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Columbia Records drops country legend Johnny Cash after 26 years

Columbia Records drops country legend Johnny Cash after 26 years

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The critically acclaimed 2002 biopic Walk The Line depicts the life and career of Johnny Cash from his initial rise to stardom in the 1950s to his resurgence following a drug-fueled decline in the 1960s. The selection of this time span made perfect sense from a Hollywood perspective, but from a historical perspective, it left out more than half of the story. There was still another dramatic resurgence to come in the second half of Johnny Cash’s 50-year career, which reached another low point on July 15, 1986, when Columbia Records dropped him from its roster after 26 years of history-making partnership.

Columbia first signed Johnny Cash in 1960, using a lucrative contract to lure him away from his Sun Records, his first label and also the early home of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Cash’s first Columbia single, “All Over Again,” made the country Top 5, and his second, “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town” made it all the way to #1, while also crossing over to the pop Top 40. But the biggest hits of Cash’s career were yet to come, including an incredible eight #1 albums in an eight-year span: Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1963); I Walk The Line (1964); Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits (1967); At Folsom Prison (1968); At San Quentin (1969); Hello, I’m Johnny Cash (1970); The Johnny Cash Show (1970); and Man In Black (1971). During this period, Johnny Cash established himself as a titanic figure in American popular culture while selling millions upon millions of records for Columbia, but by the mid-1980s, fashions in country music had shifted dramatically away from his old-school style, and the hits simply stopped coming.

In 1986, having also recently dropped jazz legend Miles Davis from its roster of artists, Columbia chose to end its no-longer-profitable relationship with Johnny Cash. Cash did not remain professionally adrift for long, however, releasing four original albums and numerous re-recordings of earlier material over the next seven years on Mercury Records. But it was not until 1994 that Cash truly found his creative bearings again. That was the year that he released the album American Recordings, the first in a series of albumson the label of the same name headed by Rick Rubin, the original producer of the Beastie Boys and the co-founder, with Russell Simmons, of Def Jam Records.

Under Rubin’s influence, Cash moved to a raw, stripped-down sound that proved to be enormously successful with critics, with country traditionalists and with hipster newcomers to country music. When his second Rubin-produced album, Unchained, won a Grammy for Best Country Album in 1998, American Recordings placed a full-page ad in Billboard magazine featuring a 1970 photo of Cash brandishing his middle finger under the sarcastic line of copy, “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to acknowledge the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support.”

Johnny Cash went on to have two more massively successful solo albums with American Recordings prior to his death in 2003. Rick Rubin went on to become co-head of Columbia Records in 2007, a position he left in 2012.

Johnny Cash

John R. Cash (born J. R. Cash February 26, 1932 – September 12, 2003) was an American singer, songwriter, musician, and actor. [4] Much of Cash's music contained themes of sorrow, moral tribulation, and redemption, especially in the later stages of his career. [5] [6] He was known for his deep, calm bass-baritone voice, [a] [7] the distinctive sound of his Tennessee Three backing band characterized by train-like chugging guitar rhythms, a rebelliousness [8] [9] coupled with an increasingly somber and humble demeanor, [5] free prison concerts, [10] and a trademark all-black stage wardrobe which earned him the nickname "The Man in Black". [b]

Born to poor cotton farmers in Kingsland, Arkansas, Cash rose to fame in the burgeoning rockabilly scene in Memphis, Tennessee, after four years in the Air Force. He traditionally began his concerts by simply introducing himself, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash", [c] followed by "Folsom Prison Blues", one of his signature songs. Alongside "Folsom Prison Blues", his other signature songs include "I Walk the Line", "Ring of Fire", "Get Rhythm", and "Man in Black". He also recorded humorous numbers like "One Piece at a Time" and "A Boy Named Sue", a duet with his future wife June called "Jackson" (followed by many further duets after their wedding), and railroad songs such as "Hey, Porter", "Orange Blossom Special", and "Rock Island Line". [13] During the last stage of his career, he covered songs by contemporary rock artists of the time his most notable covers were "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails, "Rusty Cage" by Soundgarden and, "Personal Jesus" by Depeche Mode.

Cash is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 90 million records worldwide. [14] [15] His genre-spanning music embraced country, rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, and gospel sounds. This crossover appeal earned him the rare honor of being inducted into the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame.

Johnny Cash

Carrie Rivers Cash. When John was 3 years old, his father took advantage of a new Roosevelt farm program and moved his young family to Dyess Colony in northeast Arkansas. There the Cash family farmed 20 acres of cotton and other seasonal crops, and young John worked alongside his parents and siblings in the fields.

Music was an integral part of everyday life in the Cash household. John soaked up a variety of musical influences ranging from his mother's folk songs and hymns to the work songs from the fields and nearby railroad yards. He absorbed these sounds like sponge absorbs water. In later years Cash would draw from his life in Arkansas for inspiration: "Pickin' Time," "Five Feet High and Rising" and "Look at Them Beans" are all reflections on Cash's early life.

Cash remained in Dyess Colony until his graduation from high school in 1950. As a young man he set off for Detroit in search of work. He ended up in Pontiac, Mich., and took work in an automotive plant. His tenure in the North Country was short-lived and Cash soon enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. After basic training in Texas (where he met first wife Vivian Liberto), he was shipped to Landsberg, Germany. While in the service Cash organized his first band, the Landsberg Barbarians. thumb|300px|right|Johnny Cash - Hurt

After his discharge in 1954, Cash returned stateside and married Liberto. He and his new bride soon settled in Memphis where Cash worked a variety of jobs -- including that of appliance salesman -- while trying to break into the music business.

In 1954, Cash auditioned as solo artist for Sam Phillips' Sun Records. He entertained hopes of recording gospel music for the label, but Phillips immediately nixed that idea. By the following spring, though, Cash was in the Sun Studios to record with his band The Tennessee Three. The original group consisted of guitarist Luther Perkins, bass player Marshall Grant and Red Kernodle on pedal steel. Kernodle bailed out of the session and Cash's first release for the label, "Hey Porter" had a sparse, but highly effective instrumental accompaniment. Though an impressive single, the song failed to chart.

Cash's follow-up release for Sun, however, fared substantially better. "Cry, Cry, Cry" managed to crack Billboards Top 20, peaking at No. 14. A long succession of chart singles followed. "So Doggone Lonesome" and "Folsom Prison Blues" both broke into the trade publication's Top 10. But Cash's fourth chart single proved to be his career song. "I Walk the Line" shot toBillboards No. 1 position and remained on the record charts for an incredible 43 weeks, ultimately selling over 2 million copies.

In 1956, he realized a longtime dream when he was invited to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. By 1957 Cash had racked up an impressive string of hits and was working more than 200 dates a year. The following year he switched to Columbia Records in search of more artistic freedom. He still had aspirations of making gospel records and felt he had a better chance of accomplishing this goal at another label.

Throughout the remainder of the 1950s and into the 1960s, Cash continued to produce remarkable records and charted consistently. "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," "I Got Stripes," "Ring of Fire," "Understand Your Man" and "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" all hit the upper registers of the record charts. Appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and other top-rated network programs followed. In the early 1960s, concept albums such as Bitter Tears and Ballads of the True West made him a favorite among the folk music crowd, culminating in an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival.

