Seine Kindheit im Süden der USA (Arkansas) prägte der Hunger der Großen Depression. Früh verdiente Cash als Baumwollpflücker mit, verlor seinen Bruder bei einem tragischen Umfall in einer Sägemühle. Mit 12 kannte er das Hymnenbuch seiner Mutter auswendig, spielte irische Folksongs nach, lauschte dem Country-Kinderstar June Carter im Radio und schrieb seine ersten eigenen Songs. Nach seiner Stationierung als US-Soldat in Deutschland, 1953 in Landsberg am Lech, wurde Cash professioneller Musiker und revolutionierte die Popkultur, an der Seite von Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis und Carl Perkins, in Memphis, beim Sun-Label von Sam Phillips.
Die 1960er hindurch lebte Cash auf der Überholspur. Mit Songs wie "Folsom Prison Blues" wurde er der Archetyp des Country-Outlaws. 1966 schien er am Ende, zerstört von Drogen und Eheproblemen. Sein rettender Engel war die zeitlebens von ihm angebetete June Carter, die mit ihm sein ganzes Leben über gemeinsam auftrat. 1968 machte Cash ihr auf der Bühne eines ausverkauften Konzertsaals einen Heiratsantrag – es war der 40. – und sie gab ihm endlich das Ja-Wort.
In den 1970ern wurde aus dem Stinkefinger zeigenden, harten Burschen Amerikas respektierte Country-Persönlichkeit. Mit June und seinen Kindern aus erster Ehe gründete er das epochale Carter-Cash-Tour-Ensemble, aus dem seine Tochter Rosanne Cash als erfolgreiche Solo-Künstlerin hervorging. Als Moderator seiner eigenen TV-Show empfing Cash die bekanntesten Musiker der Szene und ebnete jungen Künstlern wie Kris Kristofferson den Weg. Seine konservative Haltung, insbesondere sein Besuch im Weißen Haus auf der Höhe des Vietnam-Krieges brachten ihm zur Mitte der 1970er einen starken Popularitätsverlust.
In den 1980ern war Cash Teil der Country-Supergroup The Highwaymen, mit Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings und Willie Nelson (letzteren traf er später auf dem exzellenten Live-Album VH1 Storytellers – Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson wieder). Sein drittes Label Mercury stellte Cash nach einem weiteren Karriereknick zum Ende des Jahrzehnts aufs Abstellgleis. Auftritt Rick Rubin: Ab 1993 produzierte der Ex-Gründer des Hip Hop-Labels Def Jam vier epochale LPs von Cash, seine American Recordings, namentlich "American Recordings", "Unchained", "Solitary Man" und "The Man Comes Around". Ihre unter die Haut gehende schlichte Schönheit machte den Singer-Songwriter in den letzten Jahren seiner Karriere zum Inbegriff des coolen Alternative-Countrysängers. Cash wurde zum Idol von U2, NIN, Depeche Mode und Nick Cave.
Als er 2003 starb, war die Anteilnahme so stark wie zuvor nur bei John Lennon und Bob Marley: Das Cash-Biopic "Walk The Line" mit Joaquin Phoenix und Reese Witherspoon nominierte man für fünf Oscars. Die gleichzeitig mit dem Film erschienene Cash-Compilation "Ring of Fire – The Legend of Johnny Cash" verkaufte sich millionenfach, sie hielt sich auf Platz 5 der US-amerikanischen Album-Charts und rangiert unter den größten Country-Bestsellern in Deutschland – unfassbar für eine CD mit teilweise fünfzig Jahre altem Material. Zwei weitere American-Alben (A Hundred Highways, Ain´t No Grave) von Cash wie auch sein großartiges "Unearthed"-Boxset schrieben die posthume Erfolgsgeschichte weiter. Cash für Fortgeschrittene bietet seine 2007 veröffentlichte The Great Lost Performance, der Live-Mitschnitt eines Konzerts, das Cash mit seiner Entourage am 28. Juli 1990 im Paramount Theater von Asbury Park, New Jersey gab. "The Great Lost Performance" ist damit die Schnittstelle zwischen dem burschikosen Country-Outlaw (der späten 1950er) und der Country-Eminenz (der späteren 90er). Und immer noch zieht der Katalog des Man in Black einen Kometenschweif hinter sich her, der einfach nicht verglimmt.
American Recordings is the 81st album by the country singer Johnny Cash. It was released in April 1994 (see 1994 in music), the first album issued by American Recordings after its name change from Def American, the album being named after the new label. In 2003, the album was ranked number 364 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Cash was approached by producer Rick Rubin and offered a contract with Rubin's American Recordings label, better known for rap and heavy metal than for country music. Under Rubin's supervision, he recorded the album in his living room, accompanied only by his guitar.
