|Johnny Cash - The Legend|
|Written by Eileen Forster Keck|
J.R. Cash was born in 1932 a sharecropper's son. He chose "John" for a first name upon enlistment in the Air Force, who required their recruits have a first name, not just an inital. Soon after he became Johnny Cash, "The Man in Black", whose earthy baritone, gravelly or lyrical, is one of the greatest and most recognized voices of the recording industry.
In 1954 he auditioned for Sun Records, and by 1957 he was invited to sing at the Grand Old Opry. 1958 saw him move to Columbia Records and even greater fame and renown. He performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, and other well-known network programs, where the man and his sound pulled in even more folks than could see him in his never-ending tours.
His life was a full, if rocky one. Not long after his first successes he began to suffer the effects of drug abuse. His dependence on drugs stemmed primarily from a need to survive all the one-night shows he played, year after year. His first marriage ended in divorce, and he married collaborator June Carter (of the famously musical Carter Family). This 1968 marriage (his second, her third) lasted until her death in May of 2003—Cash died September 12 of the same year.
In the words of his former son-in-law, singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell, "Johnny Cash will, like Will Rogers, stand forever as a symbol of intelligence, creativity, compassion and common sense." He wrote his first autobiography, "Man in Black", in 1975. He became the youngest living inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980, at the age of 48.
He was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, as well. Still, he kept growing and changing to fit the times. His Unchained album included everything from songs his mama used to sing to tunes by the leading metal-heads of the day, and was a huge hit across the generations.
This four disc set—Johnny Cash: The Legend—is a tribute to the man and his songs, from 1955 to 2002. The music—104 selections in all—are an excellent overview of Cash's work and style. The tunes are arranged not in chronological order, but thematically. It's fitting, especially as Johnny Cash was one of the first to issue recordings on that basis.
Disc one, Win, Place And Show – The Hits contains the songs that everyone will know, among them "I Walk the Line" (title of the motion picture out this November), "Folsom Prison Blues", "A Boy Named Sue", and "Ring of Fire". Old Favorites And New has many that will be as familiar, if less well-known on the hits charts—"Hey Porter" (Cash's first release), "Cocaine Blues", and "25 Minutes to Go".
The third CD, The Great American Songbook, is full of folk tunes, telling many old stories—and no singer of the 20th and 21st centuries was a better story teller than Johnny Cash. His version of "The Legend of John Henry's Hammer" will have any listener spellbound until the last moment. Family And Friends—the last disc—is full of his collaborations with many others, many featuring, of course, June Carter Cash. A number of these are gospel songs, and that's where the Man in Black got his start.
There are seven unreleased tracks on this compilation and a display book. The deluxe version includes even more essays, photos, introductions and other bonuses, including a DVD and additional CD.
The sound is good, even played on inexpensive equipment. These tracks have been re-mastered to improve clarity, but still retain the raw, honest qualities so much a part of his work. It's a worthwhile investment, whether for long-time fan who wants to have a good selection at his fingertips in one place, or for the new fan who wants to know why four generations of music lovers revere this icon of soulful song.