I don't think you could be a '50s rock and roll musician and not dig Johnny Cash. When I first read his autobiography, Man in Black, it transformed me. It showed me the light and dark side of being a musician. I had a profound spiritual experience after reading it. Cash inspired me to lead a better life. I was only 18 at the time and was still an active drug user. I seemed to have a similar battle to his: I was drawn to spiritual fulfillment but was still held by artificial means to make myself happy, which is actually a pretty terrifying place. I could tell that Cash understood that place. Though I never met the man, he was like a spiritual and musical father to me.
His music was raw and bare boned (and often without drums). I always like that sound. Early Elvis had it and I tried to make a few recordings like that myself.
Cash had a strength and presence that has rarely been equaled. His music was born out of the harshness and vulnerability of the American Deep South. Cash once said that rockabilly came out of the cotton fields of the South. He grew up picking cotton and lived, breathed and ate cotton. It was a hard life. You can hear that in his voice. I've never picked cotton, but, like Cash, I aspire to be spontaneous and gritty when I'm on stage.
Musicians, like outlaws, can easily slip out of the 9 to 5 life. Cash knew that well. He also knew that it can catch up with you. Musicians are like wandering storytellers, but we long for community and are often held captive by the very crowds we perform for. It's ridiculous to complain, though. Music is the greatest gift to the planet.
I didn't cry when he died. I knew he'd come close to death many times before, either through drugs or illness. He simply went to a land that his music was a bridge to--a land he believed in.
I will miss the man. He obviously was so haunted by the many dark things of this world. But he chose to rise above it.