Johnny Cash with Dave Dawson

"His picture was in all the papers/ they said that a legend had passed/ the late evening news did a special report/ swore that his memory would last/ they're playing his records all weekend/ praising the life that he lived/ Nashville is rough on the living/ but she really speaks well of the dead." - Rough On The Living - Shel Silverstein.

When Johnny Cash was finally laid to rest at 71 on Monday September 15 he had a VIP ghost among his mourners - Hank Williams.

Ten Network news reader Mal Walden reported that Hank, who went to God at 29 on January 1, 1953, was among 1,000 celebrities at the private First Baptist Church Of Hendersonville service.

Mal's revelation came from a different book to the Holy Bible quoted from during a two and a half-hour service, 15 miles north of Nashville in the famous suburb where the Cash and wife June Carter had lived on the banks of Old Hickory Lake.

That was when they were not in Jamaica or Carter Fold in the Clinch Mountains of south west Virginia where the Carter Family had its roots.

Walden may have been victim of a subversive script writer or suffered an eyesight blip at the critical moment.

Or he may have had a vision.

The popular prophesier's first media job back in the sixties was at 3YB in Warrnambool - HQ of the Victorian bible belt and one of the few Australian stations to play Hank in its Fletcher Jones sponsored breakfast country hour which coincided with the first milking of the day for local dairy families.

Despite a country music boycott on many stations, which enjoyed Mal's ascent from DJ to news reader, he might have recognised four times wed Hank Williams Jr as the much taller, fitter and alive member of the clan at the funeral.

Tour publicist, Les Giesler ,
Cowboy Jack Clement & Dave Dawson


Unlike most country artists, who expire before their time and enter honky tonk heaven, the man in black earned the exposure he deserved in the unlucky radio country.

His life and death of respiratory failure, caused by complications from diabetes, was celebrated on all commercial TV channels and AM and FM radio stations, which never played his music, and in celebrity driven mainstream print media.

Even community radio rock hosts, who couldn't discern Cash or Waylon Jennings from their respective brothers Tommy, or be seen dead at a Cash or Willie & Waylon gig, honoured the multi-media legend.

And critics who never attended Cash's local concerts, dating back to the fifties when country wasn't cool, gave him posthumous praise.

Many of us were lucky enough to see him in the Festival Hall boxing stadium in West Melbourne in an era with other tourists diverse as Conway Twitty, Tom T Hall, Buck Owens, Slim Whitman, Jerry Lee Lewis, Marty Robbins, Charley Pride, Dylan and the Everly Bros.

Cash, unlike many peers, toured here early in his career and returned more frequently each decade when rock refugees swelled his country audiences.

In the late fifties and sixties hefty Cash airplay on Australian pop and rock stations was accompanied by sporadic TV exposure.

By the time he returned here in the seventies and eighties his radio support was strong on mainstream Melbourne country station 3UZ, 4KQ in Brisbane, 2UE and 2KY in Sydney and, to a lesser extent, ABC and regional radio and a hard core of embryonic community stations.

Cash was a perfect vehicle for fans diverse as famed Windsor country singer cartoonist Fred Negro and former VFL star and latter day TV celebrity Sam Newman.

Negro, designer of the famed Nu Country guitar playing dingo mascot, worked the man in black into Shonky Tonk songs as well as his InPress comic strips and street press ads.
And Newman asked the hard questions and got the right answers in a feature he wrote on Cash for the Herald Sun in 1991.

The duo kicked the doors of their Cash closets long before he was dumped by Columbia in 1986 after a 28 year stint which followed his Sun debut in 1955.


"And the record producer who called him a hero/ is the one who wouldn't answer his calls/ and the ladies they sit over coffee/ bragging about sharing his bed/ they didn't want his around when he was living/ but he's sure a good friend when he's dead." - Silverstein.

Cash cut credible discs on Mercury from Johnny Cash Is Coming To Town in 1987 and scored here with The Highwaymen despite little airplay for self-penned tunes and others by writers diverse as Robert Earl Keen, Jimmy Webb and Lee Clayton.

On the Mercury discs he cut originals and tunes by Tom Russell, Elvis Costello, Michael Murphey, John Prine, J. J. Cale, Dave Loggins, Paul McCartney, the late Harry Chapin and his old mates Tom T Hall and Cowboy Jack Clement.

Equally importantly he have exposure to songs penned with son John Carter Cash Jr and exhibited a satirical streak in original tunes such as A Back Stage Pass on his 1990 album Boom Chick Boom.

