Johnny Cash Biography

Beginning his career as an outlaw to the Nashville establishment, Johnny Cash has come to define country music over the last 40 years. At first, his unique mix of hillbilly music with gospel and blues made him a perfect fit at Sam Phillips’ Sun records, where he recorded such classics as “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk The Line.” From there, Johnny signed with Columbia records and embarked on one of the most remarkable musical careers of the twentieth century. Transforming into The Man In Black, Johnny spent more than thirty years reinventing and contradicting himself–breaking all of the rules of traditional country music only to emerge as the ultimate mythic hero and archetype of the genre.

No other artist has touched the world of music quite like Johnny Cash. He is the only person to be inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame, The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame AND The Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame. His very name is synonymous with the fight for the rights of the poor and downtrodden and the image of “The Man In Black” is as deeply American as the stars and stripes themselves. Johnny Cash is America.

JOHNNY CASH – A Timeline

Feb. 26, 1932:

J.R. Cash is born in the town of Kingsland, Cleveland County, Arkansas, to Ray Cash, a farmer, and Carrie Rivers Cash, who takes the family guitar on their travels. (Kingsland looks straight across the Mississippi River at Lake County, Tennessee, where Carl Perkins is born near Tiptonville about six weeks later, on April 9. Their sharecropper family roots provide an important mutual bond in the ’50s.)

circa 1935 – late ’40s:

At the height of the Depression, Ray takes advantage of a new farming program, an experiment in American Socialism created by Roosevelt’s new administration. With no money down, Cash family is given 20 acres of fertile bottom land and a five-room house in Dyess Colony, in the northeast part of the state, near the ‘big river.’ 1937 flood evacuation of Dyess is memorialized in 1959 song, “Five Feet High and Rising.”

Next 15 years:

J.R. grows up in Dyess and becomes known as ‘John’ (though nobody ever learns what the ‘R’ stands for). Starts as a waterboy at age four, out in the cotton fields soaking up stories from other sharecroppers. Countless songs written by Cash over next five decades originate in these humble times. Floods, droughts, WWII, and closeness of his five brothers and sisters – Roy, Jack, Tommy, Reba and Joann – all inspire John.

Music everywhere:

Work songs chanted by field hands morning ’til night, freight trains a-rolling, family piano, mother’s devotion to Pentecostal Church of God (at age 12, John accepts Christ), whose hellfire and brimstone services allow guitars and such as accompaniment. Most of all, C&W music on the radio – Smilin’ Eddie Hill’s “High Noon Round-Up” from WMPS/Memphis (with the Louvin Brothers) everyday at lunch break. Friday and Saturday nights are reserved for Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts and the music of Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff and Hank Williams.

Roy Cash leads Dixie (or Delta) Rhythm Ramblers C&W band, late-’40s.

John graduates from Dyess High School, heads north to Detroit, to work at Fisher auto body plant in Pontiac, Michigan, a teenager’s flight which lasts less than a month.

July 7, 1950:

Returns to Dyess, signs up for the Air Force, and takes basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Dates Vivian Liberto, local high school senior from San Antonio. Assigned as Radio Intercept Operator to Air Force base in Landsberg, Germany, where he writes to Vivian everyday. Organizes a band of five servicemen who share his C&W tastes as the ‘Landsberg Barbarians,’ as he learns to strum guitar and write an occasional verse.

July, 1954:

Elvis Presley’s debut single is recorded and released on Sam Phillips’ Sun Records, “That’s All Right” b/w “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” Sun 209.

Eager to get into music after discharge, John moves to Memphis, takes a radio announcer’s course part-time on the G.I. Bill while working as a door-to-door appliance salesman, a job arranged by brother Roy – he works at local Chevrolet dealership, near Sun Studios on Union Avenue.

Roy introduces John to two mechanics at Chevy garage: Luther Monroe Perkins and Marshall Grant (both 4-5 years older than John, and formerly in Dixie Rhythm Ramblers), guitar pickers who, with steel guitarist A.W. ‘Red’ Kernodle (ten years their senior) comprise the Tennessee Three. They rehearse gospel songs to play at local parties and church socials, dressed in black, the best wardrobe decision their budget can afford.

August 7, 1954:

John marries Vivian Liberto.
late 1954:

Befriended by Elvis and Scotty Moore, John and the renamed Tennessee Two (Luther on lead guitar, Marshall now on bass fiddle, Kernodle gone) obtain audition at Sun, where they record “Wide Open Road” and “You’re My Baby” (Cash originals) with Phillips, who advises them to drop gospel and stick to C&W.