For years Cash had often been at odds with his producers after he had discovered with his first producer, Sam Phillips, that his voice was better suited to a stripped-down musical style. Most famously he disagreed with Jack Clement over his sound, Clement having tried to give Cash's songs a "twangy" feel and to add strings and barbershop-quartet-style singers, and his successful collaboration with Rick Rubin was in part due to Rubin seeking a minimalist sound for his songs.
Unchained is the second album in Johnny Cash's American Recording series (and his 82nd overall). Like all Cash's albums for American, Unchained was produced by Rick Rubin. On the album, Cash is backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as well as a guest appearance of Flea, bassist from Red Hot Chili Peppers, on "Spiritual", and Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood, both of Fleetwood Mac, on "Sea of Heartbreak". Unchained focuses more on covers and less on original material than the first album in the series. In addition to three of Cash's own compositions, Unchained contained songs by Tom Petty ("Southern Accents"), Soundgarden ("Rusty Cage") and Beck ("Rowboat"), The album also included a cover of the classic 1962 Hank Snow song, "I've Been Everywhere", written by Geoff Mack. In comparison with the country folk sound of Cash's other American Recordings' albums this one has more of a hard, true country rock sound.
American III: Solitary Man is the third album in the American series by Johnny Cash released in 2000 (and his 85th overall album). The album was notable for being Cash's highest charting (#11 Country) solo studio LP since his 1976 One Piece at a Time, an album that reached No. 2 Country based on the title cut. To the present day, Cash's studio albums for the American series have continued to sell and chart extremely well, as evidenced by the platinum #22 POP, #2 C&W American IV: The Man Comes Around (released one year before his death) and the gold, #1 on both charts, American V: A Hundred Highways. Between Unchained and Solitary Man, Cash's health declined due to various ailments, and he was even hospitalized for pneumonia, and the illness forced him to curtail his touring. The album American III: Solitary Man contained Cash's response to his illness, typified by a version of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down", as well as a version of U2's "One".
American IV: The Man Comes Around is the fourth album in the American series by Johnny Cash, released in 2002. The majority of songs are covers which Cash performs in his own spare style, with help from producer Rick Rubin. For instance, for the song “Personal Jesus”, Rubin asked Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante to re-work an acoustic version of Martin Gore’s song, which featured a simple acoustic riff that stripped down the song to a blues style. He receives backing vocal assistance from various artists, including Fiona Apple, Nick Cave, and Don Henley.American IV was the final Cash album released during his lifetime; though the Unearthed Box Set was compiled prior to his death, it was not released until two months later. It was also his first non-compilation album to go gold (selling over 500,000 copies) in thirty years. Additionally, the album won “Album of the Year” award at the 2003 CMA Awards.
The video for “Hurt”, a song written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails in 1994, was nominated in seven categories at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards and won the award for Best Cinematography. In February 2003, mere days before his 71st birthday, Cash won another Grammy Award for Best Country Male Vocal Performance for “Give My Love To Rose,” a song Cash had originally recorded in the late 1950s. The music video for “Hurt” also won a Grammy for Best Short Form Video at the 2004 Awards.
Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor admitted that he was initially “flattered” but worried that “the idea sounded a bit gimmicky,” but when he heard the song and saw the video for the first time, Reznor said he was deeply moved and found Cash’s cover beautiful and meaningful.
American V: A Hundred Highways is the 93rd overall album and a posthumous album by Johnny Cash released on July 4, 2006. As the title implies, it is the fifth entry in Cash's American series. Like its predecessors, American V: A Hundred Highways is produced by Rick Rubin
American VI: Ain't No Grave is a posthumous album by Johnny Cash, released February 23, 2010, on American Recordings and Lost Highway Records. Its release was three days prior to what would have been Cash's 78th birthday. The album's music was recorded during the same sessions as American V: A Hundred Highways (2006). The album debuted at number three on the US Billboard 200 chart.
My Mother's Hymn Book is a collection of Christian spiritual songs and hymns that Cash originally learned from his mother while growing up. The album features only Cash's voice and a single acoustic guitar. This disc was released as a stand alone disc the following year (his 89th overall album) under the same title, and peaked at #9 on the Christian music album chart. In the album's liner notes Cash mentions that this is his favorite album he ever made.
VH1 Storytellers is the 83rd overall album and is a live album by Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, released in 1998 (see 1998 in music) on American Recordings. The album was produced by Rick Rubin and was the third record released as part of Cash's 9-year period of collaboration with Rubin. The opening track is a duet with Cash and Nelson, followed by alternating solos by both artists. Cash and Nelson discuss the songs and their origins between tracks on the recording.
The official release of Johnny Cash’s legendary performance from 1990, at the Paramount Theatre, NJ.