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The Cash legend

Country Standard Time Editorial, October 2003

The words "legend" and "legendary" often seems overused and trite. Few people truly seem worthy of the attributions.

But how else to describe the man who started his shows with the simple "Hello I'm Johnny Cash"? He most definitely was a musical legend not only in his own time, but also for all times to come.

Of course, the story of Johnny Cash is a colorful one, starting out in the cotton fields of Arkansas, joining the military and eventually making a go of it thanks in part to Sam Phillips in Memphis with folks like Elvis nearby.

His career took off in the mid 1950s and continued strong for close to two decades. The fact that Cash had his own distinctive, spare musical style certainly helped

Lyrically, Johnny Cash related to the common man and sometimes the downtrodden. Heck, his third single and hit was "Folsom Prison Blues." He released a great live album, "At Folsom Prison" as well and took up the cause of prisoner rights at one point.

His voice may have weathered over the years, but there was no mistaking Johnny Cash. He sang with such force and emotion in the deep baritone, which served him so well for so long.

Life wasn't always so good for Cash. His problems with addiction were well documented, but thanks in part at least to June Carter Cash, Johnny eventually overcame his issues.

His career didn't always go so well either. For close to two decades - from the 70s into the 90s - the hits came far and few in between. But producer Rick Rubin, better known for his hard core metal and rap groups than anything remotely country, rejuvenated the career of the Man in Black. They put out four albums together, sometimes revisiting past Cash songs, sometimes putting a new take on well known songs from other bands like the recent "Hurt" from Nine Inch Nails or his fantastic version of "One" by U2. His tone took on a spiritual sensibility, which was so obviously part and parcel of his life.

Cash soon regained the acclaim he so richly deserved, doing so despite a variety of physical ailments, which hospitalized him often in recent years.

Despite the renewed interest and critical acclaim, despite selling hundreds of thousands of albums in recent years, you wouldn't hear Cash on country radio stations, unless an oldies country show was on. It seems interesting that the folks in other musical fields were quicker to give Cash his due in recent years rather than country.

Not only was he in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but also the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Chances are that the expansion of his musical reach will only serve to enhance the legacy of Johnny Cash, clearly one of the most important music figures of the 20th century.

With more fine music still within him, needless to say, it's sad that Johnny Cash left us at 71. Much too young to go. We'll miss you Johnny Cash, a legend forever.