range of country music. Both Albert Lee and Rodney Crowell had been in her group, The Hot Band and I started to collect their records along with Gram Parsons, Linda Ronstadt and Rosanne Cash. However, all through this period I was a huge Elvis Presley fan, and still am.

What was the first Elvis song you heard or the one that got you hooked?
I remember hearing songs like It's Now Or Never, Crying In The Chapel and others when I was growing up but the song that made me take notice was his version of the Buffy St. Marie song Until It's Time For You To Go. Around the same time I went to see the documentary Elvis That's The Way It Is and was completely blown away.

Did you ever get the chance to see Elvis on stage?
Unfortunately not. I had to settle for watching him in the two documentaries Elvis That's The Way It Is and Elvis On Tour and the Aloha From Hawaii special.

And when did you first hear Johnny Cash's music and did you like it?
I remember hearing A Boy Named Sue and I Walk The Line back in 1970 and was immediately taken with his voice and style of singing. Around the same time the San Quentin concert was broadcast on UK television and I became hooked. I gradually built up my collection of Cash vinyl records although it took many years before I was anywhere near owning all his recorded work. Of course I then had to replace everything with CDs!

So your musical transition took you from the early glam pop rock into other genres of British music, such as, Cliff Richard for whom you have done a lot of work including his Summer Holiday Special Edition and Live At Kingston CDs. How did you come to work on these projects?
It was a direct result of the work and research undertaken for the three Cliff Richard books I wrote with my colleague Nigel Goodall. EMI approached us about writing sleevenotes for The Hit List CD and video and from there we went on to work on many different CD and video releases. Both the Summer Holiday and Kingston projects were very special. The 1962 recording of Cliff and The Shadows live in Kingston had been in the vaults for over thirty-five years and, despite their time tucked away and the conditions under which they were recorded the sound is incredible. It is a credit to the engineer, Keith Bessey, who took the tapes and produced such an excellent result.

Summer Holiday was a stylised English 60's film, similar to an Elvis movie and  predecessor to another British cult film,  The Beatles, Hard Days Night?
That's right and I think Summer Holiday has become the most famous British pop musical and is regularly shown on UK television.

How many books have you written on music?
I have had several books published including the three on Cliff Richard, one on Fleetwood Mac that looked at their recording career and, of course, my Johnny Cash chronicle. My seventh is finished and waiting for a publication date.

Is that the Linda Ronstadt biography?
That's right. All my other books have been reference works whereas Linda Ronstadt: A Life In Music will be my first biography. It traces her career from her early days in Tucson, Arizona through the seventies when she was one of the biggest selling female artists in the States and up to her recent release Hummin' To Myself and the controversy surrounding her live appearance at the Aladdin in Las Vegas. There has been a delay with publication and hopefully it will be published soon!

You have actually worked on over fifty CD and DVD projects. Can you tell us more?
As well as the Cliff projects we talked about earlier both Nigel and I have worked on around fifty of his back catalogue as well as some new compilations. Our work involved the track selection, picture and memorabilia research, sleeve notes and approving artwork.

Fifty Cliff Richard CD projects. Wow, that's fantastic, Peter!
We probably worked on the best of Cliff's career although there are several albums that could still be upgraded and released with improved sound.

Incidentally, I worked as a photographer on the Cliff Richard Show. Do you know Cliff Richard?
I met and interviewed Cliff several times and he was always courteous and happy to help with any projects, as were his management and office staff. 

You also put together a chronology and sessionography for Welsh rocker Shakin' Stevens. Tell us a little bit about who Shakin' Stevens is and how you got to work with him?
Shakin' Stevens was the biggest selling artists in the UK throughout the eighties and was one of the three artists who portrayed Elvis in the musical that was staged following Elvis' death in 1977. He had played the clubs for many years with his band The Sunsets and his success was well deserved. My wife was a big fan and we had seen him many times in concert and then the opportunity arose to produce a chronology and session listing for his own personal use. In 2005 he toured the UK and we were fortunate enough to meet him after his show in Worthing.

Another element Peter, is your graphic design experience. Can you tell us about that?
I worked in the print trade for nearly fifteen years as a typesetter/graphic designer at the University of Sussex. I went part time back in 1998 and now work two days a week as a freelance designer. The two days also allow me time to concentrate on the fanzine and other writing projects. My time in the print trade has helped with producing the fanzine which I also design.

Here's a question that everybody keeps asking me about Peter Lewry and the  Johnny Cash fanzine. You have mentioned that you first heard Johnny Cash back in 1970, but when did you get involved in creating this fanzine and why?
It was back in 1994 and one day the idea just came to me that there wasn't a magazine produced in this country on Johnny Cash. I had been a subscriber to a magazine called Elvis The Man and His Music which was unlike any other fan magazine and was a serious publication that looked at the music. I wanted to follow a similar style rather than just run a 'fan-club'. Here we are fifteen years later and still going strong.

Fifteen years. That's amazing. How many did you send out in that first year?
When I started the fanzine I was not sure how successful it would be and with an American and European club also running I knew it would be a slow process. I cannot remember exactly but I think we must have mailed out around thirty or forty copies of the first issue. We advertised on the internet and in some of the Country music magazines and by the end of the year that figure had easily doubled.

And how many members do you have signed up today?
We have over two hunderd and fifty plus we send out several complimentary copies to record companies, magazines and people associated with Johnny Cash.

Plus you also have the magazine online?
Yes. Because the fanzine is published quarterly you always find that some news comes in after you have sent the fanzine out. To overcome this we started the website. It had a dual purpose. Firstly to keep people informed of the latest news but also as a way of advertising the fanzine to a wider audience.

When did you start the site?
The website went online in May 2003 and the following year it won the music category at the NTL Best Of British Broadband Awards. There were close to 5000 nominations in all the categories so I was honoured when I found out the site had won.

You also wrote a book about Johnny, called I've Been Everywhere?
That's correct. I wanted to use that title as I felt it summed up John's career. The publisher wanted to include John's name in the title so the full title became A Johnny Cash Chronicle - I've Been Everywhere.

The book is a listing of concerts and recordings. That must have taken some serious research?
Yes it did. The book is a day-by-day chronology of John's career listing his concert appearances, TV shows, record releases and much more.

It's a great thing to do for an artist and an amazing piece of work that many people use for reference. How long did it take to collate and write the book?
I had been collating dates ever since starting the fanzine so I had a head start when I was commissioned to write the book. However, there was still a lot of research that needed doing and it took about six months to actually compile all the information and write the book. I spent a couple of days at the the British Library Sound Archive in London looking through close to forty years of old Billboard magazines, other music papers and books to try to fill some of the gaps. Many people helped during my research but I am indebted to Lou Robin who checked the manuscript and added several entries and corrected some of my mistakes.

