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"Hello. My name is Johnny Cash.
I love songs about horses, railroads, land, judgment day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak, and love. And Mother. And God."
Johnny Cash (1932-2003), easily one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, was a country artist, singer-songwriter, and rock musician. Known for his deep baritone and distinctive wardrobe, he was nicknamed the Man in Black, and started almost all his concerts with the quote at the top of the page. He's also well-known for his relationship with fellow musician June Carter. His life was eventually adapted into the biopic Walk the Line starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.
Cash found his first success with Folsom Prison Blues in 1957, which garnered hits with the title song and "I Walk the Line". Following that album's success, he toured with June Carter and her family before releasing "Ring of Fire", his first crossover pop hit.
During this time, Cash struggled with substance abuse problems and eventually went public with his drug problems. He eventually tried to commit suicide while under the influence. He failed, and instead experienced an epiphany which led him to reconsider his choices. In 1968 he quit using drugs. He also began performing concerts at prisons, and even recorded there. The most famous of these prison albums was Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison.
Starting in The Nineties, Cash underwent a Career Resurrection. Under the guidance of Record Producer Rick Rubin, Cash recorded a series of albums nicknamed "the American series", starting with 1994's American Recordings. Marked by minimalist production (Recordings was recorded solely with a guitar and vocals) and covers of various bands, such as Tom Waits' "Down There by the Train", Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage", U2's "One", Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat", Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" and Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus", these albums earned him critical acclaim and a new, younger audience of Alternative Rock fans. He died in 2003 at the age of 71, only a few months after his beloved wife, June Carter Cash, died. By that time, he'd earned a reputation not only as a Cool Old Guy, but as one of the greatest legends in music history.
His work provides examples of:
- The Alleged Car: The car from "One Piece at a Time" is one of the weirder examples. See Stealing From the Till below.
- Anti-Love Song: "Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart."
- As the Good Book Says...: The Man Comes Round
- Basso Profundo: Though normally a baritone, his booming voice (which is his trademark) can reach the lower bass range.
- Biopic: Walk the Line
- Calling the Old Man Out: "A Boy Named Sue."
- Career Resurrection: In the 2000s.
- Catch Phrase: "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash." Owned by Cash to such a degree that Trace Adkins once remarked: "I couldn't go out and say Hello, I'm Trace Adkins.; people would be like Aw, he's doing Cash."
- The Cover Changes the Meaning: Cash has done this a few times. "Personal Jesus" was originally a scathing look at religion, but Cash made it much more spiritual. Trent Reznor's version of "Hurt" is more about self-loathing than Cash's reflective contemplation on life as it comes to an end, looking back at what he's lost. Most of the songs on the posthumously released American VI: Ain't No Grave also become appropriated to Cash's (then) impending death.
- Creator Couple: He and June Carter stayed together until death.
- Daddy Had a Good Reason For Abandoning You: the father in "A Boy Named Sue" thinks he did it (not to mention the name) to ensure his son would grow up tough; of course, Sue still thinks the guy is a jerk.
- Dark Is Not Evil
- Despair Event Horizon: "Folsom Prison Blues" and "25 Minutes to Go"
- Do Not Call Me Paul: "A Boy Named Sue"
- Embarrassing First Name: "A Boy Named Sue"
- Fan Nickname: He was affectionately referred to as "The Man in Black" for obvious reasons.
- Fluffy the Terrible: "A Boy Named Sue", yet again. Hell, how many tropes does this song fit into?
- Gender Blender Name: Sue in "A Boy Named Sue", given to him intentionally by his father to toughen him up.
- Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: A lot of his songs deal with this theme, especially the ones he performed at prisons such as Folsom, about how the entire justice system (or "justice", as he might have called it) is flawed.
- Horsemen of the Apocalypse: referenced in "The Man Comes Around."
- Of course, the song is about the Second Coming.
- "I Am" Song: "The Man In Black"
- I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: "I Hung My Head"
- Institutional Apparel: "I Got Stripes"
- Jail Bake: "I Got Stripes".
- Johnny McCoolname
- Last Request: "Give my Love to Rose" and "Streets of Laredo" feature a recently released convict and cowboy, respectively, asking a complete stranger to perform a task for them.
- Laugh Track: For no particular reason, "Sunday Morning Coming Down" has a really fake sounding applause machine at the end. He also put out a re-release of "Get Rhythm" (it was previously just a b-side) that had sound effects dubbed in to give the impression that it was being done live.
- Manipulative Editing: There's a famous moment on the Folsom Prison live album where the line "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" is followed by cheers from the audience -- which are actually from a completely different part of the recording, and were spliced into the track during post-production.
- Much of the album's cheering was edited in after the fact. Some fans point to At San Quentin as the superior live album due to its lack of editing.
- Not just for that reason: San Quentin has better production, superior performances, more guest appearances (including the legendary Carl Perkins) and a better structured set. For those who consider Bob Wootton a more capable electric guitar player than Luther Perkins, there's that too.
- Motor Mouth: In his rendition of "I've been everywhere".
- Murder Ballad: A large number of them.
- "Folsom Prison Blues"
- "Delia's Gone"
- "Cocaine Blues"
- "Don't Take Your Guns to Town"
- Indeed, one greatest hits compilation was a 3 disc set labeled "God", "Love", and "Murder."
- Music of Note
- My Eyes Are Up Here: On the Folsom Prison live album, Cash introduces June Carter to sing the duet "Jackson" with him, and they talk a bit, leading to this exchange:
Johnny Cash: Well, I like to watch you talk.
June Carter: I'm talking with my mouth. It's way up here.
- My Name Is Inigo Montoya: "My name is Sue! How do you do!? Now you gonna die!"
- Notable Music Videos: "Hurt."
- Numbered Sequels: The American albums (which started being numbered from the third one, Solitary Man, onwards)
- Person with the Clothing: Nick-named the Man in Black.
- Ode to Sobriety: Type 1 with "Sunday Morning Coming Down," and Type 2 with "Cocaine Blues."
- Reckless Gun Usage: "I Hung My Head" from American IV starts with a young man violating rules #1 and #2, resulting in the death of an innocent horeseman and his hanging for manslaughter.
- Retired Gunfighter: "The Last Gunfighter Ballad"
- Shoe Shine, Mister?: The fictional shoeshine boy in "Get Rhythm".
- Signature Song: Arguably it's "Folsom Prison Blues", "Ring Of Fire" or "Hurt".
- Something Blues: "Folsom Prison Blues," "Cocaine Blues," "Rockabilly Blues," "Singin' in Vietnam Talkin' Blues," among others.
- Stealing From the Till: "One Piece at a Time" which features an assembly line worker who eventually steals enough car parts from his employer to make his own version. It turns out to be a laughable chimera of automotive pieces from various generations.
- A Storm Is Coming: "The Man Comes Around," one of the most epic examples of all time.
- Take That: In the 1980s, he released "Chicken in Black," a big Take That to his label, wherein his brain is placed into a chicken who starts becoming famous.
- In-work, the song "Sam Hall" is about an unrepentant murderer using his last minutes before the hangman's noose to tell all present to go screw themselves.
- Three Chords and the Truth: He was a noted progenitor of this style, especially when compared to his contemporaries.
- The American series is a particularly good example; the first in the series was recorded with only his voice and acoustic guitar.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: All over the place. "I Walk the Line" jumps all over the place, in particular. Another notable example is "Oney", which uses both of the most common increments for this trope: minor second (A-flat to A) and minor third (A to C).
- Unperson: Attempted by the dying cowboy in "Streets of Laredo", who doesn't want his murderer identified in a letter home, so as to deny him notoriety.