March 22, 1955:

Cash, renamed ‘Johnny’ by Phillips (his producer until 1958), returns to Sun with Tennessee Two and records “Hey Porter.” Later backed/with “Cry, Cry, Cry” (recorded in May) as Sun 221, single edges out Elvis and the Louvins at #1 in Memphis that summer and hits #14 on Billboard C&W chart. Johnny earns his first royalty check, for $2.41.

May 24, 1955:

Rosanne Cash born in Memphis, eldest daughter of Johnny and Vivian.
summer, 1955:

Johnny Cash & the Tennessee Two appear at local Memphis shows with Elvis Presley and land a regular spot on 15-minute KWEM Saturday radio program.

Sept. 26, 1955:

Carlene Carter (Rebecca Carlene Smith) born in Nashville to country singers June Carter and Carl Smith.

December, 1955:

“Folsom Prison Blues” (song first intended by Phillips for Tennessee Ernie Ford as follow-up to “Davy Crockett” and prelude to “Sixteen Tons”) b/w “So Doggone Lonesome” by Johnny Cash & the Tennessee Two is released, coinciding with their “Louisiana Hayride” debut. Single hits #4 C&W, Johnny gets a second royalty check, this time for $6,000. Joins ‘Elvis Presley Jamboree’ package tour with Carl Perkins and others.

After two misses, Carl Perkins’ first hit single breaks through, “Blue Suede Shoes” b/w “Honey Don’t,” Sun 234. He and his brothers go out on package tours with Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, George Jones et al.

April 2, 1956:

“I Walk the Line” b/w “Get Rhythm” by Johnny Cash & the Tennessee Two is released, reportedly a 2 million seller, hits #1 C&W and top 20 pop. Cash signs his first management deal with Bob Neal, Presley’s manager prior to Col. Tom Parker.

December 4, 1956:

‘Million Dollar Quartet’ legend is born when Memphis newspaper photographs Cash and Elvis who have dropped in on Carl Perkins session (for “Matchbox”) at Sun Studios, with Jerry Lee Lewis as piano sideman.

January 19, 1957:

Cash performs on “The Jackie Gleason Show” (almost one year to the week after Elvis), following success of “There You Go” (#1 C&W) b/w “Train of Love” (#7 C&W).


C&W/pop crossover Sun hit singles released: “Next In Line” b/w “Don’t Make Me Go”; “Home of the Blues” b/w “Give My Love To Rose.”


Two more #1 C&W/top 20 pop Sun hit singles (with new producer Jack Clement) succeed in catching youth market: “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” (#1 C&W for 10 weeks) b/w “Big River”; “Guess Things Happen That Way” b/w “Come In Stranger.”

Summer, 1958:

Success prompts his signing to Columbia Records by Don Law (on “a simple handshake agreement”) as Sun contract concludes. With Columbia advance, Cash moves family to Ventura near Los Angeles. “The Ways of a Woman In Love” (written by Charlie Rich) b/w “You’re the Nearest Thing To Heaven” is final Sun single under old contract.

July 24 , 1958:

First Columbia session at Bradley’s Barn in Nashville with Don Law, who produces him for next decade (with Frank Jones); yields “What Do I Care” b/w “All Over Again,” top 5 C&W/top 40 pop.

December 8, 1958:

The Fabulous Johnny Cash, first Columbia LP enters Top LPs chart, hits #19.

January, 1959:

“Don’t Take Your Guns To Town” hits #1 C&W/top 40 pop, ignites string of western gunslinger tunes and quasi-historical sagas on Columbia by Johnny Horton (“Battle of New Orleans”), Marty Robbins (“El Paso”), Stonewall Jackson (“Waterloo”), and others.

May, 1959:

Hymns By Johnny Cash, second Columbia LP released, described as “the album he came to Columbia to record,” because of Sam Phillips’ reluctance to allow him to record gospel material at Sun.

October, 1959:

“The Rebel” TV series premiere starring Nick Adams, features “The Ballad of Johnny Yuma” theme sung by Johnny Cash (not issued as single until June, 1961); again ignites a new genre (Civil War songs), as Horton hits Top 10 C&W that month with “Johnny Reb.”


After a succession of studio drummers (including J.M. Van Eaton and Buddy Harman), W.S. Holland joins touring and recording group as a regular member for decades to come.

