Why Hate Groups Went After Johnny Cash in the 1960s

Why Hate Groups Went After Johnny Cash in the 1960s

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Threatening pamphlets. Canceled shows. It was 1965, and embattled country music star Johnny Cash was facing a boycott in some parts of the Jim Crow South. But the reason was not his recent arrest for potential drug smuggling—it was his appearance on the steps of a courthouse with a woman some thought was African-American.

Back in 1951, Cash was just an Air Force radio operator about to be sent overseas to intercept Soviet transmissions. That was about the time he met Vivian Liberto, a shy 17-year-old from San Antonio, at a skating rink.

After a courtship that included thousands of letters, they married in 1954. Soon after, Cash skyrocketed to fame as a rockabilly and country artist. His deft songwriting and deep voice soon gained him a fanbase, as did his outlaw-like image. Not only did he wear black to nearly all of his performances, but Cash pushed the stodgy boundaries of country music with his anti-authoritarian songs and on-stage attitude.

As he climbed to country stardom, Cash developed an addiction to prescription drugs—and a passion for another married woman, June Carter. His marriage with Vivian was on the rocks when, on October 4, 1965 he was arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border after purchasing a large quantity of amphetamines and sedatives from a Mexican dealer. Customs agents found 475 Equanil tablets and 688 Dexedrine capsules stashed in his guitar case and threw him in jail. Cash spent a night in jail and, two months later, plead guilty to the possession of illegal drugs.

He got off with a deferred sentence and a $1,000 fine—and had no idea that, as he walked down the courthouse steps in El Paso, Texas, with his wife Vivian, he was about to spark a firestorm.

An Associated Press photo of Cash and Vivian ran in newspapers the next day—and to some readers, it appeared that Vivian, an Italian-American woman who was rarely photographed, was Black.

The National States Rights Party, an Alabama white supremacist group, republished the photo in its newspaper, The Thunderbolt, with an article that dripped with racist rhetoric. The money generated by Cash’s hit records, it claimed, went “to scum like Johnny Cash to keep them supplied with dope and negro women.”

READ MORE: I Went With Johnny Cash to Folsom Prison

Cash was harassed and boycotted by some Southern fans. “Johnny and I received death threats, and an already shameful situation was made infinitely worse,” recalled Vivian in her 2008 memoir.

In an October 1966 article, Variety described Cash as “the innocent victim of a targeted hate campaign in the south.” The “racial error,” wrote the anonymous author, had sparked boycotts and threats. “In the code of the south,” the article continued, “there is no greater crime than miscegenation.” At the time, interracial marriages were banned throughout the South.

Though the National States Rights Party was not the Ku Klux Klan, it had close ties to the organization and in publicity about the campaign against Cash, many outlets—and Cash himself—identified it as the KKK.

“Cash’s manager had to respond,” says Cash biographer Michael Streissguth, author of Johnny Cash: The Biography. “He was out there saying that Cash was not married to a Black woman.” Cash made a statement that his wife was, in fact, white, and threatened a lawsuit.

“I remember talking to his daughter Roseanne about it,” says Streissguth. “She got a letter from him saying ‘I’m sorry I haven’t been home, but I’ve been out fighting the KKK.’ She said she took the letter and ripped it in half—it was just another excuse for his long absences from home.”

Streissguth finds it troubling that Cash felt he had to deny being married to a Black woman so vehemently. But, he says, Cash’s career shows he was racially tolerant. He points to Cash’s partnerships with Black artists on his ABC television show and songs like “All of God’s Children Ain’t Free,” which touches on issues of racial equality, as better indicators of Cash’s own feelings about race. Cash also commented on the United States’ treatment of indigenous people on his 1964 album Bitter Tears, a concept album that explores the destruction of Native American land and atrocities against Native Americans.

The incident “had the potential to affect his core, Southern audience,” says Streissguth, but ultimately it remained a footnote in his bigger story.

So did the National States Rights Party. Though The Thunderbolt had a subscriber base of 15,000 at its height, the party itself was small and only played a brief role in the history of American hate. “Its propaganda and public activities are all geared to arousing the passions of avowed racists and hatemongers, and in some instances, at least, it has been successful,” the FBI wrote in a 1966 report.

But its campaign against Cash only partly succeeded. “There were more cancellations of his concerts over the drug arrest than these charges the separatist group made,” says Streissguth.

Cash and Vivian’s marriage ended in 1967, a year after the stressful campaign lost steam. That same year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia. Today, attitudes about interracial marriage have changed dramatically. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 87 percent of Americans favor marriage between Black and white people—up from a mere four percent in 1958.