But all was not well. Cash was spinning out of control. His marriage was collapsing and divorce seemed inevitable. Too, his grueling tour schedule (which was now up to 300 shows a year) had taken its toll. Cash became dependent on narcotics to keep up the hectic pace. By the mid-1960s, Cash was a wreck and it began to impact his career.

By 1967, though, Cash managed to overcome his addiction with the help of his singing partner June Carter and her family. In 1968, he and Carter were married and his career experienced a renaissance. Throughout the remainder of the decade and into the 1970s, Cash was at the top of his game. A pair of live recordings made at Folsom Prison and San Quentin both went gold and a passel of awards followed including the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist awards in 1969.

The final payoff though, was a network television spot. Premiering in 1969, The Johnny Cash Show aired on ABC. Taped at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, the show featured an eclectic mix of guests ranging from Bob Dylan and Neil Young to Louis Armstrong and Merle Haggard. Through his selection of guests, Cash helped bridge the generation gap and break down musical barriers. He also used the show as a forum to discuss and raise the country's collective consciousness about social issues of the day such as the plight of the Native Americans, prison reform and the conflict in Vietnam. The show ceased production in 1971, but Cash continued to host numerous specials for several years.

In 1980, at the age of 48, Johnny Cash became the youngest living inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bestowed its honor on him in 1995, thus making him one of a handful of country artists in both organizations.

In 1985, Cash joined friends Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson to form The Highwaymen. The supergroup released three albums between 1985 and 1995, scoring a No. 1 hit with the single "Highwayman" from their first album, The Highwaymen. Although battling serious health problems in the late 1990s, Cash entered a professional renaissance after signing with rap producer Rick Rubin's American record label. American Recordings, released in 1994, won a Grammy for best contemporary folk album. The follow-up, 1996's Unchained, earned the Grammy for best country album in 1997. His 2000 release American III: Solitary Man, included a cover of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man," which won Cash a Grammy for best male country vocal performance in 2001.

In 2002, Cash released American IV: The Man Comes Around which included the Nine Inch Nails single "Hurt." Cash earned three CMA awards in 2003, and the acclaimed video for "Hurt" won an MTV award and a Grammy.

After losing his wife June Carter Cash unexpectedly in May 2003, Johnny Cash passed away Sept. 12, 2003, at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tenn., from complications from diabetes.

In 2005, a film version of his early romance with Carter, titled Walk the Line, was Oscar-nominated for best picture. A single-disc compilation titled The Legend of Johnny Cash was also released in 2005 and went on to sell more than 2 million copies. The following year, Lost Highway released the final installment of his American recordings, American V: A Hundred Highways, featuring his last sessions with Rubin. 

In December 2013, a lost Johnny Cash album called Out Among The Stars, containing 12 tracks recorded between 1981-1984 by Johnny Cash and Billy Sherrill , was discovered by his only son to June Carter,John Carter Cash. It was shelved by its producing company Columbia, but after its discovery almost 30 years later, it was released on March 25th, 2014 as a posthumous album through Legacy Recordings.

New & Reissued Johnny Cash Releases Not To Be Overlooked

For all of you Johnny Cash fans out there, there’s been a bevy of release and announcement activity lately you should be aware of—some of it newer stuff, some of it old, and all of it worthy to be on your radar.

Though many Johnny Cash or country music fans have already scarfed up a copy of the iconic Johnny Cash prison albums At Folsom Prison (1968) and At San Quentin (1969) from a thrift store, or record store, or from your parent’s record collection, they both will finally be reissued new on vinyl on August 7th. It’s kind of crazy to think they ever went out-of-print on vinyl, but such has been the case for years.

Also to be reissued on vinyl August 7th will be Johnny Cash Greatest Hits Vol. 1, and The Johnny Cash Collection, His Greatest Hits Vol. 2, capturing Cash’s biggest songs during his Columbia Records era. So if you’ve been waiting for your opportunity to pick up The Man in Black’s most iconic songs and performances on vinyl, this will be your opportunity.

One of the most consistently overlooked and forgotten eras of Johnny Cash music was after Columbia famously dropped him, but before he began working with Rick Rubin and his American Recordings imprint. This was the time Cash was signed to Mercury Records from 1986 to 1991.

Now Johnny Cash’s Mercury years have been released in box set form. The 7 CD or 7 LP set features six studio albums including 1986’s Class of ’55 recorded with Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, and Water from the Wells of Home which includes collaborations with artists such as Paul McCartney, Emmylou Harris and the Everly Brothers. The box set was released on June 26th after originally scheduled to be released on April 24th. Very little fanfare accompanied the release.

Other albums included in the box set are Johnny Cash Is Coming To Town (1987), Boom Chicka Boom (1990), and The Mystery Of Life (1991). The CD version of the box set also includes Classic Cash: Hall of Fame Series (Early Mixes). These early mixes of the 1988 album have been mastered from tapes newly discovered in the Universal vaults. The albums have all been remastered from the original Mercury master tapes by Kevin Reeves at UMG Studios in Nashville. New liner notes have been written by historian Scott Schinder.

Along with covering Johnny Cash’s Mercury years in total, the box set also includes seven bonus tracks encompassing B-sides, alternate versions, and the unreleased outtake “I Draw The Line.” Not enough has been made of these rare and unreleased recordings finally seeing the light of day.

And if you don’t want to spring for an entire box set, Easy Rider: The Best of the Mercury Recordings, a new collection of 24 highlights from Cash’s Mercury discography, has also been released on CD, 2LP, and digital download. Each individual Johnny Cash album from his Mercury years has also been made available on 180-gram vinyl.

And last but not least, Third Man Records has announced they are releasing a 17-song live performance featuring Johnny Cash at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles on May 5th, 1973 called A Night To Remember. Part of the Clive Davis-curated “Week to Remember” concert series where numerous Columbia-signed artists took the stage for performances, it will be released on “vintage white” vinyl by Third Man on July 31st.

As part of the package, there is also a DVD of backstage film footage taken from the event that is said to capture Johnny Cash in rare form. The package also includes a gold 7″ of Ruston Kelly playing “Dark and Bloody Ground” on one side, and a mystery artist playing a mystery Johnny Cash song on the other.

A Night To Remember Track List:

1. Big River
2. Sunday Morning Coming Down
3. The City Of New Orleans
4. Ballad Of Barbara
5. A Boy Named Sue
6. Going To Memphis
7. That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine – with Carl Perkins
8. Medley: Hey Porter/ Folsom Prison Blues/ Wreck Of The Old 97/Orange Blossom Special
9. I Walk The Line
10. Jackson – with June Carter Cash
11. If I Were A Carpenter – with June Carter Cash
12. Help Me Make It Through The Night
13. Help Me with June Carter Cash & Larry Gatlin|
14. Lord, Is It I?/The Last Supper
15. If I Had A Hammer with June Carter Cash
17. Daddy Sang Bass with June Carter Cash & Carl Perkins
16. Will The Circle Be Unbroken with June Carter Cash & Carl Perkins
18. Folsom Prison Blues (outro)

Chapter 3: To the Top

A July 1958 session in Nashville with producer Don Law marked Cash's ascendance to the major label ranks, as he began work on songs that would comprise his Columbia debut album, The Fabulous Johnny Cash. A western song from that album, Don't Take Your Guns To Town, topped the country charts for six weeks in 1959, and Mr. Cash entered a new decade as a well-established artist in his prime.

