millions of fans, Johnny Cash is "the Man in Black," a country music legend
who sings in an
authoritative baritone about the travails of working men and the downtrodden in this country. Lesser
known is the fact that Johnny Cash was present at the birth of rock and roll by virtue of being one of the
earliest signees to Sam Phillips' Sun Records back in 1955. Cash was part of an elite club of rock and
roll pioneers at Sun that included Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. The four were
collectively referred to as "the Million Dollar Quartet" after an impromptu gathering and jam session at
the Sun recording studio on December 4, 1956. What Cash and his group, the Tennessee Two, brought
to the "Sun Sound" was a spartan mix of guitar, standup bass and vocals that served as an early example
of rockabilly. Cash recorded a string of rockabilly hits for Sun that included "Cry, Cry, Cry," "Folsom
Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line." The latter was first of more than a dozen Number One country hits
for Cash and also marked his first appearance on the national pop singles charts.
the country, folk and rockabilly idioms, Johnny Cash has crafted more than
story-songs that describe and address the lives of coal miners, sharecroppers, Native Americans,
prisoners, cowboys, renegades and family men. Cash came by his common touch honestly, having been
born in Kingsland, Arkansas, during the Great Depression on February 26, 1932. At age three, he
moved with his family to Dyess, Arkansas, where he worked the cotton fields. Cash's roaming days
included laboring at an auto plant in Michigan, serving in the Air Force in Germany, and working as an
appliance salesman in Memphis. Cash became a full-time musician after his two-sided hit -- "So
Doggone Lonesome"/"Folsom Prison Blues" -- shot to Number Four on the Billboard country chart in
1956. From Sun, he jumped to Columbia Records in 1958, where he recorded such favorites as "Ring
of Fire," "Understand Your Man," "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" and "Tennessee Flat-Top Box."
But Cash never forgot his roots, nor did he leave hard times behind. A prototype for the black-clad
rebel rocker, Cash cultivated a serious drug problem in the Sixties, which ended when he met his second
wife, June Carter, whom he married in 1968.
of Cash's best work includes live albums recorded, quite literally, for
captive audiences at Folsom
and San Quentin prisons. Johnny Cash at San Quentin included the 1969 hit "A Boy Named Sue,"
which went to Number Two. In 1969, Cash cut a duet with Bob Dylan for the latter's Nashville
Skyline, and Dylan returned the favor by appearing on The Johnny Cash Show, a successful TV variety
hour that premiered in 1969. All the while, the rugged simplicity and uncut honesty of Cash's approach
was steadily seeping into rock and roll by way of the burgeoning country-rock scene. Cash has remained
a stalwart figure and working musician to the present day. His career received a shot in the arm in the
mid-Nineties when he released what many consider to be his finest album to date, a stark study for guitar
and voice entitled American Recordings.