John, being back in Memphis must revive some old memories for you. Do you ever get lonesome for those 60 cent play for lunches at Taylor's restaurant next to Sun Records?
Johnny Cash 0:12
Yeah, for I hadn't thought about that in a long time. We did have some good lunches there Taylor's rest. I had fun today driving around Memphis again.
Speaker 1 0:21
Well, Memphis is has played a big part in your life. And
Johnny Cash 0:24
oh, yeah. Yeah.
Speaker 1 0:27
John, in your Air Force days, you were a communications technician. And there was a great story about those days and how they lead to one of your big hits. I walked the line. Would you tell us how that happened?
Yeah, I had myself a new tape recorder. A very inexpensive tape recorder. It was and while I was working one day, a friend of mine was fooling around with a tape recorder was a guitar, just playing chords. This is what I found out later on. Yeah, one day I came down from work and turn on my tape recorder and there was a strangest sound that I had ever heard. And it sounded like, well, it really sounded like an organ. Yeah. And the chords are going juju, doo doo doo doo. Well, I flew with that for months. Planetside over and over and over, never could figure out what it was. And finally, I turned the tape around and played it. And it was a friend of mine and had been fooling around with my tape recorder while I was at work with a guitar. And the weird sound that I had heard was guitar playing backwards on the tape recorder. And I never forgot. I never forgot those. Those notes that sounded that guitar. And that was the inspiration for the sound when I walked alone. Yeah.
Speaker 1 1:51
Your your accompaniment is always so unusual. You have such a distinctive style. How did that Chuck a moon sound originate?
Well, that came naturally with a tendency to it was Marshall grant.
Speaker 1 2:03
Johnny Cash 2:04
And Luther Perkins, whatever sound we had. It was natural. It was electric guitar. And the bass fiddle Marshall played with a slap back on it. That made it sound like it was two different instruments. He gave a drum effect with that bass away played it still plays it that way.
Speaker 1 2:22
And Marshall and Luther were two Memphians that that you met when you came here to Keegan school.
Johnny Cash 2:29
Yeah, I met them at automobile sales company down on Union.
Speaker 1 2:32
They were mechanics.
Johnny Cash 2:33
Speaker 1 2:34
And how did you how did you get into recording?
Johnny Cash 2:38
Well, Sun Records was it 706 Union Avenue and are doing fairly well. Sun had not didn't have national distribution at that time. But they were getting pretty hot getting pretty big
Speaker 1 2:54
and important kid named Presley
Johnny Cash 2:56
Presley that was doing all right for himself. And a couple of other people
were named Carl Perkins
Johnny Cash 3:04
Carl Perkins. Yeah. And since it was the closest record company, the only one I knew about. I called Sam Phillips and asked for an audition. And I believe was two or three times that it was turned down. Finally he said he would listen. And after going back, two or three, four times over a period of six months, we finally the Tennessee Two and I got a song call. Hey, Porter recorded. And then that's the same time recorded Folsom Prison Blues, which I'd written when I was in Memphis
Speaker 1 3:40
a lot of people don't realize how far back that song goes. Because of course, its biggest hit came when 68 wasn't.
Johnny Cash 3:49
Yeah, '68. The first time was in I wrote it in 1953 when I was in the Air Force,
Speaker 1 3:57
why Folsom? Did you have any connections?
Johnny Cash 4:00
It was I saw a movie I got a good imagination sometimes I saw a movie called Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison that
Speaker 1 4:07
I remember that movie I review movies and I remember a lot of those old movies
Johnny Cash 4:11
those was the movie that inspired that song
where have some of your other songs come from I know number I must have come out of actual experience as well as imagination. I'm thinking of five feet high and rising. What wasn't there some
Johnny Cash 4:24
Yeah there was very little muddy mischief or flush if it flooded in the 1937 winner '37, '38 Yeah, that was a big That was one time and flooding. For us all the old people remember the winter of 27 as well when they flooded. But the flood of '37 was when I was writing about in five feet high and rising. A lot of songs came out of my childhood remembrances or experiences. Picking time told about life on the small cotton farm as I knew it with a wagon and mule over and Dyess, Arkansas. Well, other songs that weren't quite so popular. That was about life as I knew that as a child,
Speaker 1 5:08
John did, which came first in your in your life, music or words. You write both. But did you do any writing before you took up guitar? At all? Yeah,
Johnny Cash 5:22
Oh yeah, I wrote when I was a kid,
did you really?
