It was grimly fitting that Johnny Cash passed away in the early morning hours of Sept. 12. The day before, we joined together to commemorate a national tragedy. A day later, we learned that another mighty American tower had fallen.
For me, Cash was more than just another subject. His voice was a powerful presence in my family's house, almost from the time I learned to walk. Dad raised us to a soundtrack of that unmistakable, booming bass voice and twanging metal strings. In 1971, he even drove us over 150 miles back and forth to see Cash perform -- on a school night. It was my first pop concert, and I remember it more vividly than the shows I attended last week.
When Dad was in Vietnam, Cash's recordings and TV variety show filled a void, bringing a strong male presence back into the house, if only for a few songs. It was almost like he, too, was a father to us.
Voices of Atlanta's music scene echo that sentiment.
"I saw Cash perform at a Billy Graham Crusade in 1972," says Jon Byrd, guitarist for the Greta Lee Band and the Convicts. "He looked like a living, breathing Greek statue -- dressed in black, of course. He spoke like he'd just got off the phone with the son of God."
Jim Stacy of Greasepaint describes Cash as "the tenderest steak with the most gristle you could order. He was a backsliding Christian who fought his addictions, over and over. That made him real. He was one of the true American heroes to shape my very view of music."
"'Ring Of Fire' was always a staple of Wild West Picture Show's live set," notes David Henderson of his former band. "If we were playing to a difficult audience, we could play that and suddenly the crowd would come to life. Always. Everyone loves that song."
Slim Chance (CL contributor James Kelly) praises Cash's efforts to raise awareness of marginalized groups. "In his song 'Man In Black,' he identifies many of these by name," Chance notes. "This sort of 'liberal' mentality was unheard of in Nashville during the heyday of country music. One of the first albums I owned was Bitter Tears, a collection of songs about the plight of Native Americans he recorded in 1964."
Clete Reid of Cletis & His City Cousins, says, "Johnny Cash was the last genre; not rock 'n' roll, not country, and not folk, but pure Cash. The days of the honest voice in popular music are over."
"Everybody should have a framed poster of the young Cash flipping the bird," says drummer Dan Hall of the Woggles, "to remind them of the proper attitude to take when The Man tries to perpetrate oppression."
Mike Geier of Kingsized once shared a bill with Cash. "I remember how, standing next to him backstage, I felt like I was in the presence of Moses and Jesus and Santa Claus and KISS and Alexander Graham Bell and Darth Vader and G.I. Joe and Sgt. York and Conan the Barbarian and Lon Chaney and all of my deceased relatives and Robert E. Lee and Elvis," Geier says. "I pissed my pants standing next to Johnny Cash, breathing the same air he did."
"I can't think of any artist whose body of work, over such a huge period, remained so consistently engaging," says Guadalcanal Diary's Murray Attaway, "from 'Cry Cry Cry' right up to 'Hurt.'"
Alastor's Elizabeth Elkins says, "My father doesn't really 'get' my band's music, but Johnny Cash is our common ground. When Johnny began covering songs by bands I love, like Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, it bridged the gap between the old bluegrass and country of my father's youth and the passion I feel for contemporary rock music. In that simple way, Johnny Cash defined exactly what it is both my father and I feel when we hear a good song."
"It's time to start carving a new side of Mt. Rushmore," Dodd Ferrelle figures. "And start with The Man in Black."
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
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