Magazine article Insight on the News

Forty Years Later, Cash Still Walks the Line

Magazine article Insight on the News

Forty Years Later, Cash Still Walks the Line

Article excerpt

Johnny Cash says that he has spent his career waiting to make American Recordings, his new collection of "up close, personal-feeling" songs. After 500 albums, that's quite an endorsement.

On his new album, Johnny Cash: American Recordings, the archetypal man in black starts off with a bang. Two of them, in fact -- shots fired point-blank into a woman tied to a chair. Cash sings about her murder with the same detachment he employed in an earlier recording: "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die." But while "Folsom Prison Blues" helped make Cash a superstar, "Delia's Gone" got him banned on MTV earlier this year.

At 62, Johnny Cash can still make trouble in the music world.

"They wouldn't play it, the video, when it was first sent to them," Cash says of the powerful music channel that recently helped revive Tony Bennett's career. "Their people in Standards and Practices said we had to cut out some scenes before they would show it, and we did, and I tell you I can't tell much difference. Of all the trash and violence that's out there, to single me out as being too violent ..."

Released last April, American Recordings is a selection from more than 75 songs Cash cut during the course of a year. "I don't generally make records to get on the radio," he says, but this one is special. On all the tracks, its just Cash and his acoustic guitar, playing "up close, personal-feeling songs." Says Cash, "This is the album I've waited my whole career to do."

Cash was born on Feb. 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Ark. As a farm boy, he hauled water to the men picking cotton in the fields. When not working the fields, studying in school or attending church, he made music. Inspired by his mother's guitar playing, Cash took up the instrument and strummed it around the house, playing gospel music and the country tunes he heard on the radio.

"I probably know more chords now since I started this album, because some of the songs call for them," Cash says. "But with my kind of music, you just need four chords because that's all it takes to get the song across."

Despite recording more than 1,500 songs on 500 albums (and 48 singles placed on the Billboard charts), Cash hesitates to call himself a musician. "I can't bend my wrist so I can't pick the strings, I can't play out the melody," he says. He still strums with his thumb.

Cash formed his first band in Germany while serving in the Air Force. The Landsberg Barbarians would invade beer halls and play the music of Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow until they were asked to leave or were too drunk to keep going. …

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