IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Johnny Cash is gone, but music still coming

Reissues, new collections keep Man in Black in new-release bins
/ Source: Reuters

Johnny Cash may be gone, but he will be a constant presence in the new-release bins at record stores throughout the year, thanks to several projects being overseen by his son.

Already this year, the Man in Black has logged time in the top-10 of the U.S. pop charts with a hits package tied in with the Oscar-winning film “Walk the Line,” which dealt with his forbidden love for future wife June Carter Cash. When they died within months of each other in 2003, it marked the end of one of music’s most enduring partnerships.

Cash sings a previously unissued track on a newly released album of old gospel tunes, while a collection of songs he recorded in the early 1970s will come out for the first time in May as a two-disc package.

In addition to overseeing these releases, John Carter Cash is working on an album tribute to his mother. Reese Witherspoon won an Academy Award for playing June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line.”

As if that were not enough, work is progressing on the DVD release of highlights from “The Johnny Cash Show,” the groundbreaking CBS series that premiered at the peak of Cash’s career in the late 1960s.

First up is “Voice of the Spirit: The Gospel of the South” (Dualtone Music Group), a collection of nuggets newly recorded by the likes of Mavis Staples, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell and Mighty Clouds of Joy.

New ‘Day’ dawnsJohnny Cash contributes a version of “Unclouded Day,” which he recorded four days after his wife’s funeral. As he once recounted on an episode of “The Johnny Cash Show,” where he sang “Unclouded Day” while his mother, Carrie, accompanied him on piano, the gospel classic was the first song he learned as a youngster working in the cotton fields of Dyess, Arkansas.

John Carter Cash produced the album as a way of exploring the early 20th-century musical roots of his maternal forebears, the Carter Family, country music’s first superstars.

“It was recorded, of course, with modern technology, but the instrumentation was similar, focusing on the song and the voice first and foremost,” he told Reuters.

Many of the tracks are relatively obscure, such as a trio popularized by Washington Philips, a Texas gospel blues singer from the 1920s. And they are all more than 75 years old, with the exception of the Johnny Cash-written “Over the Next Hill We’ll Be Home,” performed by Connie Smith.

“That’s been part of my quest in my musical education. I want to find these great songs, these beautiful compositions that not many people have heard, because they’re out there,” he said.

Some are better known, such as “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down,” covered here by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, while Staples and Marty Stuart, a former son-in-law of Johnny Cash, came up with a bold reinterpretation of the Rev. Gary Davis’ ”Twelve Gates to the City.”

Newly discovered tracksA new double-disc Cash set called “Johnny Cash: The Personal File” will come out May 23 via Legacy Recordings, the archival arm of Sony BMG Music.

“It’s stuff that we found in the vault. There’s just him and the guitar, beautiful recordings that were done in the early 1970s,” John Carter Cash said.

He said its purity and strength were very reminiscent of the first “American Recordings” album his father made with producer Rick Rubin in 1994, a work that helped introduce the country legend to a young rock ’n’ roll crowd.

The 49 tracks include covers of 1940s pop hits that Cash loved as a youngster, gospel and folk tunes, and original material such as a children’s song called “Tiger Whitehead.”

He is currently working on a tribute to his mother, which will boast a duet by his half-sister, Carlene Carter, and Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn, as well as contributions from Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Alison Krauss, Brad Paisley, and Patty Loveless. The as-yet-untitled set is tentatively set for a fall release via Dualtone.

There is no release date yet for the “Johnny Cash Show” home video, which requires a lot of legal paperwork, but “We’re gonna make it happen,” Cash said.

The show, which taped in Nashville, introduced artists such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Merle Haggard and Kristofferson to a mainstream TV audience, kept alive the memory of the Carter Family by employing Mother Maybelle and her three daughters as backing singers, and allowed Cash to indulge his love of old gospel tunes and railroad ballads.