Produced by Hallway Entertainment
Each episode will set the cultural landscape scene and unravel and reveal the contradictions of this complicated man through the lens of a song. Each song/story will provide a calibrated insight into the unparalleled drama of a life fully lived and a career fully exploited; resilience, fortitude, love, compassion, rebellion and soul-searching resilience, fortitude, love, compassion, rebellion and soul-searching.
Cash spoke for the condemned man and his redeemer, the downtrodden coal miner, the hopeless romantic, the junkie and the righteous man. He bucked the system and created his signature persona – the Man in Black. The statement was loud and strong: Johnny Cash plays by his own rules.
“How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man?” Do the songs reflect Cash’s resolve for justice, his human failings, his passion, his grit and his search for greater meaning? Why have they surpassed the industry standards, held up stood the test of time? Was his conflict an inner struggle or a struggle with the industry or a bit of both?
I Walk The Line
Episode 1 (1955): The Hits began along the Dark Period
Cash’s early career is defined by ability to remain defiant against the status quo to achieve his destiny. After working for hours in the cotton fields, they moved to Memphis in the mid 50s, he found rock ‘n’ roll was in. Much to the chagrin of pioneer producer Sam Phillips, Cash stubbornly stayed true to his country roots. The lyrics for “I Walk The Line” came to the married Cash on the road in Texas as he struggled to remain faithful to his wife, Vivian. The temptations on the road for a musician are like no other.
The song would also prove to be one of the first examples of a complicated and contradictory artist. In many ways, this song begins a dark period for Cash when there was really no line he didn’t cross: he left his wife Vivian, became addicted to alcohol and amphetamines, and nearly destroyed his life.
Ring Of Fire
Episode 2 (1963): The Outlaw takes shape
Having found success on the charts playing the music he wanted to play, Cash risked his entire career as the wild man inside was unleashed from his cage. Although still married, Cash was falling deeply in love with June Carter. And despite his increasingly destructive behavior, June Carter was falling for him. Those feelings of undeniable attraction came to the surface in a song she was working on with songwriter Merle Kilgore. “Ring of Fire” would become a huge hit for him but as Cash spiraled out of control, he connected in the knick of time with the woman who would not only write the biggest song of his career, she would one day prove to be his salvation.
Episode 3 (1967): His love for “the forbidden Other Woman”
When Johnny Cash had the chance to meet June Carter as an artistic equal, the “fever was there” but complications (both were married) kept a forbidden love from taking the next step. Cash increasing dependency on drugs and outlaw ways made June Carter hesitant to commit to him. Just one month after the release of their duet, “Jackson,” the Man In Black hit rock bottom as he crawled into the Nickajack Caves with no intention of leaving alive. Fate, however, showed Johnny Cash not only showed him way out of the darkness and into the light. It led him into the arms of the woman who would be his wife for 35-years and “Jackson” would become the theme song of their fiery romance.
A Boy Named Sue
Episode 4 (1969): Bad Boy image takes hold
After early success in the 50s and 60s, Cash?s career began to crash in the late 60s. Cash once again found himself being pushed out by a second coming of rock ‘n’ roll. It was up to The Man In Black to save himself. Cash made the controversial decision to record inside the walls of two of the nation’s most notorious prisons. During his performance at San Quentin, Cash nearly caused an uprising and sent a message for his doubters: the famous picture taken with Cash giving the photographer the middle finger.
The cross-over success of a “Boy Named Sue,” a song he performed for the first time in San Quentin — managed to cement Cash’s reputation as radical. The Man In Black was back.
Sunday Morning Coming Down
Episode 5 (1970): TV Revival
Johnny Cash was ready for primetime with his own network series on ABC, but primetime wasn’t ready for Johnny Cash. With his show filmed every week Johnny Cash shared with viewers the music he wanted to hear: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young acts that would alienate his own longtime and old friends that would puzzle his new generation of fans (Bill Monroe, Louis Armstrong, Pete Seeger).
He bucked against the Network’s wishes by talking about Vietnam and defiantly singing the lyrics “Lord, I’m wishing that I was stoned” in Kris Kristofferson’s classic “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” ABC canceled the controversial show, but its impact on future musicians would echo for years to come.
Episode 6 (2002): Revival and Redemption
Although Johnny Cash had a body of work already deemed worthy of induction into the any music Hall of Fame, by the 1980s his career was teetering on the edge of relevancy. But the longtime rebel wasn’t going down without a fight.
An unlikely creative partnership with a hard rock/rap producer proved Cash’s career with his third and final act, but it almost didn’t happen. Cash was hesitant to sign with Rick Rubin’s label, but Rubin’s persistence to keep the music true to Cash?s roots paid off.
Cash’s series of American Recordings over his final years — most featuring just the artist and his guitar — lead to Cash delivering the most acclaimed work of his career. It also gave Cash a chance to give his musical epitaph with the astounding cover of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” and the accompanying music video will continue to fascinate and haunt music lovers for the rest of time.