What was your inspiration to write the book? Some people collect stamps, some people collect toys, but you collect information about recording artists.
I guess many people would call me an 'anorak' but this type of book had always interested me and there are many similar books in my collection. Both The Beatles and The Beach Boys had books written in this style as did one of the Cliff books so I felt that John's career could be dealt with in the same way. 

Do you think Johnny Cash used the book himself to find out the many places he'd been?
I hope so. I know he was given a copy of the book and a few months after publication I received a signed copy from Lou Robin with a message from John written on one of the pages.

Can you remember the message?
It read - "To Peter, Thanks for a really good job. Johnny Cash."

Even with the amount of time and work you put into the book, did you encounter any problems researching this period?
When you are covering a career that spans six decades there are many problems that you come across. The hardest part was finding out the early tour dates. The late sixties onwards were relatively easy to find through old fan club magazines and the tour schedules that Lou Robin sent me but the problems started when I tried to find out his concert dates for the late fifties and early sixties. I know there are gaps from this period, many of which I have subsequently located, but there is still a lot of work to do. I am currently working on a major update.

You met Johnny Cash back in 1997. Can you tell us about the meeting. Was it in his dressing room, before or after the show?
We met John backstage at the Royal Albert Hall in 1997 just before he was due to go on stage. The meeting was arranged by the American Recordings representative in the UK. We also had the opportunity to talk to June and John Carter. If I remember correctly we also went back after the show.

Can you remember what you spoke about? Did you talk about the magazine?
I can remember being introduced as the guy that runs the fanzine in the UK and John replying, "You do a great job for me here in the UK." I can't remember what else we spoke about but I do have a photo he signed for me and a picture of Carole, John and I which hangs in the office.

Besides the show at the Royal Albert Hall how many times did you see Johnny in concert?
I think I went to about fifteen concerts between 1979 and 1997. I also saw him as part of The Highwaymen during their 1992 UK tour. I never saw a bad show, all of them were great.

One of the questions a lot of people would like to know is what are your favourite Johnny Cash songs or albums?
That's a tough one. I really love the American Recordings period and also the material he recorded during his time with Mercury Records. However, if I had to pick a favourite album it would have to be Hello, I'm Johnny Cash. There is no doubt about my favourite song ­- Man In Black.

Why Man in Black?
I just love the lyrics.

And of course that is the name of your magazine?
It seemed like an appropriate title! 

Besides the magazine I believe you have also worked on some Johnny Cash DVD and CD projects?
I wrote the sleevenotes for two projects for Bear Family Records in Germany. The first was the Town Hall Party DVD and the other was a CD of John's foreign language recordings. I also compiled and wrote sleevenotes for a CD entitled The EP Collection which featured all the Sun Records extended play tracks. I also compiled and wrote liner notes for the Johnny Cash The Outtakes set that Bear Family issued. It was good to have a credit as re-issue producer on that one.

Besides Johnny and Cliff have you worked on any other CDs?
I co-wrote the liner notes for the Elvis CD, Live Greatest Hits, which, being an Elvis fan, was something special. I have also written liner notes for a George Jones & Tammy Wynette Duets compilation.

When did you start including interviews in the magazine?
We started including interviews back in 2001. Before that there was a series called The Sound Behind Johnny Cash where we would look at a particular musician and cover his career.

These interviews have been well received. Fans like to get an insight into Johnny Cash, his family, band members colleagues and friends. This is the essence of a fan magazine.
Yes, the interviews gave us the opportunity to find out much more and also to talk to people other than just the musicians.

 Who else would you like to interview?
There are several people I would still like to talk to including Marshall Grant, Marty Stuart, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, the list is quite long!

Have you spoken to John Carter yet. That would be an interesting interview? I had the opportunity to interview John Carter a few years ago. I was also fortunate to get a short interview with Rosanne Cash when her Rules Of Travel CD was released.

Speaking of Rosanne, I heard she was most complimentary about your work?
Yes, I received a lovely card from her which I reproduced in a recent issue of the fanzine. Rosanne is a fantastic person and was so kind when I met her in Nashville back in 2003.

The Man in Black interviews and stories have taken on a new light, since John's death. Today, the tables have turned, as I interview Peter, MIB founder and editor. Do you often get asked about Johnny Cash?
When I've Been Everywhere was published a couple of local radio stations ran interviews and also some local press printed editorials and photos. The day John died I received several from radio stations, both here in the UK and America, and the press for comments and quotes all in the space of a couple of hours.

When Johnny Cash died his celebrity, fame and sales escalated beyond all expectations. He was already an icon, but what caused his popularity to spread.
Before he died there were many people who knew I ran the fanzine and would often ask me if John was still recording. In fact a few even thought that John had retired many years earlier.  Following his death there was a noticeable increase in interest in the fanzine and also his presence on the bookshelf and in the record racks. People began to discover John's music and, of course, Walk The Line has created a further interest in John and his music.

For the decade John worked with Rick Rubin he wasn't touring due to his health, but he was still vital in the studio. Why do you think his music appealed to a younger audience in those final years?
There is no doubt that some of his best work was the material he recorded with Rubin over that ten year period. I think the kind of songs he was choosing to record during this period had an appeal to a wider, and younger, audience. People began to sit up and take notice. Of course he was also getting more press coverage and  exposure on radio and TV which brought his music to people who probably never listened to his music before.

When Johnny Cash died how did the news affect you?
I was upset but not surprised. He had been ill for many years and I always felt that once June had passed away John would not be with us much longer. It was hard when I heard the news as John had been a major part of my life especially over the previous ten years.

Since his death, have more people approached you about Johnny Cash?
Definitely. Membership has increased and every week there appears to be new enquiries. I am also finding that I am approached by companies working on projects, for example TV, press and radio, for help with factual information etc. Just before the release of Walk The Line I was appoached by an ad agency in Los Angeles to help with the official Fox Walk The Line website and supplied most of the information that appeared on the family tree and day by day sections. The BBC also approached me to help with the documentary The Last Great American and borrowed several items from my collection.

Many consider John to have been a dark brooding man. How do you see him?
I think that is the image he always gave out and to some extent he probably was a 'dark brooding man' but there was also the other side a kind and sensitive person.

MIB has been going for fifteen years. Do you see it continuing and what are your future plans for the magazine?
Definitely, I have many articles on various aspects of John's career that still need to be written and, as I mentioned earlier, there are many people I would still like to interview. All the time there is news about John to print, new CD/DVD releases to review and articles to be written, the magazine will continue.