Dozen-plus singles keep Cash in forefront, as Columbia hits (“Frankie’s Man, Johnny,” “I Got Stripes” b/w “Five Feet High and Rising,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Seasons Of My Heart,” “Second Honeymoon”) jockey on C&W and pop charts with final year of Tennessee Two Sun sides (“Luther Played the Boogie,” “Katy Too,” Gene Autry’s “Goodby Little Darlin’,” “Mean Eyed Cat,” “Oh Lonesome Me”).

January 1, 1960:

San Quentin is first free show of many by Cash at California prisons, finds 22-year old inmate Merle Haggard sitting in first row.

September, 1960:

Ride This Train released, subtitled “A Stirring Travelogue of America in Song and Story,” his first “concept” album interweaving music and narration.


First Hollywood recording sessions yield “Tennessee Flat Top Box” (#1 C&W hit for Rosanne in 1987) and “The Big Battle,” metaphor for his separation from wife and family as early hints of drug and alcohol abuse seep into public notoriety.

As the Carter Family joins the Johnny Cash road show, burgeoning folk music boom, centered in New York, fosters connection to his reservoir of alienated and disenfranchised Americana, which is likened to the best of Woody Guthrie, John Steinbeck, and young Bob Dylan.

summer, 1962:

Back in Nashville, first recordings with Carter Family include folk music (“The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer”) and gospel numbers (“There’ll Be Peace In the Valley For Me,” “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord”).


Consecutive C&W hits with “In the Jailhouse Now” (old Jimmie Rodgers tune) and “Busted” (Harlan Howard via Ray Charles), with Carter Family, add to rebellious, anti-establishment image. Cash is now living in Greenwich Village, epicenter of U.S. folk music scene, inspiration for his album Blood, Sweat & Tears, dominated by traditional folksongs.

March 25, 1963:

“Ring Of Fire” (written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore) recorded in Nashville with mariachi-style trumpets and Carter Family on backing vocals; hits #1 C&W (for 7 weeks), Cash’s first #1 in four years. Quick sound-alike follow-up, “The Matador” hits #2 (for 2 weeks).

July 27, 1963:

Ring Of Fire (The Best of Johnny Cash) enters Top LPs chart, collection of folk, gospel, Civil War, gunslinger, Carter Family, and jukebox hits.

January 11, 1964:

When Billboard debuts its new Hot Country Albums chart, Ring Of Fire is listed at #1, where it stays 14 weeks, his first RIAA gold album.

July, 1964:

I Walk the Line, which includes 6 newly recorded Sun hits, enters C&W (#1 for 4 weeks) and pop album charts; his second RIAA gold album.

November 7, 1964:

“It Ain’t Me Babe” (written by Bob Dylan), duet with June Carter, hits #4 C&W, spends 22 weeks on chart; later becomes top 10 career-making debut hit by the Turtles in summer ’65.

November 14, 1964:

Bitter Tears (Ballads of the American Indian) enters C&W chart, hits #2, songs written with Native American laureate Peter LaFarge, including “The Ballad Of Ira Hayes,” intensifies Cash connection to progressive faction of folk movement.

February 20, 1965:

“Orange Blossom Special” (with Charlie McCoy, harmonica, and Boots Randolph, sax) enters C&W chart, hits #3, title tune single from LP that enters chart one month later, also hits #3, landmark fusion of C&W and folk, with “It Ain’t Me Babe” and two more Dylan tunes.

June 17, 1965:

Appears at first New York Folk Festival, Carnegie Hall in New York.


“The Sons of Katie Elder,” John Wayne film title song, hits top 10 C&W.

March 4, 1967:

“Jackson” duet with June Carter (with Carl Perkins, guitar) enters C&W chart, hits #2; quickly covered by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood as pop hit three months later.

September 2, 1967:

Carryin’ On With Johnny Cash & June Carter enters C&W chart, hits #5, solidifies their partnership with reprise of their chart duets and new ones like Mimi & Dick Farina’s “Pack Up Your Sorrows” and two from Ray Charles, “I Got a Woman” and “What’d I Say.”

January 13, 1968:

Folsom Prison (California) concert is recorded by Columbia.

February 29, 1968:

Cash & Carter win Grammy for Best C&W Performance by a Duo/Group for “Jackson” at 10th annual awards.

March, 1968:

Johnny Cash and June Carter are wed.

