Yesterday, February 26, was the birthday of the late, great Johnny Cash (1932–2003). Johnny and I go way back. I saw him on television singing his hit Don’t Take Your Guns to Town when I was 3 or 4 and I was hooked. Uncharacteristically, my mother bought the single. I like to think it was at my prompting, but my older brother probably had something to do with it. Johnny was just so great and his talent so magnetic that even a three-year-old could sense it. He was to singing what John Wayne was to acting, except he had a jagged, dangerous edge. He was, after all, “the Man in Black”.
He wrote so many great songs: Understand Your Man, I Walk the Line, Ring of Fire, Folsom Prison Blues, and the list goes on and on. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1977), the Country Music Hall of Fame (1980), and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1992). Only thirteen performers are in both of the last two, and only Hank Williams Sr., Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, and Bill Monroe share the honor with Cash of being in all three.
He also had a television show, wrote books, was a faithful Christian, and was friends with Bob Dylan. I never saw Johnny Cash in concert–it is one of my great regrets. Here is Johnny’s last video–a heart-breaking rendition of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails.
I always thought that Johnny and my mother had the same eyes of plaintive Scottish brown. (Apologies to J.D. Salinger)