"Hello, I'm Johnny Cash/ one night I had a back stage pass to a Willie Nelson show/ there were wackos and weirdoes and dingbats and dodos/ and athletes and movie stars and David Allan Coe/ there was leather and lace and every minority race/ with a backstage pass to the Willie Nelson show."

In just three minutes and 21 seconds Cash lampooned the vast galaxy of buckle bunnies, starlets, snuff queens and grifters who swung from the back stages ropes at a Willie gig.

"Hells Angels blocked to the traffic to the building/ in order for the beer truck to come through/ and waiting in the wings to sing with Willie/ were hopeful stars of flickering magnitude/ there was a singer Willie knew back in the fifties/ who once paid him $50
for a song."

Cash revealed the source of that song when he toured here in 1994 with Willie, Waylon
and Kris Kristofferson.

"I wrote that for fun, I never intended to record it," Cash told me in an interview at the Melbourne Hilton.

"Seven or eight years ago I was in Hollywood and I went to the Universal Amphitheatre where Willie was playing. Everybody goes to Willie's show and hangs out backstage, Hollywood especially. If you got backstage at a Willie show you see everybody but Willie - because he's on his bus."

And, with superb song sequencing, Cash included his version of Family Bible - which Willie sold to Paul Buskirk, Walter Breeland and Claude Gray for $50 - as track 5.

Despite releasing duets disc Water From The Wells Of Home in 1988 with a star studded cast - daughter Rosanne, son John, wife June & Carter Family, Hank Jr, the Everly Bros, Waylon & Jessi Colter, Roy Acuff, Hall, Glen Campbell and Paul & Linda McCartney, the legend was black banned by commercial radio.



But magic loomed as the nineties found Cash touring with The Highwaymen.
Cash was re-branded by rap metal producer Rick Rubin in 1994 for the jaded rock market and became a fashion statement for cyber geeks weaned on rock, rap, punk and transient pop.

But that didn't matter - Cash was finally cool again as he cut original material and tunes by Jimmy Driftwood, Kristofferson, Loudon Wainwright 111, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and former step son-in-law Nick Lowe for American Recordings.

It leaped the moat of Americana, AAA radio and public and community stations across the world.

So did 1996 disc Unchained where originals joined covers of tunes by Tom Petty, Beck, Carter Family and I've Been Everywhere, penned by late Australian writer Geoff Mack whose publishing was owned by Johnny Devlin.

Another Aussie pair Nick Cave and Mick Harvey climbed on board the royalties train with their tune The Mercy Seat on 2002 disc Solitary Man.

It featured more Cash originals such as Country Trash, written in the eighties but previously unrecorded. Cash said he wrote it with "a little country pride in my childhood way of life."

Neil Diamond's title track was augmented with tunes by U2, Petty, Will Oldham and veteran outlaw David Allan Coe epic Would You Lay With Me In Field Of Stone - an embryonic hit for Tanya Tucker.

And there was Field Of Diamonds penned 15 years earlier by Cash and Jack W Routh who was at one time his son-in-law and later step son-in-law

"Laying on our backs and looking at the stars at our house in Jamaica, Jack Routh and I wrote 'Field Of Diamonds,'" Cash revealed.

"It was a song I always liked. It was recorded before, but not released. The unlikely duet of June and Sheryl Crow sang along with me, and it really felt comfortable. Sheryl came by on the last day of the sessions in Hollywood to sing with me and play accordion on a couple of songs."

See Family Tree below for the Routh marital connections.

The fourth of the quartet was The Man Comes Around which featured tunes diverse as Bridge Over Troubled Water, Desperado and Depeche Mode's Personal Jesus.
The title track was about a dream he had, in which Queen Elizabeth II said to him in Buckingham Palace, "Johnny Cash! You're like a thorn tree in a whirlwind." He recognised the words as being Biblical and found them in the Book of Job. From there, he began adding references from the Book of Revelation until the song became a saga of apocalypse.

Rubin's revamp earned Cash a vast new army of fans, a swag of diverse awards and equally importantly the desire to keep recording until shortly before his death.


"They're planning the book for September/ showing his plain country roots/ and they're selling the right to the movie/ and the Hall of Fame's getting his boots/ at the funeral somebody recited a poem/ that told how he suffered and bled/ Nashville is rough on the livin'/ but she really speaks well of the dead." - Silverstein.

Cash compilations, retrospectives, sub genre albums and greatest hits have abounded since he left Sun Records in the fifties.

But his 1988 quadruple heart bypass surgery opened the floodgates for a surge that followed a return to pain killer dependence.

They also picked up pace when Cash was misdiagnosed with Shy-Drager - a form of Parkinson's Disease in 1997.

Instead Cash suffered from autonomic neuropathy, complicated by bouts of diabetes and pneumonia.

