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Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, was a singer, guitarist, and songwriter whose music innovatively mixed country, rock, blues, and gospel influences.
Johnny Cash - Hurt (3:32)
Watch a short video about Johnny Cash and find out the highlights and low lights of the career of this rock, gospel and country legend.
As Johnny Cash entered the final days of his life, he covered "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails, and it became one of his most successful and heartbreaking recordings of all time.
After years of presenting himself as the Patriot, Rick Rubin returned Johnny Cash to his darker side in order to expose him to new audiences.
Johnny Cash wrote one of his most well-known songs, "The Man in Black" to explain just why he always dresses in black.
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The employment and Cash's time in Michigan were short lived, however, and about a month after taking the job, he bolted for the U.S. Air Force. As a military man, Cash did his basic training in Texas, where met Vivian Liberto, whom he'd eventually marry and father four daughters with. For the bulk of his four years in the Air Force, Cash was stationed in Landsberg, West Germany, where he worked as a radio intercept officer,
eavesdropping on Soviet radio traffic.
It was also in Germany that Cash began to turn more of his attention toward music. With a few of his Air Force buddies he formed the Landsberg Barbarians, giving Johnny a chance to play live shows, teach himself more of the guitar, and also take a shot at songwriting. "We were terrible," he said later, "but that Lowenbrau beer will make you feel like you're great. We'd take our instruments to these honky-tonks and play until they threw us out or a fight started. I wrote 'Folsom Prison Blues' in Germany in 1953."
After his discharge in 1954, Cash settled in Memphis, Tennessee, where he married Vivian and worked, as best he could, as an appliance salesman. Pursuing music on the side, Cash teamed up with a couple of mechanics, Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins, who worked with Johnny's older brother Roy. The young musicians soon formed a tight bond, with the crew and their wives often heading over to Luther's house on Friday nights to play music, much of it gospel. Cash, who banged away on an old $5 guitar he'd purchased in Germany, was the front-man for what became known as Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. Their sound was a synthesis of blues and country-and-western music, which was coined "rockabilly" by those in the record industry. (In 1960, with the addition of drummer W.S. Holland, the group was later named Tennessee Three.) "He was a decent singer, not a great one," wrote Marshall Grant, in his 2006 autobiography, I Was There When it Happened: My Life with Johnny Cash. "But there was power and presence in his voice."
In July 1954, another Memphis musician, Elvis Presley, cut his first record, sparking a wave of not only Elvis-mania but an interest in the local producer, Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, who had issued the record. Later that same year Cash, Grant and Perkins made an unannounced visit to Sun to ask Phillips for an audition. The Sun Records owner gave in and Cash and the boys returned to Sun in late 1954. At the audition Phillips liked their sound but not their gospel driven song choices, which he felt would have a limited market.
Phillips was looking for new material and encouraged the group to return with an original song. In early 1955, Cash and his group did just that, recording the song "Hey Porter," which Cash wrote just a week after that first Sun session. While met with mediocre reviews, Cash's second release, "Cry, Cry, Cry" later that year peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard charts. Other hits soon followed, including a pair of Top 10 singles in "So Doggone Lonesome" and "Folsom Prison Blues." But true fame arrived in 1956, when Cash wrote and released "I Walk The Line," which catapulted to No.
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When it comes to singing about struggle and emotion, there are few genres that match the intensity of country music. Country music was born from musicians that were brave enough to wear their hearts on their sleeves from happiness to heartache. Because of country icons like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Jimmie Rodgers, this southern, soulful genre has grown to become loved by many. Browse through the legends that established country music as the popular genre that it is today.
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