Music legend Johnny Cash (Photo: John R. Hamilton / John Wayne Enterprises)

"The 1960s were probably my most productive time, creatively speaking," he wrote in Cash. "Often I wasn't in my best voice, because the amphetamines dried my throat and reduced me, at times, to croaks and whispers, but that wasn't the story all the time, and my energy and output were high."

Mr. Cash's drug use escalated. He destroyed hotel rooms, canceled shows, started fires, wrecked cars, was busted for illegal acquisition of pills, bashed out the Grand Ole Opry footlights and alienated himself from his wife and four daughters.

"I'd begin to feel good after two or three days without drugs," he wrote. "Then, though, I'd get home, usually on a Monday, and I'd find the stress of my marriage so hard that I'd drive to that druggist, get two or three hundred pills, head out into the desert in my camper, and stay out there, high, for as long as I could."

On Feb. 11, 1962, June Carter joined the Johnny Cash road show. She was a daughter of acoustic guitar great Mother Maybelle Carter and member of the Carter clan, a group known as "The First Family of Country Music." For some time Mr. Cash had been enthralled by her beauty, humor and talent, and she quickly recognized both Mr. Cash's magnetism and apparent need for a caretaker.

In addition to flushing pills and soothing nerves, she wrote Mr. Cash a song that described anxious feelings about their escalating relationship. It would become one of his best-known hits: Penned by Carter and Merle Kilgore, Ring of Fire hit No. 1 in 1963.

"A song like that goes on forever," Mr. Cash told The Tennessean in 2002.

While much of musical Nashville ignored the burgeoning folk movement, Mr. Cash embraced some of the folk artists and ideologies. He appeared at the New York Folk Festival in 1965, recorded a duet with Carter on Bob Dylan's It Ain't Me Babe in 1964, recorded a concept album about Native American life called Bitter Tears and publicly supported the civil rights movement.

"When I was young, I saw my dad speaking out against the Vietnam War, speaking out against the Ku Klux Klan, and that's where my social activism is rooted," daughter Rosanne Cash told The Tennessean. "He never bent. He never even almost bent."

A thoughtful voice of inclusion and a conduit for crosspollination between folk and country artists, in the mid-1960s Mr. Cash also could be an angry and violent man prone to benders and outbursts.

"The mixture of amphetamines and alcohol was a maddening poison," he wrote in Man In Black. "My wife and children feared the strange man I had become."

In early 1967 he and Vivian divorced, amid much pill-fueled debauchery, but by late 1967, Mr. Cash committed himself to getting off drugs, though his Jan. 13, 1968, show at Folsom Prison was proof that he was still quite in touch with his dark side.

At Folsom he delighted prisoners, cursing and joking and singing about egg-sucking dogs and the Cocaine Blues with a carnality and wildness that was at once thrilling, entertaining and empathetic. The show's recording, released as Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, now is considered one of the most significant albums in country music history.

For Mr. Cash, 1968 offered moments both wonderful and tragic. He proposed to June Carter onstage Feb. 1, and married her a month later. He set about making up concert dates he'd missed when he was too strung out, and he released two chart-topping hits. But in August 1968, longtime bandmate and "boom-chicka-boom" innovator Luther Perkins died in a house fire. Guitarist Bob Wooten soon joined the band, becoming a part of a group that featured Marshall Grant, drummer W.S. "Fluke" Holland and original Sun rockabilly Carl Perkins.

The change in marital status and lifestyle coincided with an increased attention to spiritual matters, and Mr. Cash often spoke to audiences and interviewers about his Christian beliefs. He would later write a book about the Apostle Paul called Man In White.

By the late 1960s Mr. Cash was touring with an ensemble that included Perkins, members of the Carter Family and vocal group The Statler Brothers. Such a bevy of talent ensured audiences variety, and Mr. and Mrs. Cash kept just such a scene going at home by inviting musicians over to share stories and swap songs.

Mr. Cash maintained friendships with artists beyond the country world, and he and banjo innovator Earl Scruggs were two of the few prominent Nashville artists to mingle with politically left-leaning folk and pop musicians during this contentious time of civil rights unrest and war in Vietnam.

One friend of Mr. Cash's was Bob Dylan: They had kept up a correspondence since the early 1960s. Mr. Cash sang with Dylan on Girl From the North Country, the kickoff track to Dylan's 1969 Nashville Skyline album. Mr. Cash also contributed Grammy-winning liner notes to that album.

Bob Dylan, left, rehearses with Johnny Cash on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium before a taping of "The Johnny Cash Show" in 1969. (Photo: Jimmy Ellis / The Tennessean)

A difficult Far East tour in 1969 found Mr. Cash sometimes playing more than 10 shows a day for military troops in locales including Saigon, Vietnam. The stress of that tour wore on Mr. Cash and he went back to pill-popping.

"My liberation from drug addiction wasn't permanent," he would later write. "Though I never regressed to spending years at a time on amphetamines, I've used mood-altering drugs for periods of varying length at various times since 1967: amphetamines, sleeping pills and prescription painkillers."

In February 1969 Mr. Cash again made an album at a penitentiary. This time it was San Quentin, where he had previously visited three times. He had written a song called San Quentin for the occasion.

"San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell," he sang, and inmates shouted a dangerous-sounding mix of appreciation and unleashed anguish. Mr. Cash would often later remark that the scene was barely controlled, and that if he had shouted, "Break!," the prisoners would have rioted.

Both San Quentin and Folsom Prison Blues were written in a first-person narrative that led many listeners to assume Mr. Cash himself had been to prison. He had not, though he spent a little time in jail on minor charges.

A Boy Named Sue, a Shel Silverstein-penned song recorded that night, was the biggest hit from the At San Quentin album. It was a five-week No. 1 country hit and it won the Country Music Association's single of the year prize.

June 1969 brought At San Quentin's release, and it marked the beginning of ABC-TV's The Johnny Cash Show. Mr. Cash recorded most of the show's 56 episodes at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, and he insisted that guest performers would include then-controversial artists including Dylan, Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. The atypical blend of country, rock, folk and jazz was intended to spotlight conjunctions, not collisions, and the program helped broaden Mr. Cash's fame among those who hadn't listened to country music.

Mr. Cash would sell more than 6 million records in 1969, making it the most successful year of his career. Vietnam was raging, Richard Nixon was president and Johnny Cash, a 37-year-old native of Kingsland, Ark., was bigger than The Beatles.

Need a crash course in country music history? Here's 100 years of trivia

Were you the person at the trivia table who forgot when Johnny Cash died? Can't remember what year Patsy Cline released "Crazy"? Drawing a blank on just how long the Grand Ole Opry's been around?

From the birth of Kitty Wells in 1919 to Kacey Musgraves' domination at the Grammy Awards in 2019, here's 100 years of country music knowledge. Dig in.

With "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," Kitty Wells became the first female solo artist to top Billboard's country chart in 1952. Here, Wells, known as the Queen of Country Music, gives thanks after her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame by Minnie Pearl, last year's inductee, at the CMA Awards show at the Grand Ole Opry House on Oct. 11, 1976. (Photo: Gerald Holly / The Tennessean)

1919: Kitty Wells is born in Nashville.