June, 1968:

“Folsom Prison Blues” (update of 1956 Sun hit) single from new album, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, first LP with new producer Bob Johnston; both single and LP enter C&W charts, both hit #1 for 4 weeks. Album spends 92 weeks on C&W chart, 122 weeks on pop chart; certified RIAA platinum, chosen CMA Album of the Year (in October).

December 7, 1968:

“Daddy Sang Bass,” written by Carl Perkins, with Perkins, guitar, Statler Brothers and Carter Family, background vocals, enters C&W chart, hits #1 (for 6 weeks); from The Holy Land, concept album of inspirational songs about Israel with narrative. Song lyric mentions “little brother,” that is, Jack Cash, who has died accidentally in tragic electric sawing accident.

February 17, 1969:

Cash sits in on one session for Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, produced by Bob Johnston, duet on Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country”; LP released in May features liner notes by Cash.

February 24, 1969:

San Quentin Prison (California) concert is recorded by Columbia.

March 12, 1969:

“Folsom Prison Blues” wins Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, and Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison wins Best Liner Notes at 11th annual awards.

June 7, 1969:

“The Johnny Cash Show” premieres on ABC-TV from Grand Ole Opry with special guest Bob Dylan (on first show); and regular cast, Tennessee Three, June Carter and Carter Family, Statler Brothers, and Carl Perkins, stepping in for Luther Perkins, who has just died accidentally in tragic fire. Bob Wootton becomes permanent replacement in Cash’s band, and a mainstay for the next three decades.

July, 1969:

“A Boy Named Sue” (written by Shel Silverstein) enters C&W chart, hits #1 (for 5 weeks), certified RIAA gold, chosen CMA Single Of the Year, from album….

Johnny Cash at San Quentin, also including Bob Dylan’s “Wanted Man,” enters C&W and pop charts, hits #1 C&W (for 20 weeks) and spends 55 weeks; and #1 pop (for 4 weeks) and spends 70 weeks; certified RIAA double-platinum, chosen CMA Album Of the Year and Cash named CMA Entertainer Of the Year.

November 22, 1969:

“Blistered” (written by Billy Edd Wheeler) with Perkins, guitar, b/w “See Ruby Fall” double-A sided hit enters C&W chart, hits #4.


Sun Records license acquired by Shelby Singleton, who begins extensive reissue program, beginning with “Get Rhythm” single and album of same title, then Original Golden Hits, Volume I and Volume II, Show Time, Story Songs of the Trains and Rivers, and The Singing Story Teller, all of which break on the C&W and pop charts, confirming the enduring legacy of that early (1955-1958) Cash music on Sun.

January 24, 1970:

“If I Were a Carpenter” (written by Tim Hardin, via Bobby Darin), duet by Cash & Carter enters C&W chart, hits #2.

February 14, 1970:

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash enters C&W chart, hits #1 (for 4 weeks), certified RIAA gold, includes last two singles, above.

March 11, 1970:

“A Boy Named Sue” wins Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, (Shel Silverstein wins Best Country Song) and Johnny Cash wins Best Albums Notes (for Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline) at 12th annual awards.

April 17, 1970:

Invited to White House to perform for President Nixon.

June 6, 1970:

The World of Johnny Cash compilation double-LP enters C&W chart, hits #2 (for 2 weeks), certified RIAA gold.

September 5, 1970:

“Sunday Morning Coming Down” (written by Kris Kristofferson), which describes an addict’s turmoil, enters C&W chart, hits #1 (for 2 weeks), wins CMA Song of the Year for Kris, single from….

November 14, 1970:

The Johnny Cash Show, recorded live at the Grand Ole Opry, enters C&W chart, hits #1 (for 4 weeks), certified RIAA gold.

December 19, 1970:

I Walk The Line, soundtrack from movie (based on the novel, An Exile) starring Gregory Peck; and single “Flesh and Blood” both enter C&W charts; LP hits #9 and single hits #1.

March 16, 1971:

“If I Were a Carpenter” wins Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo/Group at 13th annual awards (Cash’s last Grammy for more than 15 years).

March 27, 1971:

“Man In Black,” with one verse referring to Vietnam, is first single produced by Johnny Cash (after two years with Johnston) enters C&W chart, hits #3, single from….

June 19, 1971:

Man In Black, album produced by Johnny Cash, with left-wing leaning “Singin’ In Vietnam Talkin’ Blues” and “Ned Kelly” balanced by duet with evangelist Billy Graham, enters C&W chart, hits #1 (for 2 weeks).