Among the curio re-releases were Patriot in 1990 with Cash's reading of Marty Robbins Song OF The Patriot, Abe Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and his own contrasting tunes Singing In Vietnam Talking Blues and Ragged Old Flag.

The Ballad Of Ira Hayes, Apache Tears and Custer were on the re-release of 1964 disc Bitter Tears - Ballads Of The American Indian - and the Carter Family collaborated on Blood, Sweat And Tears from 1963.

Columbia also released an innovative triple disc of Murder, Love and Faith tunes in 1990.
And in 1997 Charley Records released Folsom Prison Blues - a 28 track legacy of his Sun Years.

Many peers recorded Cash tribute discs and songs down the years.

The latest included Marty Stuart produced Kindred Spirit for Sony roots country label Lucky Dog and sibling disc Dressed In Black for Dualtone.

Stuart, who joined Cash's band as a teenager, covered Cash's first recorded song Hey Porter.

But the 36 track, The Essential from 2002, was first from the chute for the recent TV sales splurge.

Cash spent most of his latter years recording, leaving more than 30 songs yet to be released.

He planned to attend the MTV Video Music Awards shortly before his death, but couldn't because of illness.

His video for Hurt won an award for cinematography at that show, and he has four nominations at the Country Music Association Awards in November.

There have long been bootlegs of his recording with Dylan whom he defended in a famous letter to the folk magazine Sing Out when Bob went electric.

"I don't remember what I said but I saw what he was doing as an artist," recalled Cash.
"Dylan said himself 'who is not busy being born is busy dying.' And I saw Dylan as being busy being born, being born into a whole new way of doing his music a different way. A lot of people just didn't like it. As it turned out, Dylan continued doing his music way, and I respect that in an artist."


It's no surprise that tribute concerts, which peaked in recent years New York and Nashville, will be accompanied by local artists frocking up tribute gigs in Melbourne, Sydney, Warrnambool and up and down the Australian coastal cities with strong country music enclaves.

See our gig guide for the details.


In June 1969 the Nashville filmed Johnny Cash Show debuted on ABC-TV and lasted 88 episodes.

The diverse musical guests included Bob Dylan that led to Cash singing with him on his 1969 album Nashville Skyline for which he wrote the liner notes.

Cash also hooked up that year with former Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein who wrote his smash hit A Boy Named Sue and its sequel Son Of A Boy Named Sue.

That was long after Cash had a minor role in the Clint Eastwood/Eric Fleming western series Rawhide.

In 1961 he played a psychopath in Door To Door, also known as Five Minutes To Live.
And the singer, who was heavily influenced by one time touring partner Billy Graham, made the 1973 movie Gospel Road - a musical anthology of the life of Jesus.

Cash had bigger roles with Kirk Douglas in A Gunfight (1972), The Pride Of Jesse Hallam (1980), Murder In Coweto County (1983), The Baron And The Kid (1984,) The Last Days Of Frank and Jesse (1986).

He also appeared in the remake of Stage Coach and in episodes of Columbo and Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman.

"The producer of Stage Coach wanted a movie with all four members of the Highwaymen," Cash told me in an interview at the Melbourne Hilton on July 4, 1994, when he toured with The Highwaymen.

"The roles called for a lot of other actors and actresses as well. David Allan Coe and John Schneider had cameo roles."

Cash's 1990 album Mystery Of Life also included a song he wrote for another movie.
"There was a new screen play written on the old John Wayne movie Angel And The Badman for me to do the lead role," Cash added.

"It was the role that John Wayne did in the old movie. I just like the story so I wrote the song Angel And The Bad Man about the movie. I thought it was a nice story."
Tennessee country star Mark Collie played a young trouble torn Cash in award winning short film I Still Miss Someone in 1999.

There were a swag of autobiographies and biographies which were preceded by his own novel Man In White - a fictional account of the life of Paul The Apostle.


Cash, born at Kingsland, Arkansas, on February, 26, 1932, grew up on a cotton farm in Dyess, Tennessee, where he lost his elder brother Jack at 12 in a chain saw accident.
At 18 he moved to Detroit where he swept floors in a car factory before he made the most of a four year U.S. Air Force stint in Germany by writing songs including Folsom Prison Blues.

On his return he sired four children with first wife Vivien Liberto in Memphis and was a margarine salesman before singing gospel songs he learned from his mother Carrie.
Cash and Vivien produced four daughters - Tara, Kathy, Rosanne and Cindy.

Chart topper Rosanne became the second wife of Houston born singer-songwriter and producer Rodney Crowell for 12 years.

