On February 26, 1932, a child named J.R. Cash came into this world in Kingsland, Arkansas. Several years later, that kid grew up to become Johnny Cash, one of the most influential musicians of all time.
Cash had been interested in music ever since he was a kid, and he frequently sang while he worked on the cotton fields with his family during the Great Depression. At the tender age of 12, his mom and one of her friends taught him how to play guitar, and ever since then Cash has been composing and playing his very own music.
When he was 18, Cash enlisted in the United States Air Force, and then he created his very first band while he was stationed in Germany. Cash ended up being honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1954, and it wasn’t long before he returned to the USA.
Cash relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, that very same year, where he worked as an appliance salesman while studying to be a radio announcer. At some point, Cash built up the courage to check out the renowned Sun Records studio, hoping that he could get a recording contract. He was able to make an impression on producer Sam Phillips with his rockabilly-style act, and then he recorded his very first songs for the label in 1955.
The two tracks, “Hey Porter” and “Cry! Cry! Cry!,” were only the first of many chart toppers to come. He was one of the greatest personalities at his prime, not to mention that he went on tour with the legendary Carter Family, which is how he got to meet the lady that would eventually be his wife, June Carter.
Recognized for his strong, baritone voice, there was no one like Cash in the music industry. No one sounded like Johnny Cash, and even today, there’s no one to match him. Each and every time he went on stage, Cash would introduce himself by stating, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”
He was not just a musician going up to sing a song – Johnny Cash was a performance in and of himself. Known as “The Man In Black” because of the black clothing he always wore up on stage, Cash matched his clothes with a dark “outlaw”-persona that represented his life and his music through and through.
Cash is still viewed as one of the biggest musicians of the 20th century, and he’s among the top-selling artists ever, with more than 90 million records sold all over the world. When Cash died on September 12, 2003 at the age of 71, he left behind a legacy that provided the world with an enormous collection of genuinely fine music.
To honor The Man In Black, we’d like to pay tribute with these three legendary songs.
“I Walk The Line”
Cash’s very first top hit, “I Walk the Line,” was launched on May 1, 1956, and was composed by Cash himself. Along with reaching # 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, the track had also been a crossover hit, and went up to the 17th place on the Billboard Hot 100.
During a telephone interview reported in Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy by Dorothy Horstman, Cash said he composed the song right after getting married to his first wife, Vivian.
“I wrote the song backstage one night in 1956 in Gladewater, Texas,” Cash shared. “I was newly married at the time, and I suppose I was laying out my pledge of devotion.” Cash initially imagined the song as a slow ballad, but his producer loved the quicker set up, which is the one that stuck.
The lyrics narrate the story of a man who’s perfectly dedicated to his love, singing “As sure as night is dark and day is light/I keep you on my mind both day and night/And happiness I’ve known proves that it’s right/Because you’re mine/I walk the line.” When it comes to rhythm, it does take on that “freight train” model heard in many of Cash’s songs.
Rolling Stone rated “I Walk the Line” as the 30th greatest song on their own list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004. When you check out Cash singing it, you can easily see why.