May, 1971:

Final ABC-TV broadcast of “The Johnny Cash Show,” after having presented such rarely-seen guests as Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Roy Orbison, Hank Williams Jr., Dennis Hopper, Judy Collins, and Merle Haggard. Johnny Cash and June Carter journey to Israel to film “Gospel Road” documentary about contemporary life in the Holy Land.

October 23, 1971:

The Johnny Cash Collection (His Greatest Hits, Volume II) enters C&W chart, hits #5, certified RIAA platinum, his final platinum album to-date.


Touring and recording continues, along with involvement in Native American rights, prisoner rights, and evangelical work with Billy Graham’s crusade. There is also a new preoccupation: Acting – in movies and on tv, e.g. “A Gunfight” (western with Kirk Douglas), and a memorable “Columbo” episode, though many more roles will follow.

Columbia chart albums and chart singles include: A Thing Called Love (with title tune and “Papa Was a Good Man,” both featuring the Evangel Temple Choir on background vocals, and “Kate”); Johnny Cash: America (A 200-year Salute In Story and Song) concept LP with narrative interwoven between new and previously issued ‘period’ songs; and The Johnny Cash Songbook (compilation on Harmony label).


Columbia chart albums and chart singles include: Any Old Wind That Blows (with title tune and “Oney,” and two duets with June, “If I Had a Hammer” and “The Loving Gift”); The Gospel Road documentary soundtrack featuring Carter Family, Statler Brothers (with “Children”); Johnny Cash and His Woman duet LP with June Carter (with “Allegheny”); and Sunday Morning Coming Down compilation.


Columbia chart albums and chart singles include: Ragged Old Flag (with title tune single); Five Feet and Rising; and The Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me (with June Carter, and introducing 19-year olds Carlene Carter and Rosanne Cash).


Cash completes his autobiography, The Man In Black, in the same year that Lefty Frizzell, Cousin Jody, George Morgan, Hank Williams’ widow Audrey and promoter Oscar Davis all die; Marty Robbins, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Hank Williams Jr., and Elvis Presley are all hospitalized; and Robert Altman’s satirical film “Nashville” is released.

Mideast oil embargo finally catches up with music business: oil prices quadruple, causing gasoline shortages and skyhigh prices that curtail touring, along with vinyl shortages that restrict record pressing. Older catalog (and older artists) are the first to feel effects of this recession.

October 11, 1975:

Look at Them Beans enters C&W chart, hits #38, featuring title tune single (C&W #17).

April 3, 1976:

Strawberry Cake enters C&W chart, hits #33, featuring title tune single (C&W #17).

June 12, 1976:

One Piece At a Time by ‘Johnny Cash & the Tennessee Three’ enters C&W chart, hits #2 (for 2 weeks), his biggest album in four years, featuring title tune ‘novelty’ single which hits #1(for 2 weeks), and follow-up “Sold Out of Flagpoles” (#29).

August, 1976:

The Johnny Cash Show taped at the Grand Ole Opry spends four weeks as summer replacement variety series on CBS-TV network.


Columbia chart albums and chart singles include: The Last Gunfighter Ballad (with title tune single); and The Rambler (with “Lady” and “After The Ball”).

January 31, 1977:

At 4th annual American Music Awards, receives special Award of Merit.

May 13, 1978:

I Would Like To See You Again enters C&W chart, hits #23, featuring title tune single (C&W #12).

September 8, 1979:

Silver, commemorating “25 years in the profession,” enters C&W chart, hits #28, featuring “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” (C&W #2, with Carter Family and Earl Poole Ball, piano); “I’ll Say It’s True” (C&W #42, with George Jones); and “Bull Rider” (C&W #66, with Ricky Skaggs and new son-in-law Rodney Crowell, who married Rosanne in 1979).


Rockabilly Blues, late-punk rock era LP distinguished by single of “Without Love,” written and produced in London by new son-in-law Nick Lowe (who married Carlene Carter on August 18, 1979), featuring Rockpile members Lowe and Dave Edmunds, guitarist Martin Belmont (of Graham Parker’s Rumour), and drummer Pete Thomas (of Elvis Costello’s Attractions).

October 13, 1980:

CMA Hall of Fame induction announced, at annual awards.

July 4, 1981:

The Baron enters C&W chart, hits #24, featuring title tune single (C&W #10), which inspires TV movie; and “Mobile Bay” (C&W #60).