Johnny Cash

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Johnny Cash, byname of J.R. Cash, (born February 26, 1932, Kingsland, Arkansas, U.S.—died September 12, 2003, Nashville, Tennessee), American singer and songwriter whose work broadened the scope of country and western music.

Cash was exposed from childhood to the music of the rural South—hymns, folk ballads, and songs of work and lament—but he learned to play guitar and began writing songs during military service in Germany in the early 1950s. After military service he settled in Memphis, Tennessee, to pursue a musical career. Cash began performing with the Tennessee Two (later Tennessee Three), and appearances at county fairs and other local events led to an audition with Sam Phillips of Sun Records, who signed Cash in 1955. Such songs as “Cry, Cry, Cry,” “Hey, Porter,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “I Walk the Line” brought him considerable attention, and by 1957 Cash was the top recording artist in the country and western field. His music was noted for its stripped-down sound and focus on the working poor and social and political issues. Cash, who typically wore black clothes and had a rebellious persona, became known as the “Man in Black.”

In the 1960s Cash’s popularity began to wane as he battled drug addiction, which would recur throughout his life. At the urging of June Carter of the Carter Family, with whom he had worked since 1961, he eventually sought treatment the couple married in 1968. By the late 1960s Cash’s career was back on track, and he was soon discovered by a wider audience. The signal event in Cash’s turnaround was the album Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968), which was recorded live in front of an audience of some 2,000 inmates at California’s Folsom Prison. The performance was regarded as a risky move by record company executives, but it proved to be the perfect opportunity for Cash to reestablish himself as one of country music’s most relevant artists. He used the success of that album and its follow-up, Johnny Cash at San Quentin (1969), to focus attention on the living conditions of inmates in American prisons, and he became a vocal champion for penal reform and social justice. Live appearances in New York and London and his television show,“ The Johnny Cash Show” (1969–71), which deviated from the standard variety program by featuring such guests as Ray Charles, Rod McKuen, and Bob Dylan (who had enlisted Cash to appear on his 1969 album, Nashville Skyline), brought to the general public his powerfully simple songs of elemental experiences.

Although Cash had established himself as a legend in the music world, by the late 1980s he faced dwindling record sales and interest. In 1994, however, he experienced an unexpected resurgence after signing with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings, which was best known for its metal and rap acts. Cash’s first release on the label, the acoustic American Recordings, was a critical and popular success, and it won him a new generation of fans. Later records included Unchained (1996), American III: Solitary Man (2000), American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002), and the posthumous American V: A Hundred Highways (2006). The recipient of numerous awards, he won 13 Grammy Awards, including a lifetime achievement award in 1999, and 9 Country Music Association Awards. Cash was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980 and to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. In 1996 he received a Kennedy Center Honor. His autobiographies Man in Black and Cash (cowritten with Patrick Carr) appeared in 1975 and 1997, respectively. Walk the Line, a film based on Cash’s life, was released in 2005.

The bitter tears of Johnny Cash

By Antonino D'Ambrosio
Published November 9, 2009 1:07AM (EST)

Johnny Cash touring Wounded Knee with the descendants of those who survived the 1890 massacre in December of 1968.


In July 1972, musician Johnny Cash sat opposite President Richard Nixon in the White House's Blue Room. As a horde of media huddled a few feet away, the country music superstar had come to discuss prison reform with the self-anointed leader of America's "silent majority." "Johnny, would you be willing to play a few songs for us," Nixon asked Cash. "I like Merle Haggard's 'Okie From Muskogee' and Guy Drake's 'Welfare Cadillac.'" The architect of the GOP's Southern strategy was asking for two famous expressions of white working-class resentment.

"I don't know those songs," replied Cash, "but I got a few of my own I can play for you." Dressed in his trademark black suit, his jet-black hair a little longer than usual, Cash draped the strap of his Martin guitar over his right shoulder and played three songs, all of them decidedly to the left of "Okie From Muskogee." With the nation still mired in Vietnam, Cash had far more than prison reform on his mind. Nixon listened with a frozen smile to the singer's rendition of the explicitly antiwar "What Is Truth?" and "Man in Black" ("Each week we lose a hundred fine young men") and to a folk protest song about the plight of Native Americans called "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." It was a daring confrontation with a president who was popular with Cash's fans and about to sweep to a crushing reelection victory, but a glimpse of how Cash saw himself -- a foe of hypocrisy, an ally of the downtrodden. An American protest singer, in short, as much as a country music legend.

Years later, "Man in Black" is remembered as a sartorial statement, and "What Is Truth?" as a period piece, if at all. Of the three songs that Cash played for Nixon, the most enduring, and the truest to his vision, was "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." The song was based on the tragic tale of the Pima Indian war hero who was immortalized in the Iwo Jima flag-raising photo, and in Washington's Iwo Jima monument, but who died a lonely death brought on by the toxic mixture of alcohol and indifference and alcoholism. The song became part of an album of protest music that his record label didn't want to promote and that radio stations didn't want to play, but that Cash would always count among his personal favorites.