Johnny Cash 5:23
the real poetry when I was kid, andIy made up tunes as a kid too, I guess the tunes and the words came at the same time, because that's how I remember coming in the first place. You know, I was always a music fan, especially a country gospel music fan. I remember days here. I would listen to the Memphis stations. This station and other stations when I was a kid to the country music programs, the gospel music programs. And I'd listen every chance, you know, like when I'd come in from the fields from picking cotton or chopping cotton, I'd have that radio on if we had a battery.
Speaker 1 6:03
Johnny Cash 6:04
I've had various favorite artists through the years. Jimmy Rogers, the Carter family, or so I was very young when, when Jimmy Rogers was popular. I was born in 32. And he died in 33. Yeah, of course the Carter family started recording before I was born in 1927. They were recording and but I remember them when I was a little bitty boy. I remember people here in Memphis when I was small boy like Jean Steele. The like Chris Doughboy and the Lonesome Valley Trio. I remember listening to when I was 14 or 15 years old that was smiling Eddie Hill and Ira Charlie Louvin brothers. Oh, at 1:15 on the radio, they came on with the Lonesome Valley Trio came on singing those hymns. I'm still singing
Yeah. Weren't you on radio you and good Marshall and Luther for a while/
Johnny Cash 7:05
For just a little while, not very much.
Speaker 1 7:07
Was that when you were working for home equipment?
Johnny Cash 7:09
Right, we got a 15 minute program on WHHE I mean on KWE, it was back then
Speaker 1 7:18
Right, West Memphis.
Johnny Cash 7:19
Yeah, right. We got a 15 local renter program. I don't think anybody ever heard me back then. I don't think anybody was out there listening.
Speaker 1 7:29
But didn't keep those cards and letters rolling.
Johnny Cash 7:32
It was before I had a first record out and nobody ever heard of me and nobody really did want to hear me.
Speaker 1 7:40
Well, I tell you, a man that that can sell what was it? Six and a half million records? In one year alone. 1969 has got somebody out there listening.
Well, I hope so. Yeah. I really have enjoyed the years in this music business from the beginning the lean years right up to now I'm enjoying it more now than I ever did in my life. I think I'm more alive than I've ever been in my life. And I really am enjoying it more. I'm so happy in our in our family life and so thankful for all the good things that have been handed to June and I yeah, we've been blessed with a little son that's in perfect health, which that's the important thing? Yeah,
Speaker 1 8:21
sure. John knows there's a book out now called Winners Got Scars Too: The Life and Legends of Johnny Cash just out I might say, by Christopher S. Wren and there's a there's a poem in there. I don't know if you've set it to music or not, or if you intend to. But the poem really impressed me and I'd like to read a couple of lines of it. "Could there be ruined regions of the mind, where reason doesn't reach to draw the line, where the brain was pounded by some drug, time after time until a hole was finally dug? And how can you know just where you'll find the hole? And how can you know what that hole does to your soul?" A man that that can write a poem like that must have really been through something?
Well, I was calling it the way I was seeing it, Edwin. When I wrote those lands about drugs for six or seven years off and on. I pounded my brain my brain with amphetamines barbiturates. And I don't feel like there was any damage. I don't know. I don't believe there was. But drugs are such an evil thing. There's- anything unnatural is wrong. Anything that you do to your body, or your or your mind, unnaturally is wrong. And I did so much unnatural stuff to my head for so long that once or twice I'd wondered if if it had affected my mind or my soul, my soul my psych,
Speaker 1 10:00
Johnny Cash 10:01
but my life is pretty well straightened out. I'm very happy and very close to God now. And I feel like he brought me through it just fine.