1920: Little Jimmy Dickens is born in Bolt, West Virginia.

1921: Honky-tonk great Webb Pierce is born in West Monroe, Louisiana.

1922: Commercial recordings of country music begin with fiddler Eck Robertson.

1923: Hank Williams is born in Mount Olive, Alabama.

1924: Radio announcer George D. Hay joins the "National Barn Dance" program at Chicago's WLS-AM, and the concept would follow him to his next gig at Nashville's WSM-AM.

1925: WSM debuts its own one-hour "barn dance" program, which would evolve into the historic Grand Ole Opry.

1926: Country great Ray Price is born in Wood County, Texas.

1927: A recording session referred to by genre historians as the country music "big bang" takes place at a studio in Bristol, Tennessee. The sessions yielded debut albums from The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

1928: Rodgers releases his first "Blue Yodel (T for Texas)." A dozen sequels will follow over the next five years, until his death in 1933.

1929: June Carter Cash and Buck Owens are born.

1930: Songwriting great Curly Putman is born. In 34 years, he'll write "Green, Green Grass of Home."

George Jones performs during the CBS Records dinner and show at Municipal Auditorium on Oct. 21, 1968. (Photo: S.A. Tarkington / The Tennessean)

1931: George Jones is born in Saratoga, Texas.

1932: A staggering year for country music births. Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Mel Tillis all are born within seven months.

1933: Early country star Jimmie Rodgers dies at age 35.

1934: Old-time fiddler Gid Tanner releases one of the year's biggest hits, "Down Yonder."

1935: The Carter Family releases "Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By)."

1936: Kris Kristofferson is born in Brownsville, Texas.

1937: Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright are married, kicking off a long line of Music City power couples. They'll stay together for 74 years.

Charley Pride was born in Mississippi in 1938. (Photo: Charles Sykes / Invision / AP)

1938: Future country music trailblazer Charley Pride is born in Mississippi.

1939: Gene Autry releases his signature tune, "Back in the Saddle Again."

1940: Jimmie Davis' recording of "You Are My Sunshine" is one of the year's top hits.

1941: Ernest Tubb releases honky-tonk country song "Walking the Floor Over You."

1942: Tammy Wynette, the "first lady" of country music, is born in Itawamba County, Mississippi.

1943: The Grand Ole Opry moves into the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville.

1944: Brenda Lee is born in Atlanta.

1945: Written by Jenny Lou Carson and performed by Tex Ritter, "You Two-Timed Me One Time Too Often" becomes the first No. 1 country hit penned by a woman.

Dolly Parton was born in Pittman Center, Tenn., in 1946. Here, Parton sings "Don't Try to Cry" during the RCA Records show at the D.J. Convention on Oct. 21, 1967, at Municipal Auditorium. (Photo: Jimmy Ellis / The Tennessean)

1946: Dolly Parton is born in Pittman Center, Tennessee.

1947: Hank Williams has his first big hit with "Move It On Over."

1948: Eddy Arnold, the Tennessee Plowboy, dominates the Billboard charts with six songs scoring the top slot in the year.

1949: Opry favorite Little Jimmy Dickens enjoys a string of hits, including "Country Boy" and "A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed."

1950: WSM, radio host of the Grand Ole Opry, expands to television, launching WSM-TV.

1951: Loretta Lynn gets yet another little sister, Brenda, who'll grow up to be Opry member Crystal Gayle.

1952: With "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," Kitty Wells is the first female solo artist to top Billboard's country chart.

1953: Celebrated country artist Hank Williams dies on New Year's Day at age 29.

1954: Elvis Presley makes his only appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.

1955: Major success reaches a handful of prominent young names in country music — including Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner and George Jones.

1956: Johnny Cash writes and records "I Walk the Line."

1957: It's a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll — "Jailhouse Rock" tops the Country & Western and R&B charts at the same time.

1958: Johnny Cash performs at San Quentin Prison, a show attended by Merle Haggard, who was serving a two-year sentence at the time.

1959: The first Grammys includes one country award, for Best Country and Western Performance. It goes to the Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley."

1960: Nashville's most famous honky-tonk, Tootsies Orchid Lounge, opens on Lower Broadway.

1961: Patsy Cline releases a hit version of the Willie Nelson song "Crazy."

1962: Soul legend Ray Charles releases "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."

1963: Patsy Cline dies at age 30 in an airplane crash.

1964: Jim Reeves is killed in a plane crash.

1965: Future country/pop superstar Shania Twain is born.

1966: "Just Between You and Me," the first major country hit for Charley Pride, is released in December.

1967: The Country Music Association hosts its first awards ceremony in Nashville.

1968: Johnny Cash releases his historic live album, "At Folsom Prison."

1969: Country music programs "Hee Haw" and "The Johnny Cash Show" debut in Nashville.

Loretta Lynn performs as a guest on the Grand Ole Opry stage Oct. 19, 1985, where host Roy Acuff returned after an absence of four months. A heart aliment had prevented the 82-year-old Acuff from performing. (Photo: Kathleen Smith / The Tennessean)

1970: Loretta Lynn releases her career-defining hit, "Coal Miner's Daughter."

1971: Alison Krauss is born in Decatur, Illinois.

1972: The inaugural CMA "Fan Fair" launches in Nashville, an event that would evolve into the annual CMA Music Festival.

1973: The year's top hits include "Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine," "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" and, just in time for Christmas, "If We Make It Through December."

1974: The Grand Ole Opry moves from the Ryman Auditorium to the newly built Opry House at Opryland.

1975: George Jones and Tammy Wynette get divorced, but that doesn't stop them from continuing to release hit duets, including "Golden Ring."

1976: Future country music giants Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan are born.

1977: Elvis Presley dies at his Graceland estate at age 42.

1978: As "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" rules the radio, Chris Stapleton is born in Lexington, Kentucky.

1979: Bluegrass pioneer Lester Flatt dies.

1980: Country music takes over Hollywood, with motion pictures "Coal Miner's Daughter," "Urban Cowboy," "Honeysuckle Rose" and "9 to 5" all debuting on the silver screen.

1981: After a 21-year run, TV's "The Porter Wagoner Show" airs its final episode.

1982: In the same year he's inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Marty Robbins dies at age 57.

1983: Cable TV goes country with the launches of CMTV (now CMT) and The Nashville Network (TNN).

1984: Ernest Tubb dies at age 70.

The Highwaymen were Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. (Photo: Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment / Photo by Jim McGuire)

1985: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson form the Highwaymen, an outlaw country supergroup.

1986: After 28 years, Columbia Records drops Johnny Cash from its roster.

1987: Randy Travis' "Forever and Ever, Amen" is essentially country's song of the summer, topping the chart for three weeks.

1988: Kacey Musgraves is born in Golden, Texas.

1989: A string of artists defined as the country music Class of 1989 — Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt — begin a run of mainstream success. Also, Taylor Swift is born.

Garth Brookswon the Entertainer of the Year award during the 1991 to 1994, 1998 and 1999 Academy of Country Music Awards shows. Here, he is with one of his four awards from the CMA Awards show, including Entertainer of the Year, in 1991 (Photo: Delores Delvin / The Tennessean)

1990: Garth Brooks releases his landmark album "No Fences," and its first single, "Friends in Low Places."

1991: After sustaining injuries in a car accident while en route to the Grand Ole Opry, Dottie West dies at age 58.