The story of Cash and "Ira Hayes" began a decade before the meeting with Nixon. On the night of May 10, 1962, Cash made a much-anticipated New York debut at Carnegie Hall. But instead of impressing the cognoscenti, Cash, who had begun struggling with drug addiction, bombed. His voice was hoarse and hard to hear, and he left the stage in what he described as a "deep depression." Afterward, he consoled himself by heading downtown with a folksinger friend to hear some music at Greenwich Village's Gaslight Café.

Onstage was protest balladeer Peter La Farge, performing "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." A former rodeo cowboy, playwright, actor and Navy intelligence operative, La Farge was also the son of longtime Native activist and novelist Oliver La Farge, who had won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1930 Navajo love story, "Laughing Boy." The younger La Farge had carved out an intriguing niche in the New York folk revival scene by devoting himself to a single issue. "Pete was doing something special and important," recalls folksinger Pete Seeger. "His heart was so devoted to the Native American cause at a time that no one was really saying anything about it. I think he went deeper than anyone before or since."

Cash never pretended that music could stay immune from social, but he tried his best to "not mix in politics." Instead he talked about the things that unite us like the dignity of honest work. "If you were a baker," he told writer Christopher Wren in 1970, "and you baked a loaf of bread and it fed somebody, then your life has been worthwhile. And if you were a weaver, and you wove some cloth and your cloth kept somebody warm, your life has been worthwhile."

Raised in rural poverty on the margins of America, Cash empathized with outsiders like convicts, the poor and Native Americans. But his identification with Indians was especially deep -- even delusional. During the depths of his early '60s drug abuse, he convinced himself, and told others, that he was Native American himself, with both Cherokee and Mohawk blood. (He would later recant this claim.)

At the Gaslight, once he had listened to "Ira Hayes' and La Farge's other Indian protest tunes, including "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow" and "Custer," Cash was hooked. "Johnny wanted more than the hillbilly jangle," Peter La Farge would write later about meeting Cash at the Gaslight. "He was hungry for the depth and truth heard only in the folk field (at least until Johnny came along). The secret is simple, Johnny has the heart of a folksinger in the purest sense." In fact, Cash had written an Indian folk protest ballad of his own in 1957. "I wrote 'Old Apache Squaw,'" Cash later explained to Seeger. "Then I forgot the so-called protest song for a while. No one else seemed to speak up for the Indian with any volume or voice [until Peter La Farge]."

Cash, like many in the 1960s, could see that everything that was certain, rigid and hard was breaking apart. Social movements were blossoming. But the thunderous American choir that was singing "We Shall Overcome" and "We Shall All Be Free" drowned out the cry of the loose-knit Native movement. As Martin Luther King and other leaders steered their people toward legislative victories that would further integrate them into a society they were locked out of, the rising tide of Native youth activists wanted something different.

"In my mind, Native people could not have a civil rights movement," American Indian Movement activist and musician John Trudell says. "The civil rights issue was between the blacks and the whites and I never viewed it as a civil rights issue for us. They've been trying to trick us into accepting civil rights but America has a legal responsibility to fulfill those treaty law agreements. If you're looking at civil rights, you're basically saying 'all right treat us like the way you treat the rest of your citizens'. I don't look at that as a climb up." Rather than pursue assimilation into the American system, Native American activists wanted to maintain their slipping grip on sovereignty and the little land they still possessed.

By the early '60s, the burgeoning National Indian Youth Council (NIYC) was attempting to stake its own claim for their equal share of justice. With the expansion of fishing treaty violations and the breach of two major land treaties that led to the loss of thousands of acres of tribal land in upstate New York for the Tuscarora and Allegany Seneca (the story behind La Farge's "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow"), the NIYC, led by Native activists like Hank Adams, responded by adapting the sit-in protest. Rechristened as the "fish-in," the NIYC disputed the denial of treaty rights by fishing in defiance of state law. Fish-ins were held in New York and the Pacific Northwest.

The fish-in tactic worked in helping build some public support, but it did little to stop the treaty violations. Instead, the U.S. government ramped up its efforts to crush any momentum the Native movement was building. Oftentimes their tactics were brutal and violent. "This was the time of Selma and there was a lot of unrest in the nation," remembers Bill Frank Jr. of Washington state's Nisqually tribe. "Congress had funded some big law enforcement programs and they got all kinds of training and riot gear-shields, helmets. And they got fancy new boats. These guys had a budget. This was a war."