Of course, there are still Elvis and Beatles magazines, even though both acts have been gone a long a time. In your own personal opinion and knowledge, Peter, what do you think people have to look forward to in CASH books and music?
I think we have a lot to look forward to. Readers Digest have a set due out later this year and, of course, we are still waiting for American VI! There is still so much material from the seventies and eighties that hasn't been released on CD yet and since finding all the tapes at the House of Cash I am sure we will be enjoying John's music for many years to come.

Do you get to know about forthcoming projects before the general public?
I am privy to information from Lou Robin and Sony/Legacy some of which I use in the fanzine and on the website. I am very fortunate to have built up a good working relationship with Lou, and the people at Sony/Legacy which obviously helps with putting the fanzine together. Do you have time for hobbies? Other than writing, music and the dogs I have little time for any other hobbies.

When you get away from the office to your domestic environment, do you watch television or listen to music or play your drums?
I tend to watch more televison than listening to music when I am at home. Most of the music I listen to is when I am working in the office although walking the dogs does give me the opportunity to use my iPod - which does, of course,  include Walking The Dog by Rufus Thomas!! What's on your iPod now? At the moment I am listening to a lot of southern soul music from some of the great studios like Stax and Muscle Shoals. Artists like James Carr, Eddie Hinton, Booker T & The MGs and Carla Thomas. There is also a great number of country, hillbilly, and western swing music including Marty Stuart, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris and BR5-49.

Do you ever just sit and listen to Johnny Cash?
Sometimes but most of the Johnny Cash albums get played during my work on the fanzine. However, there are several Cash albums on the iPod, including American V and Personal File, so I do get a chance to listen when I am out walking or travelling. I would say I watch more Johnny Cash DVDs when I am away from the office than actually play CDs.

Thank you Peter for being interviewed in your own magazine.
Thanks Alan, it is a pleasure.

Last modified on
Hits: 1751

Posted by on in Interviews

On July 25, shortly after he had been nominated for six MTV Video Music Awards for his rendition of the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt, Johnny Cash talked with TIME's Lev Grossman:


You’ve been a star forever, and you’re still as big of a star as you’ve ever been.  You got these six music video award nominations.  How do you feel about that?


Kinda overwhelmed.  I’m very grateful for all the nominations and all the votes.


Why did you choose to cover that song, Hurt?


It was [producer] Rick Rubin's idea. We were looking for a song that we felt had an impact. He found this one, and he asked me what I thought of it. I said, "I think it's probably the best anti-drug song I ever heard, but I don't think it's for me." And he said, "Why?" I said, "Because it's not my style, it's not the way I do it." And he said, "What if it were?" And I said, "Well, I could give it a try." So I went out and recorded it. When I listened to it, I felt it came out all right.


How do you go about turning an industrial-metal song like Hurt into a Johnny Cash song?


I would just get down and do it until I felt like I was doing it with feeling. I probably sang the song 100 times before I went in and recorded it, because I had to make it mine.


Did it feel as if you had written it by the end?


It's a song I wish I had written. Back in the '60s, I think I could have written something like this.

Do you think of rock and country as two different things?


No. No, I could never let myself think of that. I can't put myself in a box or a basket when I'm working. I'm really trying to prove that there aren't categories you have to stay in, that you can branch out. You can touch others out there that have not been listening to you if you keep trying.


Do you think of yourself as a Christian artist?


I'm an artist who is a Christian. I'm not a Christian artist.


The Man in Black--is that really who you are?


I was wearing black clothes almost from the beginning. I feel comfortable in black. I felt like black looked good onstage, that it was attractive, so I started wearing it all the time. And then in 1969 I wrote a song called Man in Black, in which I pointed out that there are a lot of things wrong in my country, a lot of hypocrisies, the Vietnam War, all that, you know, that all these things could be corrected if we turned it over to the people, and one of those people is me. And I point my finger at myself: when you see me, I'll be the man in black, one of those responsible. And that kind of became my flag bearer, that song. And I've worn that mantle ever since.


Do you feel that same way about this country?


Yeah. Uh-huh. Do you watch the news? Yeah, quite a bit.


Do you feel pessimistic about the way things are going?


I just wish we would...I wish we would...mmm. Not going to get into that, Lev.


What are you working on now?

When my wife died, I booked myself into the studio just to work, to occupy myself. So I started recording all these things that I found, songs that people had sent me. I got a potful of them. That's what I'm gonna be doing for a while.

Last modified on
Hits: 1973

Posted by on in Interviews

Interview With Johnny Cash

Aired November 26, 2002 - 21:00   ET


JOHNNY CASH, SINGER: Hello, I'm Johnny Cash.



CASH: Hello, I'm Johnny Cash.



CASH: Hello, I'm Johnny Cash.



CASH: Hello, I'm Johnny Cash.


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, the man in black is back. An exclusive hour with Johnny Cash next on LARRY KING LIVE.




KING: The great pleasure to welcome a return visit to LARRY KING LIVE the wonderful Johnny Cash. His new album, "The Man Comes Around" will be out -- just came out November 4, as we play this on our Thanksgiving holiday. And this past year we've seen the release of "The Essential Johnny Cash," a two CD chronicle of his recording years with Sun, Columbia and Mercury and the past year has also seen the release of an expanded addition of five vintage Johnny Cash LPs put out on CD. You're like a -- you're a legend.

CASH: Well, there's a great compilation of my work that they've put together, all the companies that I worked for, you know? And everybody is trying to outdo the other one.

KING: You sang with Sun? CASH: Yes, I was on Sun Records.

KING: When Presley was there?

CASH: Yes, when Presley was there.

KING: You both sang for Sun Records?

CASH: Yes, right.

KING: Why didn't that company last forever?

CASH: Well, I don't know. It was a money thing, I guess. RCA- Victor went to Sam Phillips to buy Elvis and they bought him. And he was the nucleus of the whole thing -- the rockabilly thing was revolving around.

KING: Did you realize his greatness then?

CASH: I think so. I think everybody that saw him perform did, yes.

KING: Yes.

All right, Johnny, first and foremost, how are you doing? How's your health?

CASH: Good. Good.

KING: Because, you know, you look like you've had some stuff times. Explain.

CASH: I have had some tough times. I have had pneumonia three times in the last three years -- four times in the last three years. And it debilitates you. It takes the strength away. Took the life out of my legs and I can walk, but not very well.

KING: Now, is this pneumonia related to that autonamic neuropathy (ph), which you have.

CASH: Autonomic neuropathy.

KING: Which is what?

