“You’ve got a song you’re singing from your gut, you want that audience to feel it in their gut. And you’ve got to make them think that you’re one of them sitting out there with them too. They’ve got to be able to relate to what you’re doing.”

~Johnny Cash

 What up guys!!! It’s that time again, Music Monday with Johnny Cash! In post 2, I’m going to touch shortly on Johnny’s work with the U.S. Air Force, and then move on to his professional singing career. This will hopefully include some of the influence of his music during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

After graduating in 1950, Cash would move around for work until he joined the Air Force for a four-year enlistment. While in Texas for basic training, Johnny met his future wife Vivian and then he was sent to Germany with the 6910th Security Group. While there, he was a radio intercept operator where he picked up and translated Soviet radio transmissions. (So does that mean he was technically a spy?) The Air Force was also the place where he created his first band with some buddies, (called the Landsberg Barbarians), and it was also the place where he wrote ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. He was with the Air Force until 1954 and discharged at the rank of Sergeant. Once back in the states, he married Vivian and they moved to Memphis where Johnny worked as an appliance salesman while trying to get his music career started. (Maybe that’s why I like him so much. He’s a real life success story).

              Handsome devil ain’t he?

At this time, he teamed up with two of his older brother’s (Roy) friends: Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins. With the help of Marshall and Luther, they became Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. With our recent discussion about the country genre, we discussed rockabilly—and these three were a big part of the rockabilly influence due to their blues/country/western sound. In ’55, Johnny, Marshall, and Luther went back to Sun Records in order to convince Phillips to allow them to cut a record. With his cry for new material and original songs, Johnny wrote “Hey Porter”, “Cry, Cry, Cry”, “So Doggone Lonesome”, and they recorded the every popular “Folsom Prison Blues”. However, Johnny and the Tennessee Two weren’t propelled into fame until the writing and releasing of Cash’s most famous song, “I Walk the Line” in 1956.

Johnny, Vivian, and their girls

Now here’s where everything started to go downhill for Johnny. After “I Walk the Line”, Johnny started using drugs and alcohol in order to help with the pressures that this new touring life brought him. He was doing almost 300 shows a year. Things started becoming more and more tense at home, as Vivian wanted Johnny home more, and then she had enough and filed for divorce in 1966. During this time, Johnny tried to take his life on multiple occasions. He was also a troublemaker of mass proportions. Cash and Company would do crazy stuff at hotels like: bringing 500 chickens into a hotel and letting 100 loose on each floor, flushing cherry bombs down the toilet, and even stabbing a replica of the Mona Lisa, because it, “didn’t reach his standards”. With a 9-year battle with drugs and alcohol, Johnny and Vivian were divorced and then he met June Carter. They toured together in 1967 and became best friends. With June and her family’s help, Johnny was able to kick his habit of drugs and alcohol, and in 1968—they were married and Johnny turned back to his Christian beliefs. (Aaaahhhh, best friends and soul-mates! It’s so CUTE!)

         Aren’t they just precious!?!?

As time went on, Johnny hosted the Johnny Cash Show. June wrote and Johnny sang their most famous song “Ring of Fire”. He was on movies, wrote music for TV, began to write books about his life, and in 1980, became the youngest member of the Country Music Association Hall of Fame.

This is just the main points of his life. I have read numerous autobiographies and biographies of his life, and he is just plain fascinating! In one of these books, I read that “I Walk the Line” could be taken in two different ways—and that Johnny probably sang them in both ways. One: a guy singing to his lady, and two: a guy singing to his Lord and Savior. Johnny’s influence was felt throughout America. It could be said that he was the voice of the country. The song, “Man in Black” is a political statement inside itself. He sang in prisons, went to Saigon, and sang for the troops. He never mentioned the Civil Rights movement or Vietnam—but his songs at that time held a rebellious tone to them. On singing in prisons, he stated, I kept thinking I could have been down there listening with the prisoners. Only been in jail twice, and just overnight, but you don’t need much to see what it’s like. Both times it was for pills, dexedrine. Second time I woke up in a Georgia jail not knowing how I got there. Could’ve ended up on a chain gang, but the jailer was a fan of mine and he let me go”.

            One of his mug shots

At some point or another, every good artist out there today has some sort of influence of Johnny Cash. He is like an underlying river that forever runs, even after his death. He’s the face of a man who reached the “American Dream”. He came from a lowly sharecropping family, became a famous musician, hit a low point and then came back to rise again. Johnny was a voice to the broken and the down-and-outs. He was the Man in Black.