That was before she headed north to New York City and wed producer-songwriter John Leventhal, a song writing partner of Crowell.

Crowell wasn't alone long - he wed another country singer Claudia Church who he met and produced after she appeared in a video for one of his songs.

Johnny Cash became the third husband of recently deceased June Carter Cash in 1968 - she rescued him from a dope dependency which flared on odd occasions.

The couple scored a hit with a duet of Jackson in 1967 after Cash topped charts in 1963 with Ring Of Fire, penned by June and Merle Kilgore who wrote Wolverton Mountain with its singer Claude King.


The Carter Family tree was equally as intriguing and popular as its music.

June Carter, who died at 73 at 5.04 p m on May 15, was the youngest of three daughters of Maybelle Addington and Ezra Carter who wed in 1915.

Maybelle's cousin Sara Dougherty later wed Alvin P Carter in 1926 and they produced a son and two daughters.

The Carter Family began performing in 1927 and recorded about 250 songs before the band broke up in 1943, 12 years after A. P and Sara divorced.

Mother Maybelle took June and her sisters Helen and Anita on the road as the Second Carter Family and they performed on the Grand Ole Opry from 1950-67 until Maybelle retired.

June Carter wed country singer Carl Smith, now 76, in 1952 and gave birth to daughter Carlene before they divorced and Carl married another singer Goldie Hill in 1957.
June then wed Rip Nix and gave birth to another daughter Rozanne, not to be confused with Cash's daughter Rosanne.

June rescued Cash from the throes of divorce and drug dependency when she accepted his marriage invite on stage at a concert in London, Ontario, in February of 1968.

The Carter sisters joined the Cash touring show that first brought them here with him in 1971 and 1973.

That was shortly after June gave the man in black a son - John Carter Cash Jr - in 1970.
Unfortunately John Jr went into detox shortly after an Australian tour when he went on a binge at the South Yarra Saloon.

But he recovered to produce his mother's comeback album, Press On, in 1999 which first appeared on Small Hairy Dog Records before being picked up by Dualtone.

The singer, who dodged a bullet fired by Hank Williams in a 1952 fracas with his first ex wife Audrey, cut her only previous solo album Appalachian Pride for Columbia in 1976.

But she posthumously released finished another album Wildwood Flower on September 9 - a Carter Family tribute disc is also in the works.

June published her own autobiography Among My Klediments in 1979 and studied acting in New York in the fifties with James Dean and Robert Duvall.

She later appeared in the Gunsmoke TV series and 1958 movie Country Music Holiday before playing Duvall's mother in The Apostle which also featured Billy Joe Shaver in a major role.

Sister Helen died at 70 on June 2, 1998, and Anita died at 66 on July, 29, 1999.
A Kneeling Drunkard's Plea, written with Anita and Helen when she was 18, was cut by Cash on his 1996 Unchained album.


It was long after June's daughter Carlene wed Joe Simpkins at 15 and gave birth to a daughter Tiffany.

Carlene then wed House Of Cash songwriter Jack Routh at 18 and a son, John Jackson Routh, was born.

After that marriage ended Carlene dated Crowell, playing in Emmylou Harris's Hot Band but yet to meet her stepsister Rosanne.

By the time Carlene wed English rocker Nick Lowe at 23 another of her four stepsisters, Cindy Cash, had married Routh, enabling him to be the second husband of both singing step siblings.

"Back then in Tennessee you got married to the guy you slept with," Carter later explained, "people didn't date. They just got married. Then it dawned on me I didn't have to marry every boy I liked."

Carlene wrote the song Too Bad About Sandy about custody proceedings when Routh won custody of their son while married to Cindy.

At this stage Routh was legally also his son's step uncle.

But Cindy, who toured here in 1981 with her dad's band, then married singer-songwriter Marty Stuart who was also in the Cash road band.

But Cindy split with Stuart, now 45, who became the fourth singing spouse of Indiana country singer Connie Smith, 17 years his senior at 62.

"Marty joined by band as a teenager and married my daughter Cindy after they toured Australia with me," Cash told me.

"He was the one who brought us the Jimmy Webb song The Highwaymen to the session when we were looking for songs to record. He's a hot rising artist and he's going to do all right. He started out at 13 playing mandolin with Lester Flatt. Then as a teenager he started playing guitar with me."

Meanwhile Carlene, whose stormy marriage with Lowe ended in the eighties, hooked up with Howie Epstein of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers who acted out their name by dying of a heroin overdose at 47 on February 23, 2003.


Cash's longevity surprised many who didn't expect to survive the fifties when he first toured here on a Lee Gordon package tour.

