Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
Growing up, he was called J.R., and when he enlisted in the Air Force it was as John R. He took the name Johnny when he started recording for Sun Records.
Much of his childhood was spent working in his family’s cotton fields. He was a teenager when he started playing guitar and writing songs.
Cash spent a lot of time at prisons, but as an entertainer, not an inmate. He had a few overnight stays in jail on drunk and disorderly charges, but never served time. The closest he came to hard time was in October 1965 when he was arrested upon returning from Mexico when US Customs agents searched his luggage and found hundreds of illegal pills. He was fined $1000 but received a suspended sentence and didn’t go to jail.
In 1968, he married June Carter from the legendary country music Carter Family. Cash credits her for saving his life, as she helped him break his drug habit.
Cash is a member of the Songwriters Hall Of Fame, Country Music Hall Of Fame and the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
From 1969 to 1971, he hosted The Johnny Cash Showon ABC TV. Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Louis Armstrong all appeared as guests.
He died at age 71 due to complications from diabetes.
The 2005 film Walk The Line is about Cash’s life. He was portrayed in the movie by Joaquin Phoenix, who sang as Cash for the stage scenes.
He had his daughter Rosanne with his first wife, Vivian Liberto. Rosanne Cash became a prominent Country singer of her own, and had a crossover hit in 1981 with “Seven Year Ache.”
Barry Gibb from The Bee Gees bought the Tennessee house Cash lived in from 1968 until his death. In 2007, while the home was being renovated for Gibb, it caught fire and burned to the ground.
Cash played many free concerts at prisons throughout his career. His first was at Huntsville State Prison in Texas in 1957. On New Year’s Day 1959 when he played San Quentin prison in San Rafael, California, Merle Haggard, who was serving time for burglary, was in the audience.
A requirement at Johnny Cash shows was an American flag on stage in full view of the audience.
During his time serving in the Air Force, Cash was employed as a code breaker based in Germany, intercepting Morse Code transmissions from Russia. He was the first American to learn of Joseph Stalin’s death when he intercepted a message about the Soviet leader’s demise on March 5, 1953.
Cash starred in the 1974 “Swan Song” episode of Columbo as Tommy Brown, a homicidal country singer trying to evade the clutches of the homicide detective.
A letter that that Johnny Cash wrote to June Carter Cash for her 65th birthday in 1994 was voted the greatest love letter of all time in a 2015 British survey for Valentine’s Day. The Man in Black’s note beat out epistles by Winston Churchill to wife Clementine Churchill and Richard Burton to Liz Taylor among others in the poll.
So what did Johnny Cash write that melted so many hearts? Part of it reads: “We get old and get used to each other. We think alike. We read each others minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted. But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met.”
Cash was one of the first high-profile musical guests on Sesame Street, performing “Nasty Dan” on Season 5. A Cash-like monster named Ronnie Trash later appeared on the show to sing about the environment.