Monday, October 18, 2021

Johnny Cash: American Recordings; American I (1994) + American II (1996) + American III (2000) + American IV (2002) + American V (2006)

Johnny Cash was one of the most imposing and influential figures in post-World War II country music.

With his deep, resonant baritone and spare percussive guitar, he had a basic, distinctive sound. Cash didn't sound like Nashville, nor did he sound like honky tonk or rock & roll. He created his own subgenre, falling halfway between the blunt emotional honesty of folk, the rebelliousness of rock & roll, and the world-weariness of country.

Cash's career coincided with the birth of rock & roll, and his rebellious attitude and simple, direct

musical attack shared a lot of similarities with rock. However, there was a deep sense of history, as he would later illustrate with his series of historical albums, that kept him forever tied with country. And he was one of country music's biggest stars of the '50s and '60s, scoring well over 100 hit singles.

Cash, whose birth name was J.R. Cash, was born and raised in Arkansas, moving to Dyess when he was three. By the time he was 12 years old, he had begun writing his own songs. He was inspired by the country songs he had heard on the radio. While he was in high school, he sang on the Arkansas radio station KLCN.

Cash finally landed an audition with Sun Records and its founder, Sam Phillips, in 1955. Initially, Cash presented himself as a gospel singer, but Phillips turned him down. Phillips asked him to come back with something more commercial. Cash returned with "Hey Porter," which immediately caught Phillips'

ear. Soon, Cash released "Cry Cry Cry"/"Hey Porter" as his debut single for Sun. On it, Phillips billed Cash as "Johnny," which upset the singer because he felt it sounded too young; the record producer also dubbed Perkins and Grant as the Tennessee Two. "Cry Cry Cry" became a success upon its release in 1955, entering the country charts at number 14 and leading to a spot on The Louisiana Hayride, where he stayed for nearly a year. A second single, "Folsom Prison Blues," reached the country Top Five in early 1956 and its follow-up, "I Walk the Line," was number one for six weeks and crossed over into the pop Top 20.

Cash had an equally successful year in 1957, scoring several country hits including the Top 15 "Give

My Love to Rose." He also made his Grand Ole Opry debut that year, appearing all in black where the other performers were decked out in flamboyant, rhinestone-studded outfits. Eventually, he earned the nickname of "The Man in Black." Cash became the first Sun artist to release a long-playing album in November of 1957, when Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar hit the stores.

"Don't Take Your Guns to Town," Cash's second single for Columbia, was one of his biggest hits, reaching the top of the country charts and crossing over into the pop charts in the beginning of 1959.

June Carter, who was the wife of one of Cash's drinking buddies, Carl Smith, would provide Cash with

his return to the top of the charts with "Ring of Fire," which she co-wrote with Merle Kilgore. "Ring of
Fire" spent seven weeks on the top of the charts and was a Top 20 pop hit. Cash continued his success in 1964 as "Understand Your Man" became a number one hit. However, Cash's comeback was short-lived as he sank further into addiction, and his hit singles arrived sporadically. Cash was arrested in El Paso for attempting to smuggle amphetamines into the country in his guitar case in 1965.

In 1968, Cash recorded and released his most popular album, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. Recorded

during a prison concert, the album spawned the number one country hit "Folsom Prison Blues," which also crossed over into the pop charts. Cash guested on Bob Dylan's 1969 country-rock album Nashville Skyline. Dylan returned the favor by appearing on the first episode of The Johnny Cash Show, the singer's television program for ABC. The Johnny Cash Show ran for two years, between 1969 and 1971.