Speaker 1 10:12
Well a lot of people have had been on to drugs, but not many have been on and come off the way you have though.
It's almost impossible to, to be hooked, so to speak on, on drugs. And there are so many like amphetamines, you don't exactly get hooked and addicted to but you get habituated to, which is almost as bad or maybe worse, in some instances. Anything that you can get a high- well cigarettes lick, that couldn't be any harder or stronger addiction than you get to, to nicotine. Cigarettes is the hardest thing I ever quit. I quit cigarettes 16 months ago, and as some of those drugs are a breeze compared to nicotine. But it was all tough to get off. And it was all unnatural things that I was doing to myself with the drugs and the cigarettes. And I'm not telling everybody that cigarettes are that all that bad for them, my dad has been smoking since he's 12 and he's 74 right now. But he'll tell you they hurt him. Of course they don't hurt him as bad as they were hurting me. They were killing me. I had to quit. And some people are hurt a lot worse than others but the drugs they'll kill anybody
was there. Was there a moment? John, when you said you yourself have got to stop or was it accumulative thing,
Johnny Cash 11:34
accumulative things? There were many moments that I said that to myself. But I guess there was only one time that I really meant it. And that's when I did it. Quittin' and something is not saying it, it's doing it. And it boiled down to that that all the promises I made to myself and all those people that I love so much and love me so that were so close to him. It didn't mean a thing in the world until I finally did it.
Speaker 1 12:00
And when you did it, it was you that had to do it no matter how much help you you had. Right?
Johnny Cash 12:05
It was between me and me and God to do it.
And now you've come out of it and gone on to a bigger success than you've ever had before. As successful as you were before.
Johnny Cash 12:17
Speaker 1 12:17
the television, you've got a movie coming out.
Johnny Cash 12:22
Well, hey, all the Western, A Gunfight.
Speaker 1 12:25
Johnny Cash 12:26
And I'm doing a film in Israel in November.
Speaker 1 12:28
Johnny Cash 12:29
I'm narrating a film called In the Footsteps of Jesus. A documentary on the life of Jesus, a dramatization on the life of Jesus. I've been narrating it and singing in it. And I hope to tell the story of Jesus as it is.
Speaker 1 12:45
A Gunfight had some unusual financial backing, didn't it?
Johnny Cash 12:49
Yeah, the Jicarilla Apaches. See what happened the government gave them letters but all dried up desert land out there and they struck oil on it and made themselves rich and they went into the finance and business they financed this picture they want to finance another one now. Although I don't I haven't seen any other movie scripts that I'm really
has this one been out long enough to tell how it's gonna do?
Johnny Cash 13:11
It's done very well they've got
Speaker 1 13:12
it hasn't played many
Johnny Cash 13:13
they've got their investment back already.
Speaker 1 13:16
That's good. Do you like making films?
Johnny Cash 13:18
I enjoyed thay one, but I doubt if I'll do very many movies. So performin' and the music is my first love
Speaker 1 13:27
and you prefer the live shows to television?
Johnny Cash 13:31
I surely do.
Speaker 1 13:32
In spite of the strain and the terrible, I should think monotony, of road travel.
Johnny Cash 13:41
Well, there's nothing monotony in the strain. In one night stands the tourism in weekly television is as far as I'm concerned. I mean, when I go on stage out here in Memphis, it's real. See, they see in me for what I am and I can communicate with the people I believe. And I love to perform for them. I love to do the things that I think they might enjoy here and then there's nothing between me and those people out there in that concert. There's a there's not only that screen and that tube between me and them on television, but there's there's network people there's television, people that edit songs and make me do it over three or four times if I make a mistake until I lose my heart in a lot of it and the people watching the television show can sense it when I'm when I don't really feel like you know that I'm feeling what I'm doing the people out there know what you can't fool 'em, can't fool the people.