April 24, 1982:

The Survivors , starring Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, enters C&W chart, hits #21, live recording at Cash concert in Stuttgart, W. Germany one year earlier (April 23, 1981), when Lewis and Perkins (also on-tour of festivals at same time) showed up unexpectedly and were asked to perform on second half of Cash show; live tapes edited and mixed by co-producer Rodney Crowell.

late 1983-1984:

Johnny 99, working-class album inspired by Bruce Springsteen title tune and “Highway Patrolman” (both from his 1982 home-recorded acoustic LP, Nebraska); also includes single remake of “I’m Ragged But I’m Right” (C&W #75); two from songwriter Paul Kennerley, “That’s the Truth” (C&W #84) and “Brand New Dance”; and new version of “Joshua Gone Barbados” (Eric Von Schmidt via Tom Rush).

June 1, 1985:

Highwayman, trend-setting phenomenon starring Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson in various singing combos, enters C&W chart (where it spends 66 weeks) and hits #1, and pop chart (where it spends 35 weeks), certified RIAA gold. Features title tune single written by Jimmy Webb (C&W #1), and Guy Clark’s “Desperadoes Waiting For a Train” (C&W #15).

January 27, 1986:

Shares “Highwayman” awards for Favorite Country Video, Duo/Group and Favorite Country Video Single at 13th annual American Music Awards.

February 25, 1986:

“Highwayman” wins Grammy for Webb for Best Country Song (same night Rosanne Cash wins her one career Grammy to date, as Best Country Vocal, Female for “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me”), at 28th annual awards.

June 21, 1986:

Heroes with Waylon Jennings, produced by Chips Moman with liner notes by western movie legend Lash LaRue, one-off on Epic Records after 28 years at Columbia, enters C&W chart, hits #13, featuring “Event Cowgirls Get the Blues” (C&W #35, written by Rodney Crowell).

Same week: Class of ’55 Memphis Rock & Roll Homecoming, starring Cash, Lewis, Perkins and Roy Orbison, on Moman’s America/Smash label, enters C&W chart, hits #15, distinguished by 8-minute all-star closing party on John Fogerty’s “Big Train (From Memphis)” with the four singers, June Carter, Rick Nelson, Fogerty, Dave Edmunds, Sam Phillips, the Judds, Marty Stuart and others.

February 24, 1987:

Shares Grammy for Interviews From Class of ’55 Recording Sessions , voted Best Spoken Word Recording at 29th annual awards.

March, 1987:

Johnny Cash Columbia Records 1958-1986 2-LP anthology released, in which Marty Stuart’s liner notes reveal Cash recorded some 1,450 titles for label over 28 year tenure.

May 16, 1987:

Johnny Cash Is Coming To Town, first LP for Mercury Records, enters C&W chart, hits #36, featuring “The Night Hank Williams Came To Town” with Waylon Jennings guest vocal (C&W #43); and “W. Lee O’Daniel (And the Light Crust Dough Boys)” written by James Talley (C&W #72).


Classic Cash Hall Of Fame Series, produced by Johnny Cash on Mercury, features new recordings of 20 hits from Sun and Columbia years.

‘Til Things Are Brighter, tribute album released by Rhino Records to benefit AIDS research, with tracks by Michelle Shocked and others.

December 17, 1988:

Water From the Wells Of Home, third LP for Mercury, this time with an all-star guest list (Rosanne, Waylon, Everly Brothers, Paul McCartney, EmmyLou Harris, and others), enters C&W chart, hits #48, featuring “That Old Wheel” duet with Hank Williams Jr. (C&W #21).


Boom Chicka Boom (Mercury) includes remakes of “Family Bible” and Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In the Cradle.”


Johnny Cash receives the Academy of Country Music’s Pioneer Award at annual ceremony.

March 17, 1990:

Highwayman 2, one-off on Columbia where Willie Nelson is coming to the end of his 16-year tenure, again co-starring Cash, Jennings, and Kristofferson in various singing combos, enters C&W chart (where it spends 47 weeks) and hits #4, and pop chart (where it spends 13 weeks). Features “Silver Stallion” (C&W #25).

March 16, 1991:

Patriot compilation of Columbia songs enters C&W chart, hits #67.

March 23, 1991:

The Mystery of Life, fourth and final Mercury album, enters C&W chart, hits #70, featuring “Goin’ By the Book” (C&W #69).