1992: Crossover hit "Achy Breaky Heart" by Billy Ray Cyrus begins its ascent into the pop culture history books.

1993: Conway Twitty dies at 59.

1994: Twenty years after it lost the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium is reopened and quickly becomes Nashville's most cherished venue.

1995: Canadian country singer Shania Twain rises to fame with her sophomore album, "The Woman in Me."

1996: Hit-makers Tim McGraw and Faith Hill get married.

Hit-makers Tim McGraw and Faith Hill got married in 1996. Here, they give an interview at the Daisy Hill Barn Party in Franklin on Oct. 13, 1996. They were married on Oct. 6. (Photo: Freeman Ramsey / The Tennessean)

1997: LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood each record "How Do I Live," and both versions are huge hits.

1998: Faith Hill's "This Kiss" continues an era of huge country/pop crossovers.

1999: Keith Urban makes his solo American country music debut.

2000: The soundtrack to "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" sparks renewed interest in traditional country, folk and bluegrass.

2001: Garth Brooks enters his first full year of retirement, having walked away from the stage in October 2000.

2002: Alan Jackson's 9/11 response, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," is named CMA's Song of the Year.

2003: Johnny Cash dies at age 71.

2004: Miranda Lambert begins work on her debut album, "Kerosene," launching her prolific career.

"American Idol" winner Carrie Underwood in June 2005 (Photo: Sanford Myers / The Tennessean)

2005: Carrie Underwood wins the fourth season of "American Idol," launching her country music career.

2006: Bakersfield Sound pioneer Buck Owens dies at age 76.

2007: Both Bon Jovi and the Eagles make a play for Music Row with country-tinged albums.

2008: The legendary Eddy Arnold dies at 89.

2009: Garth Brooks returns to the stage for a five-year Las Vegas residency.

2010: Taylor Swift dominates January's Grammy Awards, including an Album of the Year win for "Fearless."

2011: Country superstars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert get married. They'll divorce four years later.

2012: TV's "Nashville" brings the drama of Music Row to prime time.

2013: Bobby Bare, "Cowboy" Jack Clement and Kenny Rogers lead an all-star induction class at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Taylor Swift has decided to let Apple Music stream her "1989" album. (Photo: John Davisson / Invision / AP)

2014: Taylor Swift makes a clean break from country music with the pure pop album "1989."

2015: A country radio consultant sparks outrage after calling female artists "the tomatoes in our salad," which spawns the hashtag #TomatoGate.

2016: Merle Haggard dies in his home state of California.

2017: Route 91 Harvest, a country music festival in Las Vegas, becomes the site of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

2018: With “Best Shot," Jimmie Allen becomes the first black male artist to launch his career with a No. 1 song at country radio.

2019: Kacey Musgraves wins the coveted Album of the Year honor at the Grammy Awards for her third studio release, "Golden Hour."

Johnny Cash

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Please note: the tracklisting is detailing the 7 LP Boxset edition.

In 1986, after almost 30 years on Columbia Records, Country music legend Johnny Cash released his first album on Mercury Records &ndash Class Of &rsquo55, in collaboration with fellow Sun Records alumni Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Seven years later, his last recording before signing with Rick Rubin&rsquos American Recordings would be another collaboration, &ldquoThe Wanderer&rdquo, with U2.

In the years that span those recordings, Johnny Cash released a total of six albums for Mercury. Despite significant focus and attention around his Columbia and American recordings, his Mercury catalogue has never been revisited&hellip until now.

UMe / Mercury Records are proud to announce that April 2020 will see the release of Johnny Cash: The Complete Mercury Studio Albums (1986-1991) &ndash a 7CD/ 7LP boxed set featuring newly remastered audio for the very first time, using the original Mercury master tapes.

Notably, the album Classic Cash: Hall Of Fame Series is presented in a 2LP format for the very first time. All the LPs are pressed on 180g vinyl for the highest quality audio fidelity and the box includes a MP3 download voucher.

With brand new liner notes by music writer Scott Schinder, Johnny Cash: The Complete Mercury Studio Recordings (1986-1991) represents the very first deep dive into the Country music legend&rsquos Mercury catalogue, and reveals its importance as the bridge between his better known catalogues on Columbia and American.

Johnny Cash: The Complete Columbia Album Collection

The Complete Columbia Album Collection is a box set by country singer Johnny Cash, released in 2012 (see 2012 in music) on Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings.

The set consists of 63 CDs, the majority of which are reissues of 59 albums released by Cash during his 1958–1986 tenure with Columbia. Each CD is packaged in a replica of the original LP cover, with any albums originally issued as a two-LP set condensed onto one disc with the exception of The Gospel Road which remains in a two-CD configuration. Bonus material includes a two-CD set titled The Singles, Plus, compiling non-album tracks and duets taken from other albums a Carter Family album on which Cash provided guest vocals the two albums Cash recorded for Columbia as a member of the supergroup The Highwaymen and an extended edition of the Sun Records album With His Hot and Blue Guitar with additional tracks from the Sun era (including the complete contents of his second Sun album, Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous). Hot and Blue Guitar is the only album to be presented in an extended edition all other albums are featured with their original contents, without augmentation. As such this is not a complete survey of everything Cash recorded for Columbia for example, additional performances from the At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin live shows, included on separate reissues of the two albums, are not included. Also omitted is the 1975 album Destination Victoria Station which had featured new performances of previously released recordings, the 1961 album The Lure of the Grand Canyon, the 1980 gospel album A Believer Sings the Truth, as well as most of the tracks issued on Columbia's Bootleg series of 2011–2012. [1] [2] Out Among the Stars, a complete album recorded by Cash in the early 1980s but not released at that time, is also omitted as it would not be released officially until 2014.

Many of the albums featured in the set make their CD debut in the collection. According to country historian Rich Kienzle's liner notes (part of a 200-page book included in the set), one album Koncert V Praze (In Prague–Live) received its first North American release in the set. [3]


The Blackberry Hill

Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com

Stirred up by Jeff Dasher, lead bartender Shady Lady Saloon in Sacramento, CA, which is near where Folsom Prison still stands. We asked Jeff to make a mocktail since Johnny Cash famously struggled with addiction.

The “Hill” of the drink’s name is a reference to a line in Jeff’s favorite Johnny Cash song, “Cocaine Blues,” where he mentions getting in a little trouble with the sheriff of Jericho Hill.


  • 1 1/2 ounces Blackberry-thyme syrup (because of “doing time” in prison… get it? Find a recipe here)
  • 3/4 ounce Lemon juice
  • Bundaberg Ginger Beer
  • Vanilla bitters (to add a little darkness to the cocktail to honor the “Man in Black”)
  • Ice
  • Blackberries

Pour Blackberry-thyme syrup and lemon juice in a highball glass. Top that off with ginger beer, add ice and a few drops of bitters. Garnish with a few blackberries and enjoy.

Johnny Cash

Look up the word “legend” in the dictionary and you’ll find Johnny Cash. From his birth in Arkansas in 1932 through his amazing recording career and marriage to June Carter Cash, he lived life to the fullest right up to the very end. Here’s our Johnny Cash timeline.

Feb. 26, 1932
Johnny Cash is born in Kingsland, Arkansas to Ray Cash and Carrie Cloveree, Southern Baptist cotton farmers.

