The Man in BlackJohnny Cash is a giant. He towers over the American music scene as an elder statesman to Rock, Blues, Country and even Western music. His career spanned decades and his contributions left a long-lasting mark. The man lent his voice to politics and social problems even while wrestling with his own addictions.
Cash would perform many free concerts for the inmates at California state prisons including San Quentin and Folsom Prison. Columbia took the opportunity to record some shows which resulted in some classic Americana. When he played his first prison show at San Quentin, one of the inmates in the audience was Merle Haggard who was doing time for burglary.
In March of 1964, Cash recorded a song called "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," a true story about a Pima Indian who held the flag at Iwo Jima and despite his service, returned home to despair and death. The hit song was too politically topical for many radio stations and unlike modern C/W music's relationship to September 11th, station managers and DJs refused to spin it. Cash responded by taking on the stations a full-page ad in Billboard.
While under the influence in 1965, Cash drove a tractor into a lake behind his Nashville house and accidentally started a forest fire. The government fined Cash $85,000.00 for this bizarre incident. In the same year, he was arrested in Texas with amphetamines in his guitar case. He gets off easy: a suspended jail sentence and a $1,000 fine.
Over the years, Cash had started to depend on prescription drugs, amphetamines and barbiturates for work and for play. For 1967, what started out as a lost weekend turned into a lost year. June Carter and the power of Christianity are the two main forces credited for stemming his drug abuse problem.
In 1970, Cash was asked by Richard Nixon to perform at the White House.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Cash received less attention and airplay. His recording contract was dropped by Columbia but picked up by Mercury. In 1994, Johnny Cash got together with a producer named Rick Rubin to produce the critically-acclaimed American Recordings album. The work was stripped-down with just Cash and his guitar playing his songs and material by Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson and Tom Waits.
Johnny Cash died on September 12, 2003 at the age of 71 due to complications from diabetes that resulted in respiratory failure.