CASH: Well it's kind of -- the way I understand it, it's a deadening of the nerve cells of the nerve endings in the lower extremities and sometimes the hands and other extremities.

And for me that's really about the only thing it's really affected a lot. I'm not sure that it's affected my lung power but I don't have the lung power I did. But of course, pneumonia will take that away too.

KING: Now is the pneumonia an offshoot of that. Do you get pneumonia because you have that disease? How did you first discover this? CASH: Well, it was 1993 and I was hospitalized with a -- I went into a coma and I was there for 12 days. They all thought I was dying and they couldn't diagnose what was wrong with me. They finally came up with a diagnosis of Shydreger (ph) Syndrome. It was few months later they realized I didn't have that so it was Parkinson's. And then it was not that.

Then finally it was autonomic neuropathy.

KING: They finally got it right.

CASH: Finally got it right. And I'm pretty well resolved to the fact that that's what it is. And it's a slow process of the nerve endings.

KING: No cure?

CASH: No, I don't think so. But that's all right. There's no cure for life either.

KING: Can you sing?

CASH: Well, as well as I ever could I guess.

KING: You can? I mean, do you go out and sing?

CASH: Yes. Well, I don't go out and sing. I don't do concerts any more because the physical thing of going out there and doing concerts and the planes and the cars and the hotels and all that. And the backstage is where it's so dark I have a hard time.

My vision is -- my vision is over. I'd probably say 60 percent gone because of the neuropathy. And the diabetes.

KING: But you can still record.

CASH: Yes. I can still record, yes. I have been in the studio a lot. I have focused my energies from the road to the studio and it really feels good. I'm really enjoying it.

KING: Are you bitter?

CASH: Bitter? No.

KING: Angry? You're a young guy. You're only 70.

CASH: No, I'm not bitter. Why should by bitter? I'm thrilled to death with life. Life is -- the way God has given it to me was just a platter -- a golden platter of life laid out there for me. It's been beautiful.

I have been with you many times, Larry, and it's all been uphill every time. You remember?

KING: Yes.

CASH: Yes, things have been good. And things will get better all time.

KING: So you have no regrets?

CASH: No regrets.

KING: And no anger at the, Why did God do this to me?

CASH: Oh, no. No. I'm the last one that would be angry at God. I'd really took if I shook my fist at him.

KING: What was -- do you remember anything about being in a coma?

CASH: I remember voices in the room. I remember things they were saying. And I couldn't respond to -- I was in a coma several times with -- over the periods of time. It was actually three times with pneumonia. I was in a coma several times -- with pneumonia three times. And several times I wanted to wake up and tell them, I heard what you said, you know?. I'm not dying.

KING: What's that feeling like?

I'm not dying. I could hear the people in the room rustling around and talking. And after a while, you know, the conversation inevitably has to come around to Well, if he dies, this or that, you know?

KING: Oh, and you're lying there hearing that?

CASH: And I'm lying there hearing that, you know? And I hear a lot of that. I hear a lot of that...

KING: And you can't move?

CASH: ...over the days and nights. And I can't respond. No, I can't move, no.

KING: How much of this do you think, Johnny, the disease, pneumonia, trouble you've had in the '90s, can go back to your drug addiction, which was in the '60s, right?

CASH:" I'm not going to blame it on that at all.


CASH: Not at all. The drug addiction, I won't blame this on drug addiction at all.

And people say, Well, he wore that body out. Well, maybe I did. But it was to a good purpose. They should be thankful that I wore it out to the purpose I wore it out and that was writing and recording and touring and doing concerts. Everywhere I could possibly do them that I thought I might enjoy them. I thought people might enjoy me.

KING: You never stopped, did you?

CASH: I never stopped until 1993. No. Never.

KING: In the '60s your dependency was on what?

CASH: In the '60s, amphetamines and barbiturates.

KING: Amphetamines to stay up.

CASH: Uh-huh.

KING: Barbiturates to bring you down after you were up.

CASH: Right.

KING: Now what was it like performing when you were on drugs?

CASH: Well, for awhile it was OK. For awhile it was OK. For awhile, Larry, when I took my first ones I said, this is what God meant for me to have in this world. This was invented for me, you know? I honestly thought it was a blessing -- a gift from God, these pills were.

And -- but then I thought -- then I finally found out I was deceiving myself. That this was one of those things that have a false face -- that it's the devil in disguise that has come to me.

KING: Make a nice song.

CASH: Probably been written but I'd write it.

KING: Was it hard to get rid of it?

CASH: To get rid of the pills? Yes. . It took -- the first time I broke the addiction it took 32 days. And I was in a house that was unfinished. I had just bought it. This was just before June and I were married.

And I was living in this house and she moved out there with her mother and her father and several other people rallied around me and the commissioner of mental health for the state of Tennessee, he had befriended me. And he said, I will help you save your life if you want to save it. And I said, I want to save it.

So he came to me every day at 5:00 when he got off work. He came every day for a counseling session. For 32 days.

Only about the funny thing happened on about the seventh or eighth day. I had these pills that I had rat holed, you know. I had hidden back that I just knew nobody would know where they were.

KING: Safety measure.

CASH: Yes, my safety measure, yeah.

And one day about the fifth or sixth day he was out there, he said, OK, how you doing? I said, just great. He said, no, you're not. You're lying. I said, OK. He says where are they? You want to flush them or do you want me to just leave and you keep taking them? I said, I'll flush them. So I did. I flushed them.

KING: And stayed off it?

CASH: Stayed off of it, yes. For 32 days.

KING: More on the saga of Johnny Cash as we salute a true American legend tonight on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. It's always good seeing him as he keeps on keepin' on.

We'll be right back.












KING: We're back with the incredible Johnny Cash, who keeps on, as we said, keepin' on. And the lighter notes to the album "The Essential Johnny Cash," Bono of U2 calls Cash the most male voice in Christendom. Every man knows he is a sissy compared to Johnny Cash. Well said.

How does that make you feel?

CASH: That embarrasses me. Sitting in front of you.

KING: Where did you start?

CASH: Where did I start? Memphis. Memphis, 1955.

KING: What was your first hit?

CASH: " Cry Cry Cry."

KING: Country hit, right?

CASH: Well, "Folsom Prison Blues" was my next record. It was the first big country hit.

KING: How did you come to entertain in prison? How did that start for you?

CASH: Well, the convicts at Huntsville, Texas State Prison, had heard "Folsom Prison Blues."

KING: Which was recorded in a studio?

CASH: Right, a studio recording. And this was 1956 I got the invitation to do a concert at Huntsville, Texas. So the Tennessee Two and i, Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins and I went down to Huntsville, Texas and set up in the middle of the rodeo arena. They this big rodeo every year.