Brother Jack is nearly cut in half by a table saw and dies after a week of suffering. Cash later says that he felt guilt because he had gone fishing that day.

Marries Vivian Liberto.

Releases his first recording with Sun Records: “Hey Porter” and “Cry Cry Cry.”

Daughter Rosanne Cash is born.

Releases a full-length album on Sun Records.

Releases the album, Bitter Tears.

Is arrested in El Paso, Texas for possession of narcotics.

Releases the album, Ballads of the True West.

Is arrested in Starkville, Mississippi for trespassing on private property. He had been picking flowers.

June Carter and Cash win a Grammy for Best Country & Western Performance, Duet, Trio or Group for their song, “Jackson.”

Oct. 1967
Attempts suicide by crawling into Nickajack Cave in Tennessee. He comes out of the cave after having a religious relevation.

Cash proposes to Carter onstage at a concert in London, Ontario and she accepts.

March 1, 1968
Cash and Carter marry.

Aug. 1968
His guitarist Luther Perkins dies in a house fire.

Oct. 1968
Friend and next door neighbor Roy Orbison’s house burns down, killing two of Orbison’s sons. This event, in addition to the loss of Luther Perkins, affected Cash profoundly.

Releases the album, Johnny Cash at Folson Prison.

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

Releases the album, Johnny Cash at San Quentin. The single “A Boy Named Sue” reaches #1 on the country charts and #2 on the U.S. pop charts.

Johnny Cash at San Quentin

His tv show premieres on the ABC network.

Their son, John Carter Cash, is born.

Carter and Cash win a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for “If I Were a Carpenter.”

Writes the song “Man in Black” with the lyrics: “I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, / Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town, / I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, / But is there because he’s a victim of the times.”

Publishes an autobiography, Man in Black. It sells 1.3 million copies.

Man in Black by Johnny Cash

Sept. 27. 1976
Cash and Carter guest star together on an episode of Little House on the Prairie entitled “The Collection.”

Johnny Cash on Little House on the Prairie

At the age of 48, Cash is the youngest living inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Stars in the tv movie, The Pride of Jesse Hallam.

Stars in the tv movie, Murder in Coweta County, co-starring Andy Griffith.

He is attacked by an ostrich in his wild animal park in Tennessee, crushing several ribs and having his stomach torn open. While recovering, he becomes addiction to painkillers.

Dec. 1983
Cash checks into Betty Ford to kick his prescription pill addiction.

Publishes a novel, Man in White.

Man in White by Johnny Cash

July 1986
Columbia Records drops Cash after a decade without a hit.

Sings the vocals on the U2 song, “The Wanderer,” on the Zooropa album.

April 1994
Releases the acoustic album, American Recordings. Produced by Rick Rubin, the success of the album revives his career and brings him a new generation of fans. It wins a Grammy for Contemporary Folk Album of the Year.

Releases a second album with Rubin called Unchained. The album wins a Grammy award for Best Country Album.

Cash is diagnosed with Shy-Drager syndrome, a neurodegenerative disease related to diabetes.

He is hospitalized with severe pneumonia.

Publishes his second autobiography, Cash: The Autobiography.

Releases the album, American III: Solitary Man. It wins the Grammy for Best Country Male Vocal Performance for the cover of Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man.”

American III: Solitary Man

Due to heart trouble, June is fitted with a pacemaker.

Releases the album, American IV: The Man Comes Around. One song, “Hurt,” is written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and becomes a huge hit.

American IV: The Man Comes Around

Oct. 2002
Films the video for “Hurt.” The video receives seven nominations at the MTV Video Music Awards and wins for Best Cinematography.

Feb. 2003
Wins a Grammy for Best Country Male Vocal Performance for the song “Give My Love to Rose.” The video for “Hurt” wins a Grammy for Best Short Form Video.

April 7, 2003
June appears on the CMT Flameworthy Awards to accept an award in honor of Cash.

May 7, 2003
June undergoes heart valve replacement surgery. The surgery appears at first to be a success.

May 15, 2003
Unexpected complications arise from the surgery and she dies at the age of 73 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Sept. 12, 2003
Johnny Cash dies of complications from diabetes at the age of 71. He is buried next to June in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Nov. 18, 2005
A film about their life, Walk the Line, is released. It stars Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash.

Johnny Cash’s dark California days

Johnny Cash’s life in the 1960s is mostly remembered as a time of glorious achievement — from the landmark prison albums at Folsom and San Quentin to the launch of the ABC-TV series featuring such guests as Bob Dylan and the Doors that led to his becoming a giant figure in popular culture, a symbol to millions, no less, of the best of American social values.

But Cash also experienced excruciatingly dark times in the decade, fueled by drugs and guilt over the breakup of his marriage.

Johnny Cash: An article about Johnny Cash in the Oct. 13 Arts & Books section said the Doors appeared on the singer’s television show. The group was not among his guests. —

Cash, 26, moved to California with his wife, Vivian, and his first three daughters in the summer of 1958, hoping for a career in the movies. It was a heady time. Thanks to such hits as “I Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” he was the hottest young country artist in years and had just been lured away from tiny Sun Records by Columbia Records. Cash, whose musical approach was flavored by elements of folk, blues and gospel music, wasn’t a great singer technically, but the heart of his music conveyed elements of human struggle with inspiration and conviction. His trademark “boom-chicka-boom” instrumental sound (pioneered by guitarist Luther Perkins) felt as steady and affirming as an amplified heartbeat.

He bought an upscale, $75,000 home on Hayvenhurst Avenue in Encino that was previously owned by Johnny Carson and just down the street from where the Jackson family would later set up their compound.

The first three years were happy ones, but things started unraveling amid drug and marital tension as well as an embarrassing B-movie film debut (he played a crazed gunman in the film-noirish “Five Minutes to Live”). He would star in more films, including “A Gunfight” in 1971 with Kirk Douglas, and several made-for-TV exercises, but he never earned the reputation of a serious actor.

Hoping for a new start away from the glare of Hollywood, Cash moved his family to the relatively isolated village of Casitas Springs in Ventura County in 1961 — but things only got worse.

Hating confrontation, Cash stopped coming home for months at a time and struck up affairs with other women, notably June Carter, who joined his touring group in 1962. As he fell deeper into drugs, his behavior became so self-destructive that those around him feared for his life. The year 1965 would bring particular humiliation and pain.

One of the most vivid childhood memories of Cash’s two oldest daughters, Rosanne and Kathy, was watching their mother, Vivian, puffing anxiously on a cigarette as she stared through the living room window of their Casitas Springs home on those rare nights when she thought her husband might actually be coming home. Vivian imagined him in the arms of June Carter, or dead somewhere of a drug overdose, and she prayed to see the headlights in the driveway that would prove her wrong. On most nights, Vivian gave up around 1 a.m. and tried to grab a few hours sleep before getting the girls ready for class at St. Catherine-by-the-Sea elementary school.

Though Cash was showing up less and less often, she held out hope that he would be home one night in June 1965 after his manager, Saul Holiff, phoned to say that Johnny was on the way. Vivian took her familiar place at the window and let the girls, who now numbered four, stay up late to greet their father, whom they hadn’t seen in months. By 2 a.m., she knew she was going to be alone with the children again.