In the mid-'70s, Cash's presence on the country charts began to decline, but he continued to have a

series of minor hits and the occasional chart-topper like 1976's "One Piece at a Time," or Top Ten hits like the Waylon Jennings duet "There Ain't No Good Chain Gang" and "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky." Man in Black, Cash's autobiography, was published in 1975. In 1980, he became the youngest inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The Highwaymen, a band featuring Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson,

released their first album in 1985, which was also moderately successful. The Highwaymen recorded a second album in 1992, and it was more commercially successful than any of Cash's Mercury records. Around that time, his contract with Mercury ended. In 1993, he signed a contract with American Records. His first album for the label, American Recordings,

His beloved wife June Carter Cash died on May 15, 2003, of complications following heart surgery. Four months later, Johnny died of complications from diabetes in Nashville, Tennessee. He was 71.
[Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine]

American Recordings (formerly Def American Recordings) is an American record label headed by producer Rick Rubin. The label has featured artists such as Slayer, the Black Crowes, ZZ Top, Danzig, Trouble, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, The Mother Hips, and System of a Down.



American Recordings is the 81st album by the country singer Johnny Cash. It was released on April 26,

1994 by American Recordings, after it had changed its name from Def American.
The album marked the beginning of a career resurgence for Cash, who was widely recognized as an icon of American music but whose record sales had suffered during the late 1970s and 1980s.
Cash was approached by producer Rick Rubin and offered a contract with Rubin's American Recordings label, better known for rap and heavy metal than for country music. Rubin had seen Cash

perform at Bob Dylan's 30th anniversary concert in late 1992, and felt Cash was still a vital artist who had been unfairly written off by the music industry.

Suffering from health problems and recovering from a relapse of his drug addiction, Cash was initially skeptical. The two men soon bonded, however, particularly when Rubin promised Cash a high level of creative control. Rubin told the singer: "I would like you to do whatever feels right for you", and Cash decided to record the first solo album of his career without any accompanying musicians. "Sitting and talking and playing music… that was when we got to build up a friendship," Rubin recalled. "My fondest memories are just of hanging out and hearing his stories. He didn't speak much but, if you drew him out, he seemed to know everything. He was shy and quiet but a wise, wise man."


01. Delia's Gone  (Traditional attributed to Cash, Karl Silbersdorf, Dick Toops)    December 5, 1993  2:18
02. Let the Train Blow the Whistle  (Cash)  December 5, 1993    2:15
03. The Beast in Me    (Nick Lowe)    December 5, 1993    2:45
04. Drive On    (Cash)    December 6, 1993   2:23
05. Why Me Lord    (Kris Kristofferson)    December 7, 1993   2:20
06. Thirteen    (Glenn Danzig)    December 7, 1993   2:29
07. Oh, Bury Me Not (Introduction: "A Cowboy's Prayer")    (John Lomax, Alan Lomax, Roy Rogers, Tim Spencer)    May 17–20, 1993      3:52
08. Bird on the Wire    (Leonard Cohen)    December 6, 1993   4:01
09. Tennessee Stud    (Jimmy Driftwood)  December 3, 1993   2:54
10. Down There by the Train    (Tom Waits)  December 7, 1993    5:34
11. Redemption    (Cash)    December 6, 1993   3:03
12. Like a Soldier    (Cash)    December 6, 1993  2:50
13. The Man Who Couldn't Cry    (Loudon Wainwright III)    December 3, 1993    5:03


Johnny Cash – acoustic guitar, vocals, main performer, liner notes
Rick Rubin – producer
Jim Scott – mixing
David Ferguson – engineer
Stephen Marcussen – mastering
Christine Cano – design
Martyn Atkins – art director, photographer

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Unchained, also known as American II: Unchained, is the second album in Johnny Cash's American Recordings series (and his 82nd overall). It was released on November 5, 1996, by American Recordings. Like all of Cash's albums for American Recordings, Unchained was produced by Rick Rubin. The album received a Grammy for Best Country Album and Cash was nominated for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for his version of "Rusty Cage."

In contrast to the first album – on which Cash played alone – he is backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. There are guest appearances by country music veteran Marty Stuart (additional guitar on

more than half the songs); Flea (bassist from Red Hot Chili Peppers), on "Spiritual"; and by Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood, both of Fleetwood Mac, on "Sea of Heartbreak".

