Merle Haggard once asked Variety, “How long has it been since a guy like Sam Phillips let a guy like Johnny Cash walk in there (the music business) and be himself?”
From the beginning of his career with Phillips’ Sun label in the mid-’50s, Cash, rough-hewn as a pine log, was only ever “himself.”
“I Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues” boomed out his distinctive bass register and no one mistook Cash for anyone else. But that didn’t stop Cash from tackling a wide range of material including gospel, rockabilly, folk protest and historical ballads.
Fans from Quentin Tarantino to rap mogul Rick Rubin kept the Cash flame alive for young listeners 40 years after the first spark, while loyal followers of the “Man in Black” to accept his banishment from country radio and be consoled by the embrace of those discovering Cash as the guy who covered a Trent Reznor song.