Let me ask you this. I interviewed Arthur Rubinstein a few months ago and one of the questions we talked about was this phenomenon of a person sitting in an audience and all of a sudden in the middle of a musical number getting real prickles down the back of his spine, you know, and I asked Rubinstein if when the audience was feeling that if he felt it too He said You Bet Your Life he said,
Johnny Cash 15:03
That's what I'm talking about
Speaker 1 15:04
if they're feeling it, then I'm feeling it twice as much. Do you feel that? So
Johnny Cash 15:08
that's exactly what I'm talking about. And there's we're all there's where it's important for me as a performer, to feel that with my audience on stage, if I'm doing a song like Sunday Morning Coming Down, I can see the expression on just a few faces and know what the whole audience is feeling, I think. And some of the spiritual songs I do, especially, I can see when the people's faces brighten up, their eyes light up, some of 'em start clapping hands, I know that I'm that we are sharing that song. It's a question of sharing what I'm doing with the audience givin' to them, and receiving back the appreciation from them. That's where it's at, for me, it's performing is communicating and what you're talking about those little shivers of the audience get up and down their spine, I'm communicating with them, when they get that feeling.
John, one of the byproducts of your latest success seems to be an opportunity for you to get involved in causes that you may have felt strongly about before, but maybe didn't have quite the opportunity to work on that you have now. I know Indians is one thing, prisons is another. Are there any other big issues that you feel strongly about and want to do something about?
Johnny Cash 16:38
Well, I'll try not to get involved in too many issues. But I work a lot with children. And with the mentally ill, I'm working with a place in Nashville called Walden house, which is a home for autistic children. And Jr. and I support that. In the month of November, after we came come back from the Holy Land we're playing a show for at East Tennessee Mental Hospital. And we're also doing a show for the Nashville Metro Police Department for their widows pension and their welfare fund. We do quite a variety of charity work, June and I do.
A lot of performers over the years have been quoted as saying that they felt performers should stay out of public issues. Others say they should get into it. Do you have a feeling about that? I'm thinking now more political issues?
Johnny Cash 17:38
Well, I try to stay out of politics as best I can. I'm dragged into them. Sometimes I'd rather not be involved in politics or rather not. I certainly don't. I try not to endorse any political candidates. I shook hands with Tex Ritters, I told him, I hope he'd win. And they took pictures of that and published it. But that's alright, because he's a friend of mine. But as far as the platform, I didn't really know much about it, you know, and I just don't choose sides and political issues.
Speaker 1 18:11
A lot of people have tried to pigeonhole you as a conservative or as a liberal
Johnny Cash 18:16
I don't even know what that means.
Speaker 1 18:17
Well, you know, I came across a good definition of a liberal recently, it's the only really true definition that I've ever heard. And it said a liberal is one who realizes that he can be wrong, and is willing to change his mind.
I think that might be me, then.
Speaker 1 18:37
Well, I remember reading that you once said, don't tell me what I believe and unless you talk to me today.
Johnny Cash 18:46
Well, yeah, I changed my mind about a lot of things as the times change. Because change is the whole process of life changes the whole process of growth. And times change, people change. The way of life change the lifestyles change, you got to change with it.
Speaker 1 19:06
One thing that's changed over the years is the is the name of the kind of music you play. And yet, it seems to me the music remains essentially the same. It's been hillbilly, and rockabilly and Country and Western playing country. What do you think the future of your kind of music is?
Johnny Cash 19:25
I don't know. I don't think they'll ever really find a bag to keep me in. Touch. I've been looking for a bag to put me in so I can say Johnny Cash is this over here, and that's it. But sometimes I have a way of breaking out of those boundaries. I don't know. I think there will always be good country music. And when I say country music, I'm just using one of the names. To make country music is the music of the people. The songs are the usually of the working class of people. of their songs have their work, or their home life, or their love life. A lot of times it's about mother about country. But it's usually of the culture of the well, maybe the lower middle class working class.
What is there about country music that makes performers also composers, I don't know if any other over rock is pretty much that way. But the old time pop singers that never wrote their own material?