Unchained focuses on covers. In addition to three of Cash's own compositions, Unchained contained songs by Jude Johnstone ("Unchained"), Tom Petty ("Southern Accents"), Spain ("Spiritual"), Soundgarden ("Rusty Cage"), and Beck ("Rowboat"). The album also included a cover of the classic 1962 Hank Snow song, "I've Been Everywhere", written by Geoff Mack. From 2003 to 2009 Johnny Cash’s version of "I’ve Been Everywhere" from this album Unchained has been used in several Choice Hotels commercials and has been the theme for these commercials.

Two songs on the album had previously been recorded by Cash:

1. "Country Boy" was previously recorded by Cash for his 1957 album Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar!
2. "Mean Eyed Cat" was previously recorded by Cash for his 1960 album Johnny Cash Sings Hank Williams.


01. Rowboat (Beck cover)    Beck    3:44
02. Sea of Heartbreak (Don Gibson cover) Paul Hampton, Hal David    2:42
03. Rusty Cage (Soundgarden cover)    Chris Cornell    2:49
04. The One Rose (That's Left in My Heart) (Jimmie Rodgers cover) Del Lyon, Lani McIntire    2:26
05. Country Boy    (Johnny Cash)    2:31
06. Memories Are Made of This (Dean Martin cover) Richard Dehr, Terry Gilkyson, Frank Miller    2:19
07. Spiritual (Josh Haden cover)  Josh Haden    5:06
08. The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea (The Carter Sisters cover) Maybelle Carter, Anita Carter, Helen Carter, June Carter Cash    2:32
09. Southern Accents (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cover) Tom Petty    4:41
10. Mean Eyed Cat    (Cash)    2:33
11. Meet Me in Heaven   (Cash)    3:21
12. I Never Picked Cotton (Roy Clark cover) Bobby George, Charles Williams    2:39
13. Unchained (Jude Johnstone cover) Jude Johnstone    2:51
14. I've Been Everywhere (Lucky Starr cover) Geoff Mack    3:16


Johnny Cash – vocals, acoustic guitar
Tom Petty – vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, chamberlin
Mike Campbell – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, mandolin, dobro
Benmont Tench – piano, hammond organ, vox continental organ, harmonium, chamberlin
Rick DePiro - piano, organ (8,13)
Howie Epstein – acoustic guitar, bass
Steve Ferrone – drums and percussion (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 14)
Curt Bisquera – drums and percussion (7, 8)
Marty Stuart – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass (1, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14)
Flea – bass (7)
Lindsey Buckingham – acoustic guitar (2)
Mick Fleetwood – percussion (2)
Juliet Prater – percussion (3)
Rick Rubin – producer



Rowboat, row me to the shore.
She don't wanna be my friend no more.
She dug a hole in the bottom of my soul.
She don't wanna be my friend no more.

Pick me up, gimme some food to eat,
In your truck goin' no place.
I'll be home talkin' to nobody.
You'll be strange, you'll be far away.

Big fat moon.
And my body's out of tune.
With the burnin' waves,
She's a billion years away.

Dog food on the floor,
And I've been like this before.
She is all,
And everything else is small.

Pick me up, gimme some alcohol,
In your truck playin' the radio.
I'll be home with the gasoline.
You'll be stoned, you'll be far away.

Rowboat, row me to the shore.
She don't wanna be my friend no more.
She dug a hole in the bottom of my soul.
She is all, and everything else is small.

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American III: Solitary Man is a studio album by Johnny Cash. It was released on October 17, 2000, by

American Recordings. It is the third album in Cash's American series. Between American II: Unchained and American III: Solitary Man, Cash's health declined due to various ailments, and he was even hospitalized for pneumonia, and the illness forced him to curtail his touring.

The Man in Black shows hints of gray on American III: Solitary Man, his first studio album since being interrupted by a series of serious illnesses in 1997. While the inevitability of aging has been the

downfall of many of his contemporaries, Johnny Cash's dark convictions and powerful presence have gone from rough hardwood to solid stone. The stark beauty of his 1994 release American Recordings and the warm, friendly collaborations on 1996's Unchained combine to create two distinct moods: one of living-room jam sessions with invited friends, and another of stark solo (and near-solo) songs highlighting Cash's years and stories.