KING: Famous rodeo. Prison rodeo.

CASH: Well, just before the rodeo they had me out as a special attraction. And I was out there supposedly to sing "Folsom Prison Blues."




CASH: Well, we did "Folsom Prison Blues" and it started raining, and a thunderstorm hit. We were right in the middle of the arena and the rain is pouring down on our one little amplifier. In the middle of the song it burns out. And I got no amplification, none whatsoever. And there's thunder and lightning all around me. The men have been told not to leave their seats but they all do. They all do. They walk down in the rain to get close enough to hear me sing without the amplifier. And I sang that song, and they demanded that I sing it again and again.

KING: In the rain?

CASH: In the rain. We all got soaking wet, but we had a great time. But after that, Larry, I got a request from San Quentin, from the word got around the prison grapevine that I was one of them I guess. But the word got around in San Quentin, and they have that New Year's Day show every year. I was invited to perform at that. So I started -- I made that an annual event for about five years.

KING: Were you one of them?

CASH: Not really.

KING: Did you feel an affinity?

CASH: Well, only in my mind and in the songs I was singing.

KING: Obviously you had -- you were writing some of them, right? You obviously had some contact with these men? What do you think it was?

CASH: Well, as I got into the '60s, yes, I began to have a lot of contact with men from the steamy side of life, really from the steamy side of life. When I got into drug addiction.

KING: So you could associate with them? There were guys in there for drugs.

CASH: Yes, when you got thrown into jail a few times, and your head knocked around a few times and your hands slapped with a black jack for having on the bars (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you become -- get to thinking like them, I guess.

KING: Did it harden you?

CASH: No, it didn't harden me. Not at all. I think it softened me. I think it really softened me. I really do. I remember the last time I was in jail before that time I told you about, you know when the commissioner of mental health was out there every day. I came home from -- and seeking help. But I came home from being in jail down in Georgia, in a little county jail. And the jailer had picked me up and put me in his jail. I didn't know about it. I didn't know a thing until I woke up the next morning and here I am in jail.

I started banging on the bars, kicking the cell door, this and that, just raising cane. He came down, got me up, brought me up to the front and he threw my money and my car keys and my pills up on the counter. And he said, here, you take it all. You take the pills, go ahead and kill yourself if you want to. He said, it's your god given right to do that if you'd like to do it. He said, I did the best I could do. I brought you in to save your life, but now you go ahead and kill yourself or you go take care of yourself.

I just put the things in my pocket and left. And I decided -- oh, he said, also, he said, my wife is a big fan of yours and he said, when I went home last night and told her I had Johnny Cash in my jail, she cried all night. And he said, I don't want to see you any more. So get out of here.

KING: What did that do to you?

CASH: Well, that kind of -- you know, brought me down to about that tall.

KING: With all the things you had, it had to be rough, what am I doing here?

CASH: Yes, right, you stupid.

KING: Johnny Cash is our guest. The man who doesn't go away. New albums, new s and one of the great, great figures in American music history. We'll be right back.







KING: Johnny Cash was presented by President George W. Bush in a ceremony at Constitutional Hall in April with the National Medal of the Arts. He's won every major award there is to win in music. He is an American institution. When did you know you wanted to sing?

CASH: I knew I wanted to sing when I was a very small boy. When I was probably 4-years-old. My mother played a guitar and I would sit with her and she would sing and I learned to sing along with her.

KING: How would you describe your voice? Since there's no voice like it.

CASH: I don't know, Larry.

KING: I mean, it's not -- you don't hear yourself any where, right? I mean, there's no one -- are you a bass?

CASH: I don't hear -- no, I'm not a bass. I don't hear me like anybody else does. I'm sorry. I just don't. I don't hear -- I don't hear a good strong voice. I guess I remember too much of the pneumonia. I don't know. I just -- but my voice, I have to really work on my voice, on the vocals on my records to get it right. I just -- I run out of air. I run out of breath. And I run off pitch. I...

KING: So you have to go over it a lot?

CASH: Yes. Quite a bit. Quite a bit. Maybe no more than the average person, but to me a lot, you know, who never had to do it a lot.

KING: Do you still enjoy singing?

CASH: I love it. I love it.

KING: What is it?

CASH: I love to go to the studio and stay there 10 or 12 hours a day. I love it. What is it? I don't know. It's life.

KING: I mean, it must be -- with pneumonia is painful. It can hurt, right?

CASH: Yes, but what it did -- but I don't have pneumonia now. So it doesn't hurt now to work that long.

KING: Do you miss audiences?

CASH: I miss the audiences. I miss the audiences. But I see enough of people. You know where I see a lot of people? June and I go shopping a lot. And... KING: Malls?

CASH: In malls. In malls. We love to go to malls. And some of the stores, the big ones, have these little electric cars, little electric wheelchairs.

KING: You ride them?

CASH: I'm dangerous on one of those things. Yeah. We go to these stores I'll jump in one and follow June all day long in it. I love to shop.

KING: Where's home? Nashville?

CASH: Near Nashville. Hendersonville.

KING: Don't people stop you all the time?

CASH: Yes. That's all right.

KING: You don't mind it?

CASH: No, I don't mind.

KING: Why the black? Why do you always and only wear black?




CASH: You know, I wrote a song about why I wear black but maybe that's not quite it. I wear black because I'm comfortable in it. But then in the summertime when it's hot I'm comfortable in light blue.

KING: I don't think I have ever seen you in light blue. Do you ever record -- you ever do a concert in light blue?

CASH: No. Never done a concert in anything but black.

KING: Are you a clothes freak?

CASH: You walk into my clothes closet. It's dark in there. It's dark.

KING: How many records have you sold?

CASH: I don't know.

KING: Don't know. Biggest hit?

CASH: "I Walk The Line." "I Walk The Line." It was a hit three times.




KING: Tell me about the history of that song.

CASH: "I Walk The Line." I went to see -- let me see. Where did the idea come from? Oh. I had a little recorder. I had a Wilcox Gay Recorder -- a tape recorder in the Air Force in 1952. And I was always -- only guitar I was going do-do-do-do-do -- well it got turned around. The tape got in there backwards. And hen I played it, it went sh-sh-sh-sh and it had a kind of a drone sound like I finally had on the record.

But I couldn't figure out where that sound came from when I played it. When I took that sound -- when I got home -- when I was home from the Air Force, I was on the road and that sound was haunting me again. And then -- but then the line "because you're mine, I walk the line." It kept coming to me, you know? But I was -- I was...

KING: It was coming to you?

