Less than a month after his death, a Johnny Cash biography is ready to roll and publishers are queuing up at the world’s biggest book fair to sign on for the tale of the country music legend.
Garth Campbell's “Johnny Cash — He Walked the Line” sure has the right title as the hell-raising Man In Black was the first to admit: “I had so many devils yapping at my heels for so many years with all of the drugs and everything.”
In a career spanning almost 50 years, the gravel-voiced singer with the deadpan delivery became an American icon whose appeal transcended the confines of country and western music.
After he died at the age of 71 suffering complications from diabetes, the tributes were heartfelt to the singer who sold 50 million records and fought through after years of addiction.
U2 singer Bono said of Cash: “Locusts and honey — not since John The Baptist has there been a voice like that crying in the wilderness. Every man knows he is a sissy compared to Johnny Cash.”
Former Beatle Paul McCartney said simply: “His vocal style has always been one of the most distinctive and his songs and recordings are amongst some of the most memorable ever.”
The timing of the book’s publication is pure chance for country and western journalist Campbell, a life-long Cash fan who divides his time between New York and Tennessee.
“We are not cashing in on Cash,” said publisher John Blake. “This is a warm and heartfelt tribute to a man who changed the face of music. It just happened to be in preparation when he died.”
“We commissioned the book 12 months ago,” Blake told Reuters. “We had planned to publish in 2004 and then tragically he passed away. It will now be out in November.”
His stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair certainly has taken on a truly international flavour.
“So far I have sold the rights to the United States, Japan, Germany, the Czech Republic and Jamaica,” Blake said. “I hadn’t realised what a global star he was. I would expect to sell it to most countries.”
Cash exuded a dangerous mystique. When he boasted of shooting a man in Reno “just to watch him die” in the (fictional) song “Folsom Prison Blues,” his cheering audiences believed him.
But in real life, he was devoted to his family. He married his second wife, June Carter Cash, in 1968, more than a decade after announcing to her that she would be his wife someday. Her death in May robbed him of his will to live.
As he said so poignantly after her death ended a great American love story “The pain is so severe, there is no way of describing it. It’s the biggest... losing your mate. I guarantee it is the big one. It really hurts.”