It was nearly a week of day-and-night vigils before Cash’s camper — which he named “Jesse” after the outlaw Jesse James — headed up the driveway. Despite all the pain he had caused her, she wanted to run to him just like the day he arrived home at the Memphis airport after a three-year Air Force stay in Germany. As he approached the front door, her nostalgia gave way to resentment. Cash, feeling guilty and defensive, sensed her fury, and an argument broke out immediately. Finally, he shouted that he wanted a divorce. He had broached the subject before, but never so angrily.

Johnny Western, a musician-friend, says Cash told him that he offered Vivian a half-million-dollar settlement, though he must have been kidding himself if he thought he could put that much money together. Most of the new Columbia contract income was going to pay off old loans. Vivian shouted back, refusing even to consider a divorce, and he stormed off to his office sanctuary.

As Kathy recalls, “Dad would try so hard to stay positive, to make light of things, to always have a great sense of humor, but he would get into these moods where he just seemed to shut down and didn’t want to talk or really do much of anything except spend time by himself in his office.”

Rosanne remembers the period as frightening and heartbreaking.

“It just got to where it was like somebody else was coming home, not my daddy,” she says. “The drugs were at work. He’d stay up all night. He and my mom would fight. It was so sad. He would always be having accidents. He turned the tractor over one day and almost killed himself, and we had to call the fire department after he set fire to the hillside. One time he took me on his lap and put his arms around me and said, ‘I’m glad to be alive,’ because the tractor could have rolled over on him. He held me so tightly. I felt so close to him. I wished it could always be like that. But then he’d be gone again.”

The girls finally got to see their dad before they left for school the next morning, but he was gone by the time they returned home. As he had so often, he wanted to escape. He drove his camper to the nearby home of his nephew Damon Fielder.

Damon slid in beside Johnny in the camper on the morning of June 27, and the pair started out on the short drive to the Sespe Creek entrance of the Los Padres National Forest watershed. The forest is one of the many natural wonders of California and one reason why Cash was drawn to Casitas Springs. Covering nearly 1.8 million acres, it stretched from the breathtaking Big Sur coastline to mountain ranges to the south and was home to many protected species, including the California condor.

Getting into the passenger seat was Damon’s first regret of the day. Cash was a terrible driver under the best of circumstances — and it was clear from his dazed look that he had already been into the amphetamines he favored. The resulting series of starts and stops made the camper feel like something from a slapstick comedy.

As Damon crashed against the door while the camper careened along the rugged dirt road, his patience was also taking a beating. Watching Cash take a swig of whiskey and down a few more pills, Damon couldn’t hold his tongue any longer.

“Why do you take those things?”

“I like to control my moods and they help me do that,” Cash replied unapologetically.

Cash just scooped up more pills from an old fruit jar as the camper bounced along the dirt trail.

Damon was so upset he didn’t want to sit near Cash as he stopped near a promising fishing spot. “I’m going to fish over there. I don’t want anything to do with you,” he told Cash, who replied, “That’s fine. I don’t want to be by you, either.” Damon headed to a secluded stretch of water.

His tranquillity was broken by a strong smell in the usually pure Los Padres air. It was smoke, and it was coming from the direction of the camper. He rushed back to find Cash on his knees in front of the truck, fanning a fast-spreading blaze. There was a spent package of matches by his side. Damon figured his uncle had started the fire to keep warm and in his drugged state had let it get out of control.

As flames swept through the nearby brush, he realized they needed to get out fast. He called for Cash to come along, but the belligerent singer said he wasn’t going anywhere. Damon tried to grab his uncle, but Cash resisted, and he was too strong to budge. In a panic, as the fire surrounded them, Damon grabbed a thick tree branch and swung at Cash’s head as hard as he could. The blow brought Cash to his knees, but it didn’t knock him out as Damon had hoped. Cash got up and stumbled over to the shallow creek, where he sat down, thinking he’d be safe.

Damon raced for help, warning other campers along the trail and eventually hooking up with a fire helicopter crew. His heart was racing until the helicopter landed and he saw his uncle was still alive in the creek. This time he had no trouble persuading him to vacate the area. The pills and whiskey had begun to wear off, and the water was cold.

Watching Cash get into the helicopter, Damon knew he’d helped save his uncle’s life. He was crushed a few days later to hear that Cash told his mother, that Damon had left him in the forest to die.

Cash was equally disingenuous when asked by forestry officials investigating the cause of the 508-acre burn how the fire got started. He blamed it on sparks from a defective exhaust system on his camper. When a judge later questioned Cash, he was equally defiant: “I didn’t do it, my truck did and it’s dead, so you can’t question it.” Asked during a deposition about the loss of 49 of the region’s 53 condors in the blaze, he didn’t make any friends when he snapped, “I don’t care about your damn yellow buzzards.”

Columbia Records canceled plans for a live recording at the Kansas State Reformatory — which, in retrospect, was a stroke of good luck. Cash was in such bad shape physically and emotionally that the prison album would probably have been a disaster, ending any chance that there would ever have been a Folsom Prison album.

Touring resumed in mid-July and continued into the fall, breaking only for a couple of recording sessions until a fateful Texas swing that ended in Dallas in October. Things had improved enough that bass player Marshall Grant, who normally handled tour receipts, wasn’t on guard when Cash volunteered to take the receipts with him and deposit them in the group’s joint bank account.

After the Dallas show, Cash flew to El Paso, one of his favorite drug supply points, where he asked a cab driver to take him to Juárez and get him some pills. The driver assured him that it would be no problem, so Cash waited — feeling like an outlaw, he said — as the driver went into a Juárez bar to buy the drugs. “I slid down a little lower in the back seat each time someone looked my way,” he wrote in “Man in Black,” his 1975 autobiography. “I had never done it this way before.”

Back at his hotel, Cash popped a few pills and killed time before the evening flight to Los Angeles by searching for antique guns in some pawnshops. He was looking at a Colt .44 Army pistol, long one of his favorites, when he was approached by a man he suspected was a plainclothes policeman. Cash assumed he was curious about the gun in his hand.

“I collect antique pistols,” Cash volunteered.

“It’s a nice one,” the man replied, in what Cash described as a friendly manner.

After some more small talk, the man asked Cash what time his plane was leaving, and Cash told him.

On the way back to the hotel, he started worrying even though he had hidden all his pills in two socks, one of which he’d put inside his guitar and one in the lining of his suitcase.

By the time Cash got to his seat on the plane, he figured he was home free. Then he saw two men walking down the aisle toward him. One was the man from the pawnshop.

The man asked Cash if he had a gun, and when he nodded that he did, he was ordered off the plane. In an empty room in the terminal, the men went through his luggage and guitar case. They found the pills, but they still didn’t seem satisfied.

Finally, one asked, “Where’s the heroin?”

Cash became angry. He told them he had never taken heroin. The men explained they had assumed he was into heroin because they had seen the cab driver huddling with a known heroin dealer in the Juárez bar.

Cash was relieved, but the officers pointed out that he had still broken the law. He was taken to the county jail until a bond hearing the next day.

When Grant learned of the arrest, he hired a former El Paso County judge, Woodrow Wilson Bean, to represent Cash. Hoping to minimize publicity, Bean — whom Cash proudly pointed out was believed to be a distant relative of the legendary Judge Roy Bean — asked that newsmen be barred from the hearing, but the request was rejected.