The Essential Johnny Cash (1955-1985) 3-CD deluxe box-set compilation produced by Gregg Geller, with liner notes by Columbia staff writer Arthur Levy and Bill Flanagan (Musician magazine), presents 75 songs, including 15 seminal Sun sides.

January 15, 1992:

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the 7th annual ceremonies in New York City.

February 25, 1992:

Grammy Legend Award, “for ongoing contributions and influence in the recording field,” presented by National Trustees at 34th annual awards.

October 16, 1992:

At Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration at Madison Square Garden, Cash and Carter sing “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” subsequently included on 2-CD live recording and 2-cassette home video packages.

July 24, 1993:

Zooropa by U2 enters pop chart, hits #1 (for 2 weeks), featuring Johnny Cash guest vocal on “The Wanderer.”

May 14, 1994:

American Recordings, simple acoustic roots-radical album debut on hip hop/metal producer Rick Rubin’s label of same name, enters C&W chart, hits #23; and enters pop chart for 9 weeks. Features Cash originals and songs by Nick Lowe (“The Beast In Me”), Kristofferson (“Why Me Lord”), Glenn Danzig (“Thirteen”), Leonard Cohen (“Bird On A Wire”), Tom Waits (“Down There By the Train”), Loudon Wainwright III (“The Man Who Couldn’t Cry”) and more. Gloomy video for “Delia’s Gone” features model Kate Moss and becomes an MTV favorite.

January 26, 1995:

Rolling Stone magazine Critics’ Picks issue names Johnny Cash Best Country Artist and Comeback of the Year for American Recordings.

March 1, 1995:

American Recordings wins Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album at 37th annual awards.

January 27, 1996:

Dead Man Walking (Columbia) original motion picture soundtrack, enters pop chart for 13 weeks, with “In Your Mind” by Johnny Cash.

November 23, 1996:

Unchained (American) enters C&W chart, hits #26; and enters pop chart for 2 weeks. Main backup by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Marty Stuart.

December, 1996:

Johnny Cash is honored at the annual Kennedy Center Awards.

February 25, 1998:

Unchained wins Grammy for Best Country Album at 40th annual awards.

June 27, 1998:

VH1 Storytellers with Willie Nelson, enters C&W, hits #25, and enters pop chart for 2 weeks.

April 6, 1999:

TNT cable channel videotapes all-star tribute concert to Johnny Cash at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, to be broadcast 12 days later.

October 1999:

Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison (Columbia/Legacy) begins long-range reissue campaign of new digitally remastered versions of his vintage albums in expanded editions. Released as part of the inaugural first set of new American Milestones series with similar expanded editions of landmark albums by Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, and Tammy Wynette.

February 23, 2000:

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award is bestowed at 42nd annual ceremonies.

June 10, 2000:

Love, God, Murder (Columbia/Legacy) enters C&W chart for 1 week, unique boxed set trilogy of thematically chosen 16-song anthologies. Liner notes written by June Carter Cash (for Love), Bono of U2 (God), and Quentin Tarantino (Murder), complemented, in turn, by Johnny Cash’s own thoughts on each.

July 4, 2000:

Johnny Cash At San Quentin (The Complete 1969 Concert (Columbia/Legacy) continues American Milestones series as the 8-song LP of 1969 is restored to 17 tracks and original concert sequence; second set in this series features more landmark albums by Johnny Horton, George Jones, Willie Nelson, plus Carter Family compilation.

November 4, 2000:

American III: Solitary Man (American) enters C&W chart, hits #11; and enters pop chart for 4 weeks.

December 11, 2001:

Johnny Cash: America (A 200-Year Salute In Story And Song) (1972), and Ragged Old Flag (1974) are released on Columbia/Legacy CD in the U.S. for the first time, after being out-of-print for decades. Release date coincides with 2-month observance of September 11th terrorist attacks.

February 12, 2002:

The Essential Johnny Cash (Columbia/Legacy and Razor &Tie joint venture release) marks the first comprehensive 2-CD/cassette collection to represent his four decades on Sun, Columbia and Mercury labels, climaxes with “The Wanderer” from U2 Zooropa album. Package also signals the launch of major Columbia/Legacy album reissue campaign in honor of his 70th birthday year celebration.

February 26, 2002:

Johnny Cash’s 70th birthday.