Johnny Cash 20:32
Well, country music has got something that other kinds of music don't, don't have, except for maybe blues. Country artists write a lot of their songs because it's, it goes back to the fact that they feel what they do. Like we're talking about those people out there. know, when you feelin' what you're doing and believe in it, well they initially write a lot of stuff that they perform, because that's the way they feel it? They say it the way they feel it. It's a lot like the old medieval minstrels and troubadours who traveled and write, when they would go into a town and for a nice bed and board, they would write a song for the family, and write about them. Write about the people you know about their life and write them a story about something that would be interesting for them and leave it with them.
When you write a song. Does it just come to you?
Johnny Cash 21:25
There's no set pattern, none whatsoever. Sometimes, about a year ago, somebody asked me what do you always dressed in black? And my answer to him was, do you wonder why I always dressed in black? There's something rhythmic about the words, you know. And that was the beginning of that song. It just happens different ways.
Speaker 1 21:51
Some of your songs, I guess you would call message songs like What Is Truth for example.
Johnny Cash 21:57
Yeah, I guess so. There are those who say that messages should be sent by telegraph.
Speaker 1 22:03
And I agree with him for the most part. But sometimes something needs to be said in a song,, songs, a lot of them are part of me. And I can't help but putting into lyric form, how I feel about a lot of things just like the poem that you read about the drugs. That was something I was thinking about. And I just put it down on paper,
Speaker 1 22:29
Do you think will ever be a song?
Johnny Cash 22:30
No I don't think so. It was just an idea here. Just something I was wondering about at the time. But sometimes I put my thoughts in a part of me, so to speak down on down on paper, and lyric.
Speaker 1 22:45
One of your I think finest accomplishments on the personal level, was helping Glen Shirley, who's traveling with you now. He was in your audience at Folsom Prison, and somebody gave you a song that he had written and you liked the song and did it? That must be awfully gratifying to be able to help a person directly that way. Of course, you've got a medical research center going in, in Nashville that I'm sure is gratifying too, but the must be stronger personal feeling in helping somebody like Glenn?
Yeah, there really is. I was in North Carolina this last week at Gardner Webb University, I was given a doctorate in humanitarian humanities honorary degree, and Glen Shirley was up there on the front row. And I really realized the full impact of the good that has come to Glenn Shirley's life. When I saw him sitting there on the front row at that thing honoring me all dressed up in a nice new black suit. And that white shirt and white tie. He looked like a million dollars and for 13 years, he never wore anything but the prison denim.
Speaker 1 24:07
Yeah. What a contrast and between seeing him sitting on the front row as he did there in Folsom prison than anything.
Yeah, I thought about that very thing about how frail and scared he looked on the front row there at Folsom, and how nice he looked last week up there. And what, how much good just a little help from somebody has done that man. Now there are men that belong in prison. There are men that need to, to be put away for their crimes they need to we need society, the man on the street needs to be safe from some of those people. But there are some of those people in those prisons that need our help. That they deserve help yeah. That we're a victim of time of the times or victim of circumstances. And we build prisons and by that we show that we're obligating ourselves to to have a place for them and to rehabilitate them. So sometimes somebody needs to care for some of them.
Speaker 1 25:06
One of your managers back some years ago, is quoted in this book about you is His name is Stu Carnall and he's quoted as saying about you that you fooled a lot of people that they thought you were you impressed a lot of people sometimes as being a bumpkin or something of that sort. And he said "John was always rural, but he was never a fraud" and I love that, that summation of you
well, you know, I don't know the reason for the way I acted a lot of times and it's been a long time since I tried to make excuses for it, but I just tried to enjoy life on the road and sometimes the PERT did a pull some pretty wild things on some of those tours.
Speaker 1 26:00
You sure did.
Johnny Cash 26:02
Right So Marshall Grant did too. I think Marshall should autograph copies of that book instead of me.
One year you figured up you did 290 one night stands in a year. Is that a problem for you? Now that must have been one thing that led to the to the amphetamines to keep going that kind of pace?
Johnny Cash 26:23
Well, we don't work nearly that many dates now. And our, for our traveling, our touring is much more organized than it was. We play mostly the bigger auditoriums and buildings in the country now. And we're pretty straight in our life.
Description: long form interview with Country Music icon JOHNNY CASH in Memphis, 1971
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