He's been a recording star for thirty years. and an American legend for over twenty; he’s championed the careers of Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson; he‘s had Ku Klux Klan crosses burnt on his lawn for marrying an Italian (she had dark skin, which was enough for the Klan); he‘s stood up to be counted on numerous political issues; he’s become the best-known country singer in the world. He’s been the embodiment of the American Dream and enjoyed the riches and trappings of success, but on the downside he’s come close to following old friend Elvis Presley to an early grave.
‘Looking back,’ his voice booms down the wire, ‘a great deal of things have happened in my life. My biggest surprise, however, is that I’m still alive.’
It was back in the Sixties that Cash started using narcotics. Success had come fast after his beginnings at Sun Records, and demand ensured that he played over 300 dates a year. The public wanted to see the Man In Black and hear early hits ‘I Walk the Line’ and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. ‘The travelling was real hard,’ he remembers, ‘and I guess I started popping pills just to keep going and make that next date. Being on the road is hard. You’re away from your family and your loved ones— it’s a very isolated existence.’
These days Cash is clean. ‘My wife June Carter was really responsible in saving my life there.’ June Carter, also a singer, and from a legendary country music family, The Carters, directed her husband towards religion. Now a Born Again Christian (but never a preacher), 'Cash devotes a great deal of his time to the Church. He’s even written a book, The Man in White, as his version of the New Testament. He and June Carter live a down-home lifestyle outside Nashville, early to rise (6.30am for a quick Bible session) and early to bed. ‘My family is the most important thing in my life,’ he says. ‘I make sure now that when I tour they come with me.’
The days of 300 shows a year are long gone. Cash has recently undergone a heart bypass operation,
and is taking his career and life as it
Son-in-law ofJohnny Cash. Husband of Rosanne Cash. Well, it’s true, and Rodney Crowell can’t help it now. He can only work his hardest to ensure that his illustrious relatives don’t overshadow him much longer. (‘Johnny Cash? Well, he’s the father-in-law of Rodney Crowell — I thought everyone knew that.‘) After being viewed with a little suspicion from some country quarters for his rocking tendencies, C rowell released Diamonds and Dirt, his first album aimed squarely at a country audience. ‘I came to the realisation that I'm basically a country singer,‘ he said at the time, and despite the efforts of the New Country brigade that’s still a damning enough
v? "1'9th- 2, :
Not in his first ﬂush of youth, but back on top, Johnny
Cash headlines at the SECC on Thursday 11. Andrew Vaughan takes a ramble through the man’s back pages, while Alastair Mabbott gets the lowdown on Rodney Crowell, rising country star and husband to Cash’s daughter Rosanne.
comes, but he’s already ensured that the Cash country dynasty will continue long after he’s met his maker. Daughter Rosanne is one of the hottest new talents in Nashville, another daughter Cindy has written a song for his next album and son John Carter Cash is making a name for himself in the rock world.
‘I’ve helped my kids with music to an extent, but only if they had any talent. Rosanne has already proved that she’s quite capable of taking care of herself, and it looks as if John Carter, who sang on my Water From the Wells of Home album last year, is moving away from country and
statement to most. Shut offthe mental images of Nudie suits and rhinestones while listening to the album, though, and it's a pretty good record.
‘It's 1989,’ says Crowell. calling from Nashville, ‘and the people making this music are just as sophisticated and intelligent as
doing Springsteen kind-of rock’n’roll. I’m real proud, but I don’t think I’m ready to hang up my guitar just yet. There’s nothing in the world to replace that feeling when you go on stage. That communication with the audience, it’s very special.’
A couple of years ago CBS Records dropped Cash after he’d spent 28 years with the company. He was upset, but not shattered. ‘The record business is just that: a business. They were more concerned with new artists like Rosanne, which is how it should be. And you have to
anyone else making music. The public perception is just slow to realise the evolution that‘s gone on.‘
Because of the music's rural origins, and the snobbery of ‘sophisticated’ city-dwellers?
‘Well, the original imagery that went with it. I mean, part of it’s justiﬁed because in the early stages of television the imagery that was ﬂashed across the country was mainly guys with their teeth blacked out sitting on haybails, and those early perceptions stick, and that’s understandable. But I say to the pe0ple who are writing in television and the media now, they owe it to themselves and everyone else to try to find a better way to tell the truth about the music.’
Is Crowell, then, trying to do what he can to eradicate the stereotype of
understand, I’ve never been one for company politics. I’ve always stayed away from meetings and conferences, just going in to deliver the latest album. That doesn‘t always go down too well with some people.’ Aside from inter-company politics Cash has involved himself with real-life politics since the Sixties. Vocally opposed to racism throughout, his 1964 song ‘The Ballad of Ira Hayes’ caused quite a stir, and some radio stations refused to play it. The song concerns an Indian, Ira Hayes, who winds up drunk in a gutter, having been a World War II hero. When DJs shied away from his song Cash took out a full-page ad in Billboard magazine accusing them of being afraid of the truth. He has championed the rights of prisoners, and made a name for himself with his prison concerts. These days he runs an annual J ailathon, spending a day in prison and collecting pledges of money. He’s also heavily involved in supporting a Nashville refuge for battered wives.
‘There are a lot of things wrong in this country. I consider myself a patriot, but I don’t think that means avoiding talking about all those people who are being neglected in America. Nor does it mean presuming that our country has the right to deal in the affairs of South America.’
Back to music, and Cash has just released Classic Cash on Mercury Records, a no-frills reworking of his greatest hits. ‘Those are good songs, but they were never really recorded very well. So I thought we’d just go into the studio and cut them, basic, but using modern technology. I think it worked out just fine, and we turned it in for just $35,000, which is very cheap by today’s standards.’
He‘ll be headlining the Route 89 campaign at the SECC on Thursday 11 as the father figure of New Country. ‘There are a lot of good acts in Nashville right now, but they‘re all so different that it‘s difﬁcult to predict any trends. But it’s heartening to see so many going back to the roots of country music. For a while back there I thought people had forgotten who Hank Williams was.’
country as redneck and folksy?
‘I’m not trying to change anybody’s image of it, except where it applies to me. Like the way me and my band approach performing music for an audience; we try to come across with as much unity and versatility as we can, because we do all the songs I write, but we also do old blues, rock‘n’roll, Staples Singers, so we cover quite a bit ofground musically. And as for what we do imagewise, I can't be so presumptious as to think that I can change anything, but I can certainly do what I can to control the perception of the kind of music we play.‘
Originally from Houston, Texas, born to parents who were the descendants of sharecroppers. Rodney Crowell was a working musician from the age ofeleven. D
The List 5 — 18 May 1989 7