Cash was on edge during the hearing. He cursed at a reporter and threatened to kick a photographer’s camera. In the end, he posted a $1,500 bond and was released pending arraignment.

As he headed home, Cash felt as if a mask had been ripped off, leaving him looking like a hypocrite for singing all those gospel songs and telling people they could overcome their problems. He’d been in minor scrapes with the law before, but until now, knowledge of his drug use had been limited to country music insiders. Now his fans knew the truth. Hundreds of newspapers across the country carried a photo of him being escorted out of the courthouse in handcuffs, his face grim, looking all the more sinister behind dark glasses.

This time, at least, Vivian’s wait wasn’t in vain. Cash went straight home and was contrite. Humiliated and fearing the effect of the arrest on his career, he reached out to both his wife and his parents, talking more openly than before about his addiction and vowing to turn himself around. After years of disappointment, Vivian wanted to take his pledge to straighten up as a sign that he also was going to give up June Carter and rededicate himself to his family. But it was too late.

Vivian angrily showed him the newspaper photo of him in handcuffs and his daughters told him that kids were saying bad things about him in school. For the first time in his life, he said, “I felt real shame.”

Meanwhile, Holiff was working tirelessly to persuade promoters not to give up on Cash. Most did continue to book him, but there was one highly publicized exception. Officials at Texas A&M University canceled plans for a show. “The administration didn’t feel it was wise to present an entertainer with a cloud hanging over him,” said the dean of students. “We try to provide a clean, Christian atmosphere for our students.”

But some students came to Cash’s rescue. Not only did more than 2,000 sign petitions protesting the cancellation, but a student committee worked out a deal for Cash to perform on the scheduled date at a nearby off-campus club.

When Cash returned to El Paso for the arraignment in December, he entered a no-contest plea to the charges. The next day, newspapers throughout the country carried photos of Cash walking from the courthouse, Vivian at his side. But there was no hiding the damage. Vivian told friends it was the most embarrassing moment of her life.

Leaders of the National States’ Rights Party, a white supremacist group in Alabama, seized on the photo, which, when reproduced in grainy newsprint, made Vivian look dark-skinned and possessed of facial features some considered African American. Whether outraged by the apparent miscegenation or eager to get back at him for his protest stance in the song “Ira Hayes” (Native Americans were also a target of white supremacists), the group reprinted the photo in its newspaper the Thunderbolt and undertook an aggressive campaign against Cash.

The group urged its readers to boycott Cash’s recordings and referred to Cash’s “mongrelized” children.

Fearing a backlash among fans, especially those in the South, Holiff launched a counteroffensive. He contacted Vivian’s father, Tom Liberto, asking for a copy of Vivian’s marriage certificate —which would state her race as Caucasian — and a history of her bloodlines. Liberto sent him the marriage certificate and a letter in which he detailed Vivian’s Italian, Dutch and English heritage. The material was sent to the Thunderbolt.

During this period Cash received a few death threats, and a handful of protesters showed up at some dates in the South, but there was no sign that record sales or concert attendance were suffering.

In March 1966 Cash appeared before U.S. District Judge D. W. Suttle, who gave him a 30-day suspended sentence and a $1,000 fine rather than the maximum penalty of a year in jail. Cash had pleaded for leniency: “I know that I have made a terrible mistake and would like to go back to rebuilding the image I had before this happened.”

For all his talk about wanting a divorce, Cash was torn inside. Chief among his concerns was the children.

“I knew I was going to leave Vivian, but then I’d look at those four little girls,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Man, I’m gonna give up something that’s gonna break my heart, but my heart will be broken more if I don’t marry June.’ When I was in California, my big reason for staying stoned all the time was her. I wanted to be somewhere else in my mind.”

Both married to others, Cash and Carter had a far more stormy relationship in the 1960s than his fans assumed. But they were bound by several factors. Besides a physical attraction, they shared a religious faith and the love of making music. The outgoing June also helped the shy, withdrawn Cash deal with the constant career demands.

With the marriage dissolving, however, Cash’s California dream was over. He moved on his own to Nashville, where he continued to battle drugs.

Within days of the arraignment, he was back on pills. Overdoses and near overdoses were so common that everyone in the touring party cited various times and places: Johnny Western mentioned Waterloo, June Carter named Des Moines, Grant alluded to a string of towns. In addition, there were the near-fatal drug-induced accidents, including the time Cash borrowed June’s Cadillac and crashed it into a telephone pole, breaking his nose and knocking out four upper front teeth.

To break the tension, Luther Perkins came up with a piece of advice people in Cash’s camp would repeat for years: “Let him sleep for 24 hours. If he wakes up, he’s alive, if he doesn’t, he’s dead.”

Two years later, in a different part of California, Cash would begin his march to superstardom with a triumphant concert at Folsom State Prison. By 1970, he was the biggest-selling record artist in the country. But he was fighting drugs again in the late 1970s and 1980s, and his sales sank so sharply that he was dropped by Columbia. At the start of the 1990s, Cash believed his record career was over and his musical legacy wasted.

But California was to again play a major part in his life. Cash was headlining the now-defunct Rhythm Café in Santa Ana on Feb. 27, 1993 — the day after his 61st birthday — when he was approached by Rick Rubin, a hugely successful rock and rap producer who felt Cash was still capable of great work. Three months later, they sat down in Rubin’s home above the Sunset Strip and began work on a series of albums that would contain some of the most remarkable music of Cash’s career. He would return to Los Angeles several times over the next decade to work with Rubin. The albums not only reestablished Cash’s musical legacy, but extended it.

Their collaboration was highlighted in 2002 by the music video of “Hurt,” directed by Mark Romanek, that offered a glimpse of the artist in such fragile condition that even June advised him not to release it. But Cash approved the release of the video, a final act of immense artistic courage.

This article is adapted from “Johnny Cash — The Life,” being published this month by Little, Brown. Hilburn was The Times pop music critic from 1970-2005.

What: Writers Bloc presents Robert Hilburn and Kris Kristofferson discussing the life and music of Johnny Cash

Where: Ann and Jerry Moss Theater, New Roads School, 3131 W. Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica

What: Robert Hilburn discusses “Johnny Cash — The Life” with Grammy Museum Executive Director Robert Santelli

Where: Grammy Museum, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles

Admission: Free, reservations required at [email protected]

When: Robert Hilburn and “Johnny Cash — The Life”

Where: Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood

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These trips will take you to priceless places, and our pro tips will help you dig deeper.

In a rare interview, Joni Mitchell talks with Cameron Crowe about the state of her singing voice and the making of “Blue,” 50 years after its release.

Black Lives Matter has emboldened a younger generation of the Klamath Tribes, who are now speaking out on their treatment on the parched Oregon-California border.

Soprano Renée Fleming sings in Irvine, the Wallis opens its outdoor stage and Keith David stars in a virtual “Macbeth.”

Blink-182’s Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker lend their support to bandmate Mark Hoppus, who is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

Consumers are excited to get back to live events. But ‘virtual’ shows aren’t going away, according to a new study from UTA.

Halsey spoke for many when she tweeted, “I hope with my whole heart she is awarded freedom from this abusive system.”

Watch the video: Johnny Cash Columbia Boxset: Some of My Favorite Albums (May 2022).