By 1964, the Native American cause had attracted the interest of another celebrity. On March 2 the NIYC gained national attention as actor Marlon Brando joined a Washington state fish-in. Already an outspoken supporter of the civil rights movement, Brando's very public support and subsequent arrest for catching salmon "illegally" in Puyallup River helped to boost the Native movement. Brando's involvement with the Native cause had begun when he contacted D'Arcy McNickle after reading the Flathead Indian's book "The Surrounded," a powerful novel depicting reservation life in 1936. Brando's involvement in Native issues led to government surveillance that lasted decades. His FBI file, bursting with memos detailing possible means of silencing the actor, quickly grew to more than 100 pages.

Three days after Brando's arrest in Washington, Cash, fresh off the biggest chart success of his career, the single "Ring of Fire," and having just finished recording a very commercial album called "I Walk the Line," began recording another, very different album. When Cash left Sun Studios for Columbia in the late 1950s, he believed his rising star would give him the creative capital to produce and record something a little outside the pop and country mainstream -- albums of folk music and live prison concerts. He was alternating folky albums like "Blood Sweat and Tears," a celebration of the working man, with commercial discs laden with radio-ready singles. "Ring of Fire," which had reached No. 1 on the country charts and had crossed over to pop, had bought him the permission of Columbia to make an album of what he called "Indian protest songs."

In the two years since Cash had first met La Farge and listened to "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," Cash had educated himself about Native American issues. "John had really researched a lot of the history," Cash's longtime emcee Johnny Western recalled. "It started with Ira Hayes."

As Cash explained, "I dove into primary and secondary sources, immersing myself in the tragic stories of the Cherokee and the Apache, among others, until I was almost as raw as Peter. By the time I actually recorded the album I carried a heavy load of sadness and outrage."

But Cash felt a special kinship with Ira Hayes. Both men had served in the military as a way to escape their lives of rural poverty longing to create new opportunities. Plus, both suffered from addiction problems Cash and his pills and Hayes with alcohol. He decided to anchor the album with "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." And since the song had provided the spark for Cash's vision, it just felt right that he should learn more about the song's subject.

Cash contacted Ira Hayes' mother and then visited her and her family at the Pima reservation in Arizona. Before Cash left the Pima Reservation, Hayes' mother presented him with a gift, a smooth black translucent stone. The Pima call it an "Apache tear." The legend behind the opaque volcanic black glass is rooted in the last U.S. cavalry attack on Native people, which took place on Apaches in the state of Arizona. After the slaughter, the soldiers refused to allow the Apache women to put the dead up on stilts, a sacred Apache tradition. Legend says that overcome by intense grief, Apache women shed tears for the first time ever, and the tears that fell to the earth turned black. Cash, moved by the gift, polished the stone and mounted it on a gold chain.

With the Apache tear draped around his neck, Cash cut his protest album. He recorded five of La Farge's songs, two of his own, and one he'd co-written with Johnny Horton. All were Native American themed. "When we went back into the studio to record what became 'Bitter Tears,'" Cash bassist Marshall Grant says, "we could see that John really had a special feeling for this record and these songs."

Yet the album's first single, "Ira Hayes," went nowhere. Few radio stations would play the song. Was the length of the song, four minutes and seven seconds, the problem? Radio stations liked three-minute tracks. Or maybe disc jockeys wanted Cash to "entertain, not educate," as one Columbia exec put it.

"I know that a lot of people into Johnny Cash weren't into 'Bitter Tears,' " explains Dick Weissman, a folksinger, ex-member of the Journeymen and friend of La Farge. "They wanted a 'Ballad of Teenage Queen' not 'The Ballad of Ira Hayes.' They wanted 'Folsom Prison.' They didn't want songs about how American's mistreated Indians."

The stations wouldn't play the song and Columbia Records refused to promote it. According to John Hammond, the legendary producer and Cash champion who worked at Columbia, executives at the label just didn’t think it had commercial potential. Billboard, the music industry trade magazine, wouldn't review it, even though Cash was at the height of his fame, and had just scored another No. 1 country single with "Understand Your Man" and No. 1 country album with "I Walk the Line."

One editor of a country music magazine demanded that Cash resign from the Country Music Association because "you and your crowd are just too intelligent to associate with plain country folks, country artists and country DJs." Johnny Western, a DJ, singer and actor who for many years was part of Cash's road show, recalls a conversation with "a very popular and powerful DJ." According to Western, the DJ was "connected to many of the music associations and other influential recording industry groups. He had always been incredibly supportive of John." Western and the DJ started discussing Cash's new album and the "Ira Hayes" single. "He asked me why John did this record. I told him that John and all of us had a great feeling for the American Indian cause. He responded that he felt that the music, in his mind, was un-American and that he would never play the record on air and had strongly advised other DJs and radio stations to do the same. Just ignore it until John came back to his senses, is what he told me."

