Even June Carter Cash, after all the drug damage she'd seen done in her lifetime, eventually succumbed to drug addiction. This problem is revealed for the first time in Cash's new book. Knowing he would be compelled to tell these tragic truths caused Cash to hesitate about even writing the book in the first place.
"When I decided that I would do the book, and it took me a while to decide to do it," he relates, "it was a hard decision because I knew the workload. I knew the pain that I'd go through. I also knew that I had to be totally honest if were to do it because there were certain things that were elemental about her life that made her exactly who she was. One of them was the fact that she did suffer from addiction. I sort of had to swallow the fact that I was going to do it (reveal his mother's addiction) when I made the decision to write the book, in my spirit because I couldn't do it half way."
This book is published by Thomas Nelson, a popular Christian book publisher, which is one reason why it carries with it a strong spiritual message, rather than just the glorification of a celebrity's life.
"I wanted the number one message of the book to be tolerance, to be love, to be forgiveness, to show the greatness of the love my parents had and how it endured through everything," Cash says. "I believe if you're an addict, you're gonna die one, either way around it. So the message is there. And the message to the reader is, hopefully, not one of sensationalism at all. It's the message of redemption, and hopefully through the process of understanding the addiction that my mother suffered and my father suffered - and myself and my sisters - the reader will gain a greater faith in God and learn how to live and maybe how not to live."
Surprisingly, John Carter Cash has only one album out under his own name, "Bitter Harvest," from 2003. But after touring with his family most of his life, he's realized that the touring troubadour life is simply not the life for him. Instead, he's settled into his role as a record producer, a decision he is quite satisfied with.
"It's the life I enjoy," he says. "I worked on the road with my dad for many years, performed on stage with him, played backup guitar, got to arrange songs and whatnot. But when I found production, that's when I found my great joy. That's when I found my desire for my work. My love for creativity."
A number of respected producers have helped Cash learn the production ropes over the years.
"There are a few producers that I've come to with questions when looking for advice," he says. "I worked with Rick Rubin as the associate producer for my dad's last records. Working with him was an amazing apprentiship. I got to watch him work and work beside him step-by-step, so he was a great influence. Don Was offered some advice early on to me that I still carry around with me every day in my work ethic. Randy Scruggs, who I still work in the studio with as a guitar player, is an amazing producer. An accomplished one, at that. He has been a great inspiration to me and stood behind me and has always been there to offer advice and direction."
As if he hasn't already had enough tragedy in recent years, his parent's family home in Hendersonville, Tenn. recently burned down.
"I was in Oregon on vacation, and Marty Stuart called me," Cash recalls, when asked how he received the news. "It hit me like a death, an unexpected death." Thankfully, this fire did not also affect the Cash Cabin Studio where many latter Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash recordings were made, and where much of the "Anchored in Love" disc was tracked.
"The studio is about quarter mile from the old house, and that's where I live now; I live near the studio," Cash explains. In an odd twist of fate, the house was owned by Barry Gibb (of The Bee Gees) at the time. "I really like the Gibbs," Cash relays. "I think they have a real vision for the property. They're not planning on selling it or demolishing the ruins. They plan on rebuilding there. I'm very grateful for their vision and their desire to continue on the legacy."
The family house was featured significantly in "Walk the Line," an Oscar winning film. And speaking of that movie, some Cash family members have been particularly critical of the film, claiming it to be inaccurate in some respects. Cash, however, is relatively pleased with how it came out.
"I think the intention of the movie, and my parents' intention, was to tell the story of their love affair," Cash comments. "And I think if one would look for anything else a story about my father's faith, an accurate portrait of the source of his redemption and his change in the late 70s it may be lacking. But the intention was to tell the story of their love, and it does so beautifully and accurately with true passion. I'm wholly content with the process in its form and how it came about. I believe first and foremost, no matter what I think or what anyone else may think, that it is a film my parents would have loved; they would be overjoyed, and I know em pretty well."
But is there the chance for a second film about Johnny Cash? One, perhaps, which may show another side of this complicated man?
"Yeah, I hear that a lot, and right now there's nothing in the plans," Cash answers. "But we'll see in the future."
Partly due to the success of "Walk the Line," the Johnny Cash name is now more popular than ever. Cash finds himself constantly turning down requests from liquor companies and such to use the Johnny Cash image in advertising. But he flatly refuses to allow his dad's name to be associated with such vices. "I try to follow through with his same ethics when making these decisions," Cash explains. There was even an urban legend going around about a particularly unsavory advertising campaign idea. It wasn't an alcohol or tobacco campaign, but it must have been a pain in the butt pardon the bad pun for Cash to deal with.
"There was rumor that Preparation H wanted to use "Ring Of Fire," but that was inaccurate."
Such Cash family business keeps the younger Cash especially busy. In addition to the Johnny and June work, he's just finished producing the new Billy Joe Shaver CD. Furthermore, it looks like writing his mom's biography has also awakened a writing bug in Cash.
"We'll, I'm really into writing, and I might possibly do a children's book," he notes.
John Carter Cash has to walk the line, so to speak, of balancing his own personal work along with keeping his family's great legacy alive and well. And so far, the high quality of his various accomplishments reveals that he's doing a fine job of it.