CASH: ...young and not been married too long. yes, it kept coming to me. Because you're mine, I walk the line. And then the words just naturally flowed. It was an easy song to write.

KING: How about "A Boy Named Sue?"

CASH: That was Shel Silverstein song.




KING: That song cracked up everybody whenever you sing it, right?

CASH: Right. Yes.

KING: Did you like it right away?

CASH: Right away. Immediately.

KING: Anyone else ever record it?

CASH: Nobody that I know of. Nobody that I know of. There's a thing about that song. I recorded that live at San Quentin in 1969.

KING: I remember the album.

CASH: The night before I left home in Hendersonville to go to California to do that concert, to make that record, we had a party at our house -- June threw a party for the cast of our TV show. And at the party was singing these songs, all the songs for the first time was Bob Dylan sing "Lay Lady Late At Night." Kris Kristofferson sang "Me and Bobby McGee." Shel Silverstein sang "A Boy Named Sue." Graham Nash sang "Marrakkesh Express."

KING: All of this...

CASH: Joni Mitchell sang "Both Sides Now." All these sons were sung the first time at that party at my house that night.

We were leaving the next day to go to California and June said, Take the words to "A Boy name Sue" to California. You'll want to record that at San Quentin. I said, I don't have time to learn that song before the show. And she said, Well, take them anyway.

So I did. I took the words to "A Boy Named Sue." I'd only read it the first time -- sung it the first time the night before and I read it off, you know, as I sing it. I still didn't know the words to it. So reluctantly I put them in my briefcase and took them to California. And I got out there to do that show. As a last resort, I pulled those lyrics out and laid them on the music stand, and when it came time that I thought I was brave enough, I did that song.

KING: And that crowd went berserk.

CASH: Yes, they went nuts.

KING: We'll be right back with more of Johnny Cash. Don't go away.








KING: We're back with Johnny Cash. You're very involved in patriotism, sing a lot of patriotic songs, get involved in your country a lot. Where were you on 9/11?

CASH: I was at our farm in Middle Tennessee, little 107-acre farm, watching television.

KING: You were up?

CASH: I was up watching television.

KING: Remember your first thoughts? CASH: A chill went over me. I just thought, You know, it's an invasion. I felt like it was an invasion of war, and it scared me. It really scared me. I just -- I thought what has it come to, you know, that they can get away with this?

KING: Did people ask you to appear in any -- since you're not making public appearances, just studio work, were you asked to appear in any of the concerts and specials that were put on with regard to it?

CASH: Well, I don't know. I think I had a couple requests, but nothing I seriously considered at all.

KING: Because you couldn't do it?

CASH: Right.

KING: Willie Nelson did some.

CASH: I think so. I think Willie did some, yes. Lot of the guys did.

KING: Now your singing contemporaries pass away -- I just want to get this right. Waylon Jennings died in February battling diabetes, had part of a foot amputated. You shared an apartment in the '60s. What was it like to lose him?

CASH: Losing Waylon was a tough one. We were very close. We were very good friends.




KING: Were you poor together?

CASH: Well, not really, no. I wasn't poor. When we shared the apartment together, I wasn't poor. I could have afforded a better apartment. I could have afforded my own apartment without having to room with Waylon, but I thought it would be fun, which it was. As it turned out, we kind of drifted away from each other after a few short weeks in that apartment.

It really didn't work out, the two of us. What we did, we had this crash pad that we shared, you know? A crash pad where we'd go crash from the drugs, and we shared this thing. And also, we'd use this apartment as a place to try to get June to come cook us some breakfast. She would come cook us a country ham or biscuits and gravy breakfast -- or her mother would. Mother Maybell (ph) Carter, she'd come over and cook us a breakfast to kind of try to keep us alive, you know, keep our bones together for a while.

KING: Why are country stars the most accessible? Why are they the ones that -- I remember Fanfare -- they still have that down in Nashville? I broadcast from there once. It's easy to meet a country star.

CASH: I think so.

KING: Reason?

CASH: Well, we walk out in our yards. We get in our cars. We go to stores. I guess I meet a lot of people when I'm shopping -- quote -- "shopping."

KING: But there's no air -- you don't have entourages? You don't have 40 -- at the height of fame, you didn't have 13 people guiding you through a room.

CASH: No, I didn't. No.

KING: Keeping you away from the public.

CASH: No. I never had to have that. No. I never have had the people, Back up, Mr. Cash is coming through. Back up.

I never have had to have that.

KING: How about country music itself? It's the most popular form of radio as a format.

CASH: Seems to be. Seems to be the most popular.

KING: Why do we like it?

CASH: Well, I don't know why we like some of it. Some of it I don't think we do like.

KING: Good answer, Johnny. Generally, it's part of the nomenclature...

CASH: You're trying to get me in trouble now.

KING: No, it's part of the nomenclature in America.

CASH: Yes, yes it is. I think there are more country stations than there are any other music format stations.

KING: Lot of country crossover hits.

CASH: I think it speaks to our basic fundamental feelings, you know. Of emotions, of love, of breakup, of love and hate and death and dying, mama, apple pie, and the whole thing. It covers a lot of territory, country music does.




KING: And singing it is fun. CASH: It is.

KING: Sad, too. It tells a story.

CASH: Fun like "A Boy Named Sue," and sad like "Give My Love to Rose" which was on that album.

KING: Do you write most of the stuff you do?

CASH: No. On that album, I wrote five of the 15 of those songs.

KING: Is music always going through your head?

CASH: Always. Always. There's always rhythm going in my mind.

KING: So, you're literally, in a sense, writing songs all the time?

CASH: I'm either singing them -- June will tell you, I'm either singing them, or I have got the beat going from one, or I'm writing one.

KING: Did you ever have a song that you thought was going to be phenomenal, and didn't do it?

CASH: Exactly.

KING: Which one? Instead I'm going to ask you the reverse, too.

CASH: I was going to be phenomenal.

KING: Let me take a break and you think about it. Johnny Cash is our guest. Don't go away.








KING: My daughter's here with me tonight and she had to remind me, Kia, that we should show the album. It's called "Cash". There's that face.

Can you tell the name? You got to buy this with cash. What -- is there a song you thought, this can't miss?

CASH: Yes. It's called "Red Velvet." I think it was a hit for Ann Tyson (ph).

KING: You wrote it?

CASH: No, I didn't write it. But when I recorded it, I thought, this is it. This is the one I have been looking for. Nobody wanted it. Nobody requested it. Everybody hated it.

KING: Hated it? Because I remember "Blue Velvet," Tony Bennett had a big hit, "Blue Velvet." Do you remember any of "Red Velvet."