"When John was attacked for 'Ira Hayes' and then 'Bitter Tears,'" explains Marshall Grant, "it just ripped him apart. Hayes was forced to drink by the abuse and treatment of white people who used and abandoned him. To us, it meant Hayes was being tortured and that's the story we told and it's true."

When "Bitter Tears" and its single did not get the attention he felt they deserved, Cash insisted on having the last word. He composed a letter to the entire record industry and placed it in Billboard as a full-page ad on Aug. 22, 1964.

"D.J.'s -- station managers -- owners, etc.," demanded Cash, "Where are your guts?" He referred to his own supposed half Cherokee and Mohawk heritage and spoke of the record as unvarnished truth. "These lyrics take us back to the truth . you're right! Teenage girls and Beatle record buyers don't want to hear this sad story of Ira Hayes . This song is not of an unsung hero." Cash slammed the record industry for its cowardice, "Regardless of the trade charts -- the categorizing, classifying and restrictions of air play, this not a country song, not as it is being sold. It is a fine reason though for the gutless [Cash's emphasis] to give it a thumbs down."

Cash demanded that the industry explain its resistance to his single. "I had to fight back when I realized that so many stations are afraid of Ira Hayes. Just one question: WHY. " And then Cash answered for them. "'Ira Hayes' is strong medicine . So is Rochester, Harlem, Birmingham and Vietnam."

As Cash later explained, "I talked about them wanting to wallow in meaninglessness and their lack of vision for our music. Predictably enough, it got me off the air in more places than it got me on." In reality, however, as Cash noted in his letter, "Ira Hayes" was already outselling many country hits. Ultimately, thanks in part to aggressive promotion by Cash, who personally promoted the song to disc jockeys he knew, "Ira Hayes" reached No. 3 on the country singles charts, and "Bitter Tears" peaked at 2 on the album charts.

Later, long after "Bitter Tears," and after he'd won his battle with drugs, Cash would dial back his claims of Indian ancestry. But he never wavered from his support for the Native cause. He went on to perform benefit shows on reservations -- including the Sioux reservation at Wounded Knee in 1968, five years before the armed standoff there between the FBI and the American Indian Movement -- to help raise money for schools, hospitals and other critical resources denied by the government. In 1980, Cash told a reporter: "We went to Wounded Knee before Wounded Knee II [the 1973 standoff] to do a show to raise money to build a school on the Rosebud Indian Reservation" and do a movie for "Public Broadcasting System called 'Trail of Tears.'" He joined with fellow musicians Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Robbie Robertson to call for the release of jailed AIM leader Leonard Peltier.

Since Cash first recorded "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" in 1964, many musicians have recorded their own versions. Kris Kristofferson is one of those musicians. He summed up the spirit behind Cash's now nearly forgotten protest album in his eulogy for Cash, who died in 2003. Cash, he said, was a "holy terror . a dark and dangerous force of nature that also stood for mercy and justice for his fellow human beings." Four years before his famous concert at Folsom Prison, four years before the American Indian Movement formed, and at the pinnacle of his commercial success, Cash insisted on producing an uncommercial, deeply personal protest record that was a close as he could come to truth. He would always cherish it. "I'm still particularly proud of 'Bitter Tears,'" Cash would say near the end of his life, while talking about the topical music he recorded in the 1960s. "Apart from the Vietnam War being over, I don't see much reason to change my position today. The old are still neglected, the poor are still poor, the young are still dying before their time, and we're not making any moves to make things right. There's still plenty of darkness to carry off." 

Truths of the triangle

Vivian also writes of the pain of hearing June claim in interviews that she was raising Johnny's daughters. She also claims June Carter was a drug supplier for Johnny, contributed to his addiction and was also an addict. Where the absolute truth in all this lies is likely buried: The three prongs of the love triangle who can speak directly to it are all dead — June Carter and Johnny Cash died in 2003.

Johnny Cash blessed the book and supposedly was going to write the foreword before he passed away.

But his fingerprints are all over it. In fact, most of this unusual memoir is written by the Man in Black — fully 75 percent of the 320-page book is love letters he wrote to Vivian while he was an Air Force serviceman stationed in Germany from 1951 to 1954. The two had met at a roller-skating rink in her hometown of San Antonio and engaged in a whirlwind three-week romance before he shipped out to Europe.

Sharpsteen said she and Vivian sifted through almost 10,000 pages of love letters the two wrote each other while they were apart.

Vivian's sister Sylvia Flye, who proofread some of the book, said she had a reason for including so many of the love letters.