March 12, 2002:

The Fabulous Johnny Cash (1959, his first Columbia LP), Hymns By Johnny Cash (1959, his second Columbia LP), Ride This Train (1960), Orange Blossom Special (1965), and Carryin’ On With Johnny Cash and June Carter (1967) reissued by Columbia/Legacy in digitally remastered expanded editions, as 70th birthday year celebration album reissue campaign continues.

August 27, 2002:

Johnny Cash At Madison Square Garden (previously unissued 1969 concert, over 77 minutes, with Perkins, Statler Brothers, and Carter Family), Songs Of Our Soil (1959 farmboy ‘concept’ album), Johnny Cash Sings Ballads Of The True West (1965 anti-Wild West ‘concept’ LP), and Silver (25th anniversary LP of 1979) – are reissued by Columbia/Legacy in digitally remastered expanded editions (with bonus tracks and new liner notes), as 70th birthday year celebration continues.

November 23, 2002:

American IV: The Man Comes Around (American, now with Universal Music), destined to be the final complete studio album by Johnny Cash, enters C&W chart, hits #4; and enters pop chart for 15 weeks. Fourth album with producer Rick Rubin features Cash originals, and songs by Hank Williams (“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”), Tex Ritter (“Sam Hall”), the Beatles (“In My Life”), Eagles (“Desperado”), Ewan MacColl (“First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”), Paul Simon (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), Sting (“I Hung My Head”), Depeche Mode (“Personal Jesus”), Nine Inch Nails (“Hurt”), and more. Video for “Hurt” directed by Mark Romanek creates a sensation at MTV and VH1, and is nominated for Video Of the Year at MTV VMAs.

February 23, 2003:

“Hurt” wins Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video at 46th annual awards.

May 15, 2003:

June Carter Cash dies.

September 12, 2003:

Johnny Cash dies.

October 7, 2003:

Artist’s Choice: Music That Matters To Him (Columbia/Legacy/Hear Music series), first posthumous release, in which Johnny Cash chose 14 personal favorites by Hank Williams, Mahalia Jackson, Red Foley, Eddy Arnold, Bob Dylan, Kristofferson, Robbins, Horton, Ronstadt and others.

March 23, 2004:

Life released, sequel to Love*God*Murder (Columbia/Legacy), 18 Cash tracks touching on people, events, feelings, predicaments, and hard knocks, with previously unreleased 1977 recording, “I Can’t Go On That Way.”

June 7, 2005:

Johnny Cash – The Legend, deluxe 4-CD box set (Columbia/Legacy), 104 songs spanning 1955-2002, with liner notes and artist testimonials; themed CDs: Win, Place and Show (all 27 of his songs that hit #1, #2, or #3 on the C&W chart from 1956 to ’79); Old Favorites and New (27 singles and album tracks from 1955 to ’94); The Great American Songbook (26 songs emphasizing folk, blues, hillbilly, and standards, 1955 to ’80); and Family and Friends (24 songs with many special guests, from 1962 to 2002).

Deluxe ‘coffee-table’ sized limited edition of Johnny Cash – The Legend also issued, housing a giant 12×16 inch hard-cover 120-page book, 12×16 inch color lithograph painted by Marc Burckhardt, bonus DVD – Johnny Cash: The First 25 Years (one hour of musical numbers only culled from CBS-TV special originally aired in 1980), and bonus CD – Johnny Cash On the Air (home taping of his first radio appearance, possibly his first recording, on KWEM’s “Mid-South Country Frolics” in 1954; followed by home taping of dj “Texas” Bill Strength’s “Melody Ranch” program plug for historic “Country Jamboree” concert at Overton Park Shell).

Keep On The Sunny Side: June Carter Cash – Her Life In Music, deluxe 2-CD album with new liner notes (Columbia/Legacy), is released concurrently, first ever comprehensive anthology of her career, 40 tracks from age 10 with Carter Family on XERA Tex-Mex border radio and on RCA (1949), all Columbia years (1952-76), through 2002-03 Capitol and Dualtone sides.

September 14, 2005:

Property from the estate of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash brings in $1.24 million on first day of three-day auction at Sotheby’s in New York, including custom-made abalone-inlaid acoustic guitar for $131,200. Items from 769 lots include an autographed photo of Elvis to June ($18,000), striped prisoner’s jacket from Folsom Prison ($6,000), several black jackets, 1987 Rolls Royce, and grand piano seen in “Hurt” video.

November 18, 2005:

Walk The Line (20th Century-Fox) opens nationwide, motion picture starring Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June; co-written and directed by James Mangold.