CASH: Four months guy in April she came down, and the dusty autumn winds began to blow. Should have known I couldn't hold her livin' out so far from town, and the nights to come are cold and slow to go. If I had known before we kissed, you can't keep Red Velvet on a poor dirt farm like this now she's up -- any time you can stop me.

KING: You thought that couldn't miss. Okay. Now, what surprised you? What song did you record that did well that you didn't think much of?

CASH: "I Walk The Line."

KING: You didn't think much of it?

CASH: I didn't think.

KING: It was in your head too long.

CASH: It was in my head too long, I just didn't think it was that good of a song. I just didn't think anyone would like it. I didn't like the arraignment. I didn't like the sound I had on the record. First time I heard it on the radio I was on tour in Florida. I called Stan Phillips (ph) and Sun Record and I said, please don't make any more of those records. Please don't send out any more to the radio stations.

KING: No kidding?

CASH: I did. I begged him not to. I said, don't send out "I Walk The Line" to the radio stations. I don't want to hear it any more. He said, well you'll have to keep your radio off because it's playing everywhere. And he said, let's give it a chance. Let's give it a chance and see what happens. Well, what happens is another week or two it was zoom, number one.

KING: Country stars do a lot of singing with each other.

CASH: We do.

KING: Pop stars rarely do that, though lately that's changed. Why? I mean, all country stars have recorded with other country stars.

CASH: That's that other thing about country music. It's a brotherhood or sister sisterhood, you know. Brotherhood or sisterhood, country music is. And we share the music, and we share the songs and we share the feelings and emotions. We do it -- we cry on each other's face if we want to.

KING: You also root for each other?

CASH: Yes, we do.

KING: Unlike other businesses in show business, you want to see that other record do well?

CASH: Yes, I do. Yes, we do. We want to see our friend's records do well.

KING: And you're happy when they get a lot of success?

CASH: Yes.

KING: So there's no jealousy in the industry?

CASH: I wouldn't say there's no jealousy. I couldn't say that, but...

KING: The people who made it are pretty secure, right, in country music?

CASH: I think so. People who have made it feel very secure.

KING: Do you have a favorite?

CASH: I do, I have a favorite. My favorite female artist is Emmylou Harris. My favorite male artist would be Dwight Yaokam.

KING: Good actor, too.

CASH: Isn't he great?

KING: And a scary guy. He can sing though.

CASH: He's terrific. Yes.

KING: And he's real cowboy.

CASH: I know he is. He is.

KING: Are you friends?

CASH: Yes, we're friends.

KING: John, do you ever hope that this disease, whatever, may go away? Someone may cure it? You'll be out on stage again.

CASH: Wouldn't that be nice? Yes, that would be nice if we could not only cure it, but reverse it. Not only that but the glaucoma.

KING: What do you see when you see now? You said you only have 40 percent vision.

CASH: What I see is, I see you, but it's very foggy between me and you. Very foggy.

KING: That thing on the side of your face, is that a scar?

CASH: Yes.

KING: That's from long ago?

CASH: Yes that is from the Air Force.

KING: What happened?

CASH: That's a bullet hole.


CASH: Oh no.


KING: We'll -- bullet hole. Japanese guy he was standing with. We'll be back with our remaining moments with Johnny Cash right after this.


KING: We're back with our remaining moments with Johnny Cash. A couple of other things. Where did that scar come from?

CASH: I had a cyst removed when I was in the Air Force.

KING: Simple as that? No big story? Nobody shot you?

CASH: That is all.

KING: Were you a hero in the Air Force?

CASH: No. I was in Air Force Security Service. I was a high speed radio intercept operator. I intercepted Russian Morse code.

KING: Korean War?

CASH: Yes.

KING: Pretty good. Did you sing in the service?

CASH: Yes.

KING: You had a TV show that was a hit for a couple years, right?

CASH: No, not when I was in the service.

KING: I mean, when you got out of the service? I jumped ahead.

CASH: Yes, I did. I had a TV show that did all right.


CASH: Hello, I'm Johnny Cash.


KING: Why did you give that up?

CASH: The ABC network show? Oh, I didn't give it up. They dropped me.

KING: It was good, and -- they do that in television.

CASH: They do that in television, yes.

KING: All right, John. Where do we go from here? Do you look at -- do you say to yourself, I'm looking at a future? I'm plagued with this disease, I'm going to just keep recording? I am going to hang on, I'm going to -- how do you look at tomorrow?

CASH: Well, Larry, you can ask the people around me. I don't give up. I don't give up. I don't give -- and it's not out of frustration and desperation that I say I don't give up. I don't give up because I don't give up. I don't believe in it.

It's like my father said, when you go to the cotton fields, if you're supposed to give the men 10 hours for $5 a day, give him 10 hours and a half. I still try to do that, you know? When I -- if my session is supposed to be a three-hour session, I'll try to do four or five hours. I work because I love my work. So long as I can work, I'm going work.

KING: Tell me about "The Man Comes Around."

CASH: "The Man Comes Around" is a song that I wrote, it's my song of the apocalypse, and I got the idea from a dream that I had -- I dreamed I saw Queen Elizabeth. I dreamed I went in to Buckingham Palace, and there she sat on the floor.

And she looked up at me and said, Johnny Cash, you're like a thorn tree in a whirlwind. And I woke up, of course, and I thought, what could a dream like this mean? Thorn tree in a whirlwind? Well, I forgot about it for two or three years, but it kept haunting me, this dream. I kept thinking about it, how vivid it was, and then I thought, Maybe it's biblical. So I found it. Something about whirlwinds and thorn trees in the Bible. So from that, my song started and...

KING: And they've titled the album?

CASH: "The Man Comes Around." The song turned out to be "The Man Comes Around." Yes.




KING: How many songs have you recorded?

CASH: I don't know, Larry.

KING: Do you have them all at home?

CASH: Yes, I probably do. I probably have them all.

KING: One other song to ask you about, "The Burning Ring of Fire."

CASH: "Ring of Fire."

KING: Where did that come from?

CASH: Written by June Carter.

KING: Sitting right over there.

CASH: June Carter and Merle Kilgore (ph). They wrote that song for me, and...

KING: You had to like that right away.

CASH: When I heard that, I said, That's me in that song.




KING: You didn't stop that record?

CASH: No, I didn't. No, I had no intention of stopping that one.

KING: Always a great pleasure having you, Johnny.

CASH: Thanks, Larry.

KING: Be well.

CASH: Thank you.