He wrecked cars, one of which he jumped from, before it plunged from a 500 metre cliff.
Another caught on fire while he was driving and earned him a $120,000 bill for damage caused to a forest in Ventura Country in California.

But there was humour beneath the manic mood swings which peaked at the Grand Ole Opry in 1965 when he mistimed a lunge at the microphone.

He then dragged it along the front of the stage, smashing all the foot lights.

"There were 52 lights, and I wanted to break all 52, which I did," Cash revealed about the night which ended when he crashed his car into a tree and was banned from the Opry.

His pill popping climaxed on October 4, 1965, when he was busted at El Paso airport on his way back from Juarez with 668 amphetamine tablets and 475 tranquiliser tablets in a sock in his guitar case.

Cash pleaded guilty and was fined $1,000 and scored a 30 days suspended jail sentence.
Although Cash had over night jail spells on five occasions he never served a long sentence.
In 1966 he was thrown in jail overnight in Starkville, Mississippi, for roaming the streets at 2 am and picking wild flowers.

He was also locked up briefly in Georgia and Carson City, Nevada.

But not even June could save Cash in 1978 when he suffered three broken ribs in an attack by a widower ostrich in a paddock stocked with wild game.

He became hooked on pain killers in his recovery - on another occasion in 1983 he suffered the same fate after falling and smashing a knee cap.

And again after his dentist accidentally broke his law during dental surgery in 1990 and a steel plate was inserted in 1992.


Cash's Sun years from 1955 and subsequent recording career has been well documented in the mainstream media.

They are also graphically depicted in the local AV Channel DVD releases Johnny Cash - The Anthology and Good Rockin' Tonight which we will be giving away on Nu Country TV and this web page.

A Sun highlight is the pivotal role of producer and bon vivant Cowboy Jack Clement who wrote classic Cash comedy songs.

Clement toured here in 1981 as Cash's entree act after releasing a solo album.

That was before Cash and touring partner Jennings had quadruple heart by-pass surgery in the same month late in 1988 at the same Nashville Baptist Hospital.

Clement was also a prolific writer - he wrote 'It'll Be Me' (the flip side of Jerry Lee Lewis's Sun smash 'Whole Lot Of Shakin' Goin' On' and a swag of hits for Cash.

He wrote and produced 'Ballad Of A Teenage Queen', 'Guess Things Happened That Way,' 'Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart,' 'Egg Sucking Dog,' 'I Got A Thing About Trains', 'The One On The Right Is On The Left' and 'Everybody Loves A Nut' for Cash.


More than 1,000 people attended the private two-and-a-half-hour service at First Baptist Church of Hendersonville, about 15 miles north of Nashville where Cash mourned the death of June in May.

"I can almost live in a world without Johnny Cash because he will always be with us," said Cash's daughter Rosanne Cash. "I cannot begin to imagine a world without Daddy."

Among the celebrities attending were Vince Gill, Hank Williams Jr., Travis Tritt, Dwight Yoakam, George Jones, Ricky Skaggs, Ronnie Dunn, Statler Brothers and Oak Ridge Boys.
Others included rock-rapper Kid Rock, actress Jane Seymour and former Vice President Al Gore, a native of Tennessee.

Kristofferson called Cash "Abraham Lincoln with a wild side" - a man always willing to champion the voiceless and downtrodden, "whose work in life has been an inspiration and salvation to so many people around the world. He represented the best of America; we're not going to see his like again."

The Rev. Franklin Graham - son of the Rev. Billy Graham - called Cash "a good man who also struggled with many challenges in his life. He was a deeply religious man."

Emmylou Harris and Sheryl Crow sang the gospel hymn, The Old Rugged Cross and Dylan's Every Grain of Sand.

The Man In Black, renowned for his colour coding in honour of the poor and oppressed, was buried in a black coffin with silver handles.

As the service came to end, country singer Larry Gatlin addressed his own son, Joshua Cash Gatlin, from the pulpit: "Son, this man fed your mama and me when we couldn't afford food. He paid rent for us when we couldn't pay rent."

Gatlin, Marty Stuart and producer Randy Scruggs were among the active pallbearers.
Honorary pallbearers included Kristofferson, Rubin, Rodney Crowell and Willie Nelson, Marshall Grant, who played bass in Cash's original band, and younger brother Tommy Cash.


It was, Cash would agree, like the session he vividly described to this writer in his 1994 interview.

Cash recalled the recording of former Chicago mailman and prolific writer John Prine's The Hobo Song for his 1990 Mercury album The Mystery Of Life.

"Every hobo in town came and sang on that session," Cash drawled, "Jack Clement drug everybody in off the street and out of the garden, the yard, the basement everywhere."

Ends Dawson


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