"The movie, as well as articles, had portrayed Johnny and June as this love story of the century,'" said Flye, a former local resident who now lives in Tulare. "She wanted to show they (she and Johnny) had a great love, too. She wanted to show people she wasn't the ogre."

Though Vivian never saw the movie, she was aware, friends say, that she was depicted unflatteringly, almost as a shrew.

The book's concluding section, in which Vivian is very open about the triangle, has raised eyebrows among her friends. Though Vivian confided in some of them, she was a private sort who usually talked about Johnny only when others brought it up.

The last part "was very enlightening to me," said Suzanne Dunn of Oxnard. Helen Boyd of Ventura said Vivian told her some things but added, "It wasn't hatred or venom or anything like that. And she didn't speak hostilely about June Carter."

Longtime friend Cynthia Burell noted that Vivian didn't have it easy going through all this, and holding it back so long also was tough.

"This is something that's been with her for years," said Burell, a former Ojai city clerk and director of finance who still lives there. "It's very hurtful to have someone else say they were raising her four daughters she raised those daughters. To be sort of overlooked was very hurtful it would have been hurtful to anyone. And in her situation, it was worse because he was a very public figure."

It did hurt her, said Cindy Cash. On that subject, her mother was frustrated and "feeling invisible." She wanted, Cindy said, "to finally, finally have a voice."

Vivian and Johnny Cash married in San Antonio, Texas, her hometown, on Aug. 7, 1954, a little more than a month after his return from Air Force duty in Europe. (Photo: Courtesy of Scribner)

The Iconic Love Story of Johnny Cash and June Carter

From his #1 hit “I Walk the Line” in 1956 to the iconic “Folsom Prison Blues,” many have known and loved Johnny Cash over the years. No love, though, seems as great as the love that singer/songwriter June Carter had for Cash during their long years together.

Both Johnny Cash and June Carter were well-known performers before meeting. Carter had been a part of her mother and sister’s music group, which eventually came to be the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle. She then went on to make solo music and toured with friend and star, Elvis Presley. Cash was a successful solo artist at the time.

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash

The iconic couple met backstage at the Grand Ole Opry after an Elvis concert in 1956, according to The Boot. Presley had told Carter about Johnny Cash prior, having made her listen to his songs on a jukebox multiple times.

Despite both being married at the time of meeting, Cash was immediately smitten with Carter after introducing himself. Although June did not fall as quickly for Johnny as he did for her, the connection was undeniable. She eventually had to admit the attraction and is quoted in saying, “I think I’m falling in love with Johnny Cash, and this is the most painful thing I’ve ever gone through in my life,” as reported by Groovy History.

Johnny Cash and June Carter

She then described it as being “in a ring of fire,” which inspired the writing of “Ring of Fire,” a song later appearing on both of the artists’ albums.

Cash was unashamed in the fact that he’d been absolutely infatuated with June from the beginning, and knew that although he was married, he and June Carter were meant to be together.

In the first 13 years of their relationship, Cash had attempted to make Carter his wife multiple times, and each time she denied him. Finally in 1968, Cash and Carter were engaged and soon married.

Cash asked the important question at a live show in front of 7,000 fans when Carter finally accepted. Within weeks, on March 1, 1968, the two lovers officially tied the knot. They soon had their first child together, John Carter Cash, in 1970.

Johnny Cash and June Carter performing

As many are aware, Johnny Cash struggled with addiction for much of his life. His addiction got to the point that it was greatly intruding in his everyday life, making relationships difficult and eventually almost killing him.

Loving Johnny so strongly, June did what she could to help her husband and stood by his side through it all.

Cash continued to struggle with addiction, but he was far from ungrateful, stating, “She loves me in spite of everything, in spite of myself. She has saved my life more than once,” as she made him “forget the pain for a long time, many times.”

Not only did the famous duo find obstacles in Johnny’s addiction, but he is said to have had kept up outside affairs throughout their marriage, which was implied in a book written by their son later on after their deaths.

Cash’s infidelity led to a troubled wife. The public was well aware of Johnny Cash’s addictions, but Carter developed a problem with abusing prescription medications, which was also talked about in John Carter Cash’s book, as stated by Reuters. She was constantly paranoid that her husband was not staying faithful.

Many obstacles were placed in front of Johnny and June Carter Cash, but this only proved the love that they claimed to be unconditional and unwavering was real.

Johnny Cash and June Carter had both been married before their own marriage in 1968. Despite this, the two lived out the rest of their lives together, keeping up a both passionate and painful marriage for 35 years.

Carter passed in 2003 from surgery complications. Johnny Cash and their children were at her side. He gave a statement dedicated to his love, June Carter Cash, during his last performance just months before his own death the same year.