Partnering once again with Tom Petty, the two join together on Petty's own "I Won't Back Down" and the Neil Diamond-penned title track. Cash also lays his lonesome hands on U2's "One" and reunites with fellow outlaw Merle Haggard on the stubborn "I'm Leavin' Now." These duets and well-known covers show an inviting side of Johnny Cash.


01. I Won't Back Down (with Tom Petty)    Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne    2:09
02. Solitary Man    Neil Diamond    2:25
03. That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day) Haven Gillespie, Beasley Smith    2:35
04. One      Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge, Larry Mullen    3:53
05. Nobody    Bert Williams    3:14
06. I See a Darkness  (with Will Oldham)    Will Oldham    3:42
07. The Mercy Seat    Nick Cave, Mick Harvey    4:35
08. Would You Lay with Me (In a Field of Stone)     David Allan Coe    2:41
09. Field of Diamonds    Johnny Cash, Jack Wesley Routh    3:15
10. Before My Time    Cash    2:55
11. Country Trash    Cash    1:47
12. Mary of the Wild Moor    Dennis Turner    2:32
13. I'm Leavin' Now  (with Merle Haggard)    Cash    3:07
14. Wayfaring Stranger     Traditional    3:19

Total length:    42:15


Johnny Cash – vocals, guitar
Norman Blake – guitar
Mike Campbell – guitar
John Carter Cash – associate producer
June Carter Cash – vocals (9)
Laura Cash – fiddle
Sheryl Crow – vocals (9), accordion (12, 14)
Merle Haggard – guitar, vocals (13)
Will Oldham – vocals (6)
Larry Perkins – guitar
Tom Petty – vocals, organ (1), vocals (2)
Randy Scruggs – guitar
Marty Stuart – guitar
Benmont Tench – piano, organ, harmonium

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American IV: The Man Comes Around is a studio album by Johnny Cash. It was released on November 5, 2002, by American Recordings and Universal Records. It is the fourth in Cash's "American" series of albums, and the last album released during his lifetime. The album was included in the book 1001

Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

The majority of songs are covers which Cash performs in his own sparse style, with help from producer Rick Rubin. For instance, for the song "Personal Jesus", Rubin asked Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante to re-work an acoustic version of Martin Gore's song, which featured a simple acoustic riff that stripped down the song to a blues style. He receives backing vocal assistance from various artists, including Fiona Apple, Nick Cave, and Don Henley.

American IV was the final album Johnny Cash released during his lifetime; though the Unearthed
box set was compiled prior to his death, with Cash choosing the tracks and writing liner notes. American IV: The Man Comes Around was Cash's first non-compilation album to go gold in thirty years. Additionally, the album won "Album of the Year" award at the 2003 CMA Awards. It was certified gold on March 24, 2003 and platinum on November 21, 2003 by the Recording Industry Association of America, the first non-compilation album of Cash's to do so since the early 1970s.


01. The Man Comes Around    Johnny Cash    4:26
02. Hurt    Trent Reznor    3:38
03. Give My Love to Rose    Johnny Cash    3:28
04. Bridge Over Troubled Water (with Fiona Apple)    Paul Simon    3:55
05. I Hung My Head    Sting    3:53
06. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face    Ewan MacColl    3:52
07. Personal Jesus    Martin Gore    3:20
08. In My Life    Lennon–McCartney    2:57
09. Sam Hall    Tex Ritter    2:40
10. Danny Boy    Frederick Weatherly    3:19
11. Desperado (with Don Henley)    Glenn Frey/Don Henley    3:13
12. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (duet with Nick Cave)    Hank Williams    3:03
13. Tear Stained Letter   Johnny Cash    3:41
14. Streets of Laredo   Traditional    3:33
15. We'll Meet Again   (with The Whole Cash Gang)    Hughie Charles/Ross Parker    2:58