KING: Johnny Cash, "The Man Comes Around" is now out. The release of "The Essential Johnny Cash," a two CD chronicle of recording years with Sun, Columbia, and Mercury is out. We've also seen the re-release of expanded editions of five vintage Johnny Cash LPs. Thank you, Johnny, thank you for a wonderful evening. Thank you for joining us.

Stay tuned for "NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown. I'm Larry King with Johnny Cash in Washington. Good night.

Last modified on
Hits: 1472

Posted by on in Interviews

Title: “Johnny Cash”

Is Part Of: Rolling Stone, June 1994.

Author: Dunn, Jancee


Can you name anyone in this day and age who is as cool as Johnny Cash? No, you can't. He's the genuine article, the real deal, and he was a badass long before most of today's young whelps were born. Cash is feeling mighty good these days, what with an instant classic of an album, American Recordings, produced by Rick Rubin and recorded in both Cash's own cabin in Hendersonville, Tenn., and Rubin's Hollywood living room. There is also a renewed, almost frenzied interest in the man. Hipsters, actors and models clog his shows in the vain hope that some of the Cash mystique will rub off on them.


Cash takes all this attention with his usual calm as he chats from his hotel room at Los Angeles' Four Seasons Hotel, where he's registered under his own damn name. "What name would I be under?" he booms. "I mean, who cares?"


I just can't picture you staying in swanky hotels like the Four Seasons.


Well, where would I stay?


I don't know, I guess . . .


I don't know anybody here in L.A. that I would want to stay with. And hotels are my life. Plus, I like room service.


Now, you said you discovered a whole new world of music this year. How so?


Well, really what I discovered, I guess, is myself. I discovered my own self and what makes me tick musically and what I really like. It was really a great inward journey, doing all these sessions over a period of nine months and Rick sitting there not so much as a producer but as a friend who shared the songs with me. "What else you got?" he'd say, or "Listen to this one," and he'd play one.


You recorded 70 songs. What will become of the ones you didn't use?


I think a lot of them will be used, and I'm not sure how. A lot of them are songs of the ilk that are on the album, some of them have other instruments on them. A few sparse instruments. A lot of them are just me and my guitar. I always wanted to do an album of gospel songs like that, you know. And Rick kinda liked some of 'em, so we may do that, too.


Could you describe your first encounter with Glenn Danzig?


You mean my one encounter with Glenn Danzig? Well, I went into Rick's house one night, and he was sitting here with this young man, and Rick said, "This is Glenn. Glenn has a song for you, John." So I sat down opposite him with a guitar, and he started singing this song, "Thirteen." He sang it over four or five times, then I started singing it with him, and then I sat down and recorded it. And it was only after I got through that I knew who he was. I'd heard of the group Danzig, but Rick didn't say Glenn Danzig, he said Glenn.


I read once that Rick wasn't incredibly familiar with your music but that he thought you were cool. How do you feel about that?


Well, I appreciate him thinkin' I'm cool. I didn't expect him to be all that familiar with my music. I gave him the big box set, and I gave him my discography that goes back to '55.


So he studied up a bit?


Well, really, it was in case he wanted to know anything about me or my recordings. But we sat down across from each other or side to side so many nights over a period of nine months, I think he knows my capabilities and my limitations musically and vocally. And he got into learning chords with me. The chords I wanted to play, but I didn't know what they were, we kinda learned the chords together.


Is it official that you'll be doing some dates for Lollapalooza this year?


No. I keep hearing that, but there's never been any firm offer for me to do it, and I don't know that I have any dates left. I'm booked up to Christmas. If there are any dates left over, and the Lollapalooza tour dates are still offered to me, probably I'll do some of 'em, but I'm not sure.


What was it like playing the Viper Room? That must have been a different experience.

It was kinda like playing a bloody honky-tonk in the '50s. That kind of attitude, like "Let's have fun." And it's a very small place, smaller, actually, than the early years. If I feel like if I can just go onstage with my guitar and sing my songs, I can't do wrong no matter where I am.


When you played Fez, in New York, it was quite the scene. The place was crawling with models. Did you notice that?


Well, of course, I noticed that! There were lots of models.


You're a red-blooded man, after all.


Yeah. I did notice that. Kate Moss was there, I didn't know the others' names, really.


So how did you hook up with Kate Moss for your "Delia's Gone" video?


I like the way you put that, "hook up with." [Laughs.] She was in the video before I was. They said, "Kate Moss is doing it for you," and I said, "Fine, great."


Were you surprised when U2 came calling last year to have you do "The Wanderer" on Zooropa?


Nope. We've been friends with those guys about seven or eight years. They've been to my home in Tennessee twice. Bono had been to my show before when I played Dublin, but this time three of 'em came: the Edge and Larry Mullen and Bono. And I got them out onstage with me at the end of the show to sing "Big River." That was really quite a party. Bono wrote down his verse in the palm of his hand. He was singin' looking at his hand. Course, he had that perpetual cigarette in his other hand. After the show, he asked me if I would come by the studio the next day and listen to a song he wrote for me. And we put down the track that day. I didn't have any idea it was going to be on the album -- he says, "We're just recording some experimental music."


When you listen to your daughter Rosanne's autobiographical songs about, uh, drinking and wildness and running around, do you admire her songwriting, or do you get a fatherly twinge of "Hey, that's my daughter!"


No, I never get that fatherly twinge. Not at all. You know, I've been down that same road she has, it's just something I can relate to and love her more for, because she's overcome it. I wasn't smart enough to do it that young. I admire her very much. And her songwriting, too. She wrote a great song about me called "My Old Man."


Are you a fan of modern country music?


I've always been a fan of a little of it. I'm a traditionalist. I like the old traditional country music. I like George Jones, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, early Gene Autry, Hank Snow. That, to me, was the seminal country music, and to me, it's still the best. Whereas country has gotten to, I think, the age now of electronic, push-button, TV, video and all that and special effects. I don't listen to a lot of country music, no. I don't listen to a lot of rock, either. I listen to a little of both. I listen to everything once.


Last question. I heard that just before you return rental cars, you stuff Big Macs under the seat as a prank.


That's a new one. I haven't heard that one. I never have done that. You don't know about the other things, but that's OK. I haven't done that, but maybe it's because I didn't think of it.


OK, well, thank you for . . .


Listen, before you go, I want to tell you something I haven't told anybody else.




You know my album cover with the two dogs on it? I've given them names. Their names are Sin and Redemption. Sin is the black one with the white stripe; Redemption is the white one with the black stripe. That's kind of the theme of that album, and I think it says it for me, too. When I was really bad, I was not all bad. When I was really trying to be good, I could never be all good. There would be that black streak going through.

Last modified on
Hits: 1845