The music industry wouldn’t be the same if not for the man named Sue. Actually, he went by Johnny Cash and wore many hats. He released multiple albums and songs throughout his nearly 50 year career as a singer-songwriter and guitarist. His debut album, With His Hot and Blue Guitar, was released in 1957, while his 87th and final album-released when he was alive- American IV: The Man Comes Around, came out in 2002. Country music, rock and roll, and gospel music have all inducted Johnny Cash into their respective Halls of Fame. Not only is he one of the best-selling musicians of all time; but he also dabbled in acting and writing, and was an activist for Native Americans.
Growing up in a Southern Baptist home during the Great Depression, Johnny’s lyrics feature plenty of references to his upbringing. Many of his songs have references to the Bible in detail that would make a preacher proud. His songs also include stories about life, including love, loss, and tragedy. He also covered other artists’ great songs. His deep voice and acoustic guitar strumming is an act that will be long remembered, as will his stern warnings and sometimes rebellious lyrics.
There is a long list of artists who performed or recorded with Johnny throughout his career. He was a part of acts such as The Statler Brothers, The Carter Family, The Tennessee Three, The Highwaymen, June Carter Cash, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. He was also present at the legendary impromptu jam session that would later become known as the Million Dollar Quartet, which took place on December 4, 1956. The Quartet consisted of the young Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash who were recorded while they sang gospel songs and Presley’s earlier songs at Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. The recordings are a musical treasure.
It would be difficult to share all of Cash’s incredible songs on this post, but here are a few to give the listener a taste of some great music:
Here is a portion of the spontaneous Million Dollar Quartet that features mostly Elvis Presley’s voice. It has been noted that Johnny Cash sang in a higher tone to match Elvis’ voice and was farthest away from the microphone. It is impressive how great the group sounds together without much preparation. A reunion, which was labeled the Class of 55, brought the surviving Quartet’s together in 1986 and featured Roy Orbison.
“Rock Island Line” is a classic country music song that features Johnny telling a story about a train conductor. As the train picks up speed the strumming and beat also picks up. It is a great song from his first album.
“I Walk The Line” has an exciting guitar introduction and is the typical song that you would expect from Cash. The song showcases the higher and lower notes that Johnny could hit.
“Folsom Prison Blues” is one of those rebellious/loss songs about a man feeling regret for not listening to his mother, and instead shooting a man. The song became even more famed when Johnny performed it live, in 1968, at the Folsom Prison in Folsom, California.
“Ring of Fire” has some wonderful horns at the beginning of the song and throughout. The backup female vocals are worth noting. You can’t help but think about the hot southwest, a bowl of salsa, and a ring on fire when listening to this song (maybe that’s just me).
“The General Lee” was released on the soundtrack for the television show The Dukes of Hazzard (1981). The song is about the legendary 1969 Dodge Charger that is driven by the Duke boys in their adventures, trying to outrun the bumbling and corrupt local law. The song is a down-to-earth country song with lyrics about the car’s appearance and how it can evade the police.
“Personal Jesus” was originally made famous by the English electronic band, Depeche Mode, in 1989. Cash’s cover of the song was released in 2002.
“Rusty Cage” is another song Johnny Cash covered which was released in 1996. The song was originally written by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and released by said band in 1992. This cover is a personal favorite of mine. The beginning of the song has a familiar Cash country sound to it. The acoustic guitar picking/strumming is satisfying, but once the drums and muted electric guitar start playing, it becomes a rock song. Cash’s voice goes incredibly with all of the instruments. It is one of those songs that demands the volume to be turned up a few notches.
“Hurt” is a song that I’m sure most people who have been listening to music for the past two decades have heard at least once. It was first recorded and released by Nine Inch Nails in 1995 and became an instant hit. Johnny’s cover of the song would also become a hit once it was released in 2002. The music video features Johnny, who would pass away seven months later, and his wife, June Carter Cash, who would pass away three months after filming. The music video is a powerful tribute to Johnny and June showing video recordings of them in their younger years while also showing them as their older selves. The video also features images of Jesus Christ, showing Johnny’s devotion to Christianity. He even changed the lyrics to “crown of thorns” rather than the original “crown of shit,” removing the expletive.
“The Man Comes Around” was one of the last songs written by Johnny Cash before he passed away. The song is ripe with Biblical references especially from the Book of Revelation, discussing the return of Christ. Once again, Cash uses the acoustic guitar with expertise. His older, experienced voice sings out prophecies like a preacher tending to his flock. The song is the perfect way to seal the ending of an already legendary musician who is prepared to meet his maker. This is Johnny Cash.