Johnny Cash Feels Like 21 Again (1994)
The Man in Black is Back
Originally published in the May 3, 1994 issue of Country Weekly featuring Tanya Tucker on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.
Sixty-two-year-old Johnny Cash says he feels like the 21-year-old rockabilly he was back at Sun Records studios in Memphis—and it’s all because of his new label, new producer and new album.
Cash, who’s certainly seen and done it all, says he feels like a kid again ever since he started working with Rick Rubin, rock ’n’ roll’s 30-year-old “bad boy” producer.
“He got me as excited about my music as I was way back when I was 21,” said Cash, who says the experience reminded him of his famous early recordings at Sun Records.
The result: Cash’s new album is startling evidence of a still-burning, legendary willingness to take risks for his music.
The album is scheduled to be released this week.
Fresh from recording an album cut for the world’s biggest rock group, U2, Johnny signed with a maverick rock/rap label and turned to what he calls “the spiritual side of rock” for songs for his new release *American Recordings*.
The real Johnny Cash is not just The Man in Black, a ’50s country music star with an endless, distinguished career—48 pop hits, 100 singles on the country top 40 singles and 50 million records sold.
All along the way Johnny has taken chances and dramatically changed directions to show new sides of himself and his music. After all this is the gospel singer who pioneered rockabilly when he first hit Memphis.
So he made a startling change of record companies for *American Recordings.* He signed with American Recordings. (The album title is no coincidence.)
“I signed with American for just one reason,” explained Cash, “and that was Rick Rubin. I met him, I talked to him, I believed in him.”
Rubin is best known for his successes with rockers and rappers like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sir Mix-A-Lot and Jesus and Mary Chain, and his work with Mick Jagger.
“He’s interested in recording Johnny Cash in a way I’m comfortable with," said Johnny.
“The only thing he wanted to hear was me doing my songs sitting in front of a microphone with just my guitar and voice. We started from there.”
Invigorated by memories of unleashing his basic creativity back with Elvis, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee lewis, Johnny broke out of a writing dry spell and started penning songs for the new album.
“It really inspired me. I began writing more than I had in years," said Johnny, who sought out songs from Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and even some old Hank Snow.
But Johnny also turned to some of rock’s best writers. He looked at their new material, and their old.
Tom Petty sent songs, so did Van Morrison, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and Tom Waits. Heavy metal star Glenn Danzig, Loudon Wainwright III and British rock star Nick Lowe gave him their best stuff.
Picking which songs would make the final version of *American Recordings* was difficult for Johnny. He didn’t want a spiritual album "as such," he said, but he wanted to record songs with a spiritual heart.
“These people wrote such spiritual songs for me, which is great. I’m amazed at the spirituality in rock `n’ roll. People who criticize it only hear the surface. They don’t hear the core. They don’t hear the heart and soul ," said Johnny.
This latest new direction is purely his own idea, a personal artistic decision, not an attempt to influence the direction of today’s country music.
“I’m not trying to spearhead any kind of movement in country music. I gave that up a long time ago. I never have really been into doing that in the first place. I do my own thing, always have.
“But for my own personal likes and interest, I’d love to hear more spirituals from the country music community. Its the one thing that has the staying power that a lot of them need if they want to be remembered," he said.
Why can a 62-year-old country legend still surprise and thrill his fans?
Because finding genuine new ways to express his music is a vital part of his career. Johnny often told his hit-making daughter Roseanne: "I can learn more from 19 year olds than I can from people my own age.”