Before performing “Ring of Fire,” he explained that he was being overshadowed by the spirit of his late wife, and that she was there “to give [him] courage and inspiration like she always has.” Cash himself passed four months after Carter, also from health complications.

Johnny Cash performing in Bremen, West Germany, in September 1972. Photo by Heinrich Klaffs CC BY-SA 2.0

As one of the most beloved couples in the industry, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash’s love lives on through their iconic duos and many albums recorded with each other.

The passion that burned between them will always be present in their heartfelt and truthful lyrics written and performed for one another.

How hate groups tried (and failed) to co-opt popular culture

J ohnny Cash was a troubled man, but a sensitive one. His music championed those that society had let down, the outcasts and jailbirds, and extended to them a solemn compassion. And because he laid claim to the outlaw persona in a way that few other artists could, one can almost see why a movement as obsessed with outsiderism as the “alt-right” might place him on a pedestal.

But when Cash’s descendants saw one of the neo-Nazi demonstrators at Charlottesville sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with the musician’s name on the news, they felt his message had been severely misappropriated. Cash’s family stated that they were “sickened by the association” in an emotional open letter that describes the late artist as “a man whose heart beat with the rhythm of love and social justice”. The fascists-in-training that have aligned under the alt-right banner have shown a distinct imperviousness to outside criticism, but getting called “poison” by one of their idol’s representatives must sting a bit more than most.

It’s just the latest instance of a hostile odd angle forming between the hate-fueled political fringe groups edging into the spotlight and the ideologically inconsistent pop culture they claim anyway. As organizations that were once punchlines attract more attention from the media and public, the music and visual media upon which they’ve hung their message has been subject to more scrutiny. And on plenty of occasions, the responsible artists have caught wind and had to publicly swear off association with the burgeoning culture of white-power extremism.

This most recent spike in cognitive dissonance ramped up as Donald Trump muscled his way into the presidential race over the course of 2016. He had a difficult time holding on to a single walk-on anthem for his many campaign rallies, as every time a clip would begin to circulate online, the news would inevitably come out that the band in question had never granted permission for their songs to be used in the first place. The Rolling Stones, Twisted Sister and REM are only a few of the groups that have demanded the Trump campaign cease and desist from playing their music. (REM candidly shot back: “Go fuck yourselves, the lot of you – you sad, attention-grabbing, power-hungry little men. Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign.”)

But while it’s simple enough to threaten legal action against official political entities, a band can’t control what protesters choose to chant or write on their signs. Matters have grown messier as neo-Nazi groups adopt works of art in less official capacities, placing artists in a tough position that can’t allow for silence. After inflammatory public speaker and frequent punching bag Richard Spencer mentioned that he considered Depeche Mode the “official band” of the alt-right, the group promptly released a contradicting statement and the fanbase raised an accompanying outcry. In one of the more surreal instances of this tut-tutting from on high, horror godhead John Carpenter had to explicitly state that his cult classic They Live should not be interpreted as a commentary on a Jewish conspiracy to control the banks and media.

And yet the trouble persists that for those in search of a pop-culture slate on which to project Zionist paranoia, They Live works pretty well. Alt-right types and their unsavory brethren are drawn to narratives about reorienting perception of reality, regardless of the espoused politics that undergird them. Consider the rich, profound irony that the online anti-feminist subculture known as “the Red Pill” derives their name from The Matrix, a work of art created by two trans women. In its way, this rash of misappropriations acts as the ultimate rebuttal to the notion of authorial intent. The fascists inexplicably glomming onto ‘80s-influenced electronic music referred to as “fashwave” didn’t need Swedish producer Robert Parker’s approval to make him their champion, and his protestations haven’t done much to put them off it.

It wasn’t so long ago that Ayn Rand-memorizing objectivists were twisting the moral content of The Incredibles to suit their dogmatic purposes. The stakes in the present day are significantly higher, however, as this period of great upheaval that has already claimed a body count. Real life no longer allows artists the luxury of neutrality refraining to condemn the white-power groups after they’ve contaminated one of your works sounds a lot like condoning to the public’s ears. Matt Furie, the originator of the memetic cartoon frog “Pepe” that the alt-right has selected as their proud mascot of bigotry, joined forces with the Anti-Defamation League to undo that cultural shift and return the image to its peaceable, hate-free roots.