Johnny Cash – vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, arranger, adaptation
Don Henley – drums, keyboards, vocals
Fiona Apple – vocals
Nick Cave – vocals (12)
Mike Campbell, John Frusciante, Randy Scruggs – acoustic guitar, electric guitar
Thom Bresh, Jeff Hanna, Kerry Marx, Marty Stuart – acoustic guitar
Smokey Hormel – acoustic guitar, slide guitar, electric guitar
Jack Clement – Dobro
Joey Waronker – drums
David R. Ferguson – ukulele (9), engineer, mixing
Laura Cash – fiddle, production assistant
Terry Harrington – clarinet
Benmont Tench – organ, piano, harmonium, keyboards, Mellotron, vibraphone, pipe organ, Wurlitzer electric piano
Roger Manning – piano, tack piano, harmonium, Mellotron, Chamberlin, orchestra bells
Billy Preston – piano, keyboards (7, 13)
Rick Rubin – producer 


I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real

The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end

And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar's chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair

Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I'm still right here

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end

And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

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American V: A Hundred Highways is a posthumously released studio album by Johnny Cash. It was

released on July 4, 2006, by American Recordings. As the title implies, it is the fifth entry in Cash's American series. Like its predecessors, the album is produced by Rick Rubin. It was Cash's first No. 1 album in 37 years. It was certified Gold on August 18, 2006, by the RIAA.

American V: A Hundred Highways is the long-awaited album of Johnny Cash's final recordings, the basic tracks for which (i.e., Cash's vocals) were recorded in 2002-2003, with overdubs added by

producer Rick Rubin after his death on September 12, 2003, at age 71. Between 1994 and 2002, Cash and Rubin had succeeded in fashioning a third act for the veteran country singer's career, following his acclaimed 1950s work for Sun Records and his popular recordings for Columbia in the 1960s and '70s. In the '80s, Cash's star had faded, but Rubin reinvented him as a hip country-folk-rock elder at 62 with American Recordings (1994), his first new studio album to reach the pop charts in 18 years.

As with the other albums in the American series, the album includes covers and originals. The originals on this album are "I Came to Believe" and "Like the 309", the latter of which was the last song Cash

wrote before passing away in 2003. Recorded on August 21, 2003, "Like the 309" was the next-to-last song Cash ever recorded; the last being "Engine One-Forty-Three" which was produced by John Carter Cash and released on the 2004 compilation album The Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family. The album takes its name from a lyric on the track "Love's Been Good to Me" by Rod McKuen.  

If the entire series of American recordings makes for a fitting finale to a great career, American V: A Hundred Highways is a more than respectable coda.


01. Help Me    Larry Gatlin    2:51
02. God's Gonna Cut You Down    Traditional    2:38
03. Like the 309    Johnny Cash    4:35
04. If You Could Read My Mind    Gordon Lightfoot    4:30
05. Further on Up the Road    Bruce Springsteen    3:25
06. On the Evening Train    Hank Williams    4:17
07. I Came to Believe    Johnny Cash    3:44
08. Love's Been Good to Me    Rod McKuen    3:18
09. A Legend in My Time    Don Gibson    2:37
10. Rose of My Heart    Hugh Moffatt    3:18
11. Four Strong Winds    Ian Tyson    4:34
12. I'm Free from the Chain Gang Now    Lou Herscher, Saul Klein    3:00

Total length:    42:45

Johnny Cash – vocal, guitar
Laura Cash – fiddle
Dennis Crouch (bassist) – bass guitar
Smokey Hormel – guitar
Pat McLaughlin – guitar
Larry Perkins – guitar
Jonny Polonsky – guitar
Randy Scruggs – guitar
Marty Stuart – guitar
Matt Sweeney – guitar
Benmont Tench – organ, piano, harpsichord
Pete Wade – guitar
Mac Wiseman – guitar
Rick Rubin – producer, liner notes

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  1. Kostas, thanks for J. Cash!
    I was always skeptical of this songwriter, probably a prejudice.
    I will listen.
    And since your selection is always excellent, i'm excited.
    You can get the cds for very little(!!) money.
    I would like to return the favor and give you a tip from a fantastic psychedelic/new wave band from Minneapolis:
    FINE ART same 1978

  2. hello, thank you very much for this. priceless American music by a true genius. great site too -thanks. r. keith