The elasticity of open interpretation is one of the qualities that makes art art, and yet on occasion, that same right to take-it-as-you-will results in some serious perversions of good intentions. The Nazi resorts to these messy magpie-like tendencies out of necessity the vast majority of history’s great artists have had the good sense to not be Nazis, leaving present-day fascists a small well to draw upon without looking elsewhere. (Naturally, the swastika was nicked from the Buddhists, Hindus and Jains in India, who interpreted it as a symbol of good luck.) But this gives artists the opportunity to turn an incident into a platform to speak out against intolerance while they’ve got the opposition’s ear. Furie’s case illustrates the best-case scenario of something as sickening as learning your creations have been used to spread hate while you had your back turned. It’s a challenge to do more and be better, to capitalize on a reluctant situation and pivot it into activism. As the cinema history books go, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels met with German film-maker Fritz Lang to express his fandom and explore the option of employing the director as the Third Reich’s official documenter. Jewish and horrified, Lang promptly fled for America and pushed back the only way he knew how: 1941’s Man Hunt opens with a telescopic sniper sight – and Hitler in the crosshairs.

Johnny Cash quotes about June

This morning, with her, having coffee.


The fire and excitement may be gone now that we don’t go out there and sing anymore, but the ring of fire still burns around you and I, keeping our love hotter than a pepper sprout.

There’s unconditional love there. You hear that phrase a lot, but it’s real with me and her.

She loves me in spite of everything, in spite of myself. She has saved my life more than once. She’s always been there with her love, and it has certainly made me forget the pain for a long time, many times.

You still fascinate and inspire me… You’re the object of my desire, the number one Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much.

We fell madly in love and we worked together all the time, and when the tour was over we both had to go home to other people. It hurt.

Because you are mine, I walk the line.

The taste of love is sweet when heart like ours meet.

We’re soulmates, friends and lovers, and everything else that makes a happy marriage. Our hearts are attuned to each other, and we’re very close.

When it gets dark and everybody’s gone home and the lights are turned off, it’s just me and her.

She’s the greatest woman I have ever known. Nobody else, except my mother, comes close.

White supremacists attacked Johnny Cash for marrying a ‘Negro’ woman. But was his first wife Black?

On Oct. 4, 1965, country music star Johnny Cash was arrested near the U.S.-Mexico border after buying amphetamines and sedatives from a drug dealer in Juárez and stashing them in his guitar case. His long-suffering first wife, Vivian Liberto Cash, left their daughters in California and journeyed to El Paso to be by his side for the arraignment.

As Vivian stood with Cash in front of the federal courthouse, wrapped in a dark coat, her eyes downcast beneath her bouffant hairdo, a newspaper photographer snapped a picture. In the image, Vivian, whose father was of Sicilian heritage and whose mother was said to be of German and Irish descent, appeared to be Black.

At that time in the eyes of most Americans, you were either Black or you weren’t. Interracial marriage would not become legal nationally until 1967, and it would be considered anathema, particularly in the South, for years to come.

As the image of Johnny and Vivian began appearing in publications across the country, white supremacists went wild.

Leaders of the racist National States’ Rights Party in Alabama ran a story in their newspaper “The Thunderbolt” with the headline: “Arrest Exposes Johnny Cash’s Negro Wife.”

“Money from the sale of [Cash’s] records goes to scum like Johnny Cash to keep them supplied with dope and negro women,” the paper warned. The story also mentioned the couple’s “mongrelized” young children, which included future country star Rosanne Cash and her younger sisters, Kathy, Cindy and Tara. The organization, which was connected to the Ku Klux Klan, then launched a fierce boycott against the famous musician that lasted over a year.

Cash’s handlers quickly launched a counterattack, filing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit and soliciting testimonials from relatives and friends attesting to Vivian’s racial background. They included Vivian’s designation as Caucasian on her marriage certificate and a list of the Whites-only schools she had attended.

'Where Are Your Guts?': Johnny Cash’s Little-Known Fight for Native Americans

In 1964, Johnny Cash released a Native American-themed concept album, “Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian.” In an incredible but little-known story, Cash faced censorship and backlash for speaking out on behalf of native people — and he fought back.

A new documentary airing this month on PBS, “Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears,” tells the story of the controversy. For the album’s 50th anniversary, it was re-recorded with contributions from musicians including Kris Kristofferson and Emmylou Harris, and the documentary also chronicles the making of the new album.

ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Stephen Pevar, author of “The Rights of Indians and Tribes,” had a chance to ask writer/director Antonino D’Ambrosio about the film.

Why did you feel it was important to make this film, and what were you hoping to accomplish?

First and foremost, the film and the story it tells deals with the movement for civil rights and, even more deeply, human rights. There is a tendency in this country to think that these movements are a thing of the past and, coming out of the 1960s in particular, that they were somehow addressed and resolved with everyone living happily ever after.

In fact, the opposite is true. These movements never cease, and it’s important to be reminded that this is indeed the case. A truly democratic society requires participation and hard work in regard to ensuring that human and civil rights are protected, uplifted, and always expanded. The movement never ends. This is most especially true for native people, who have become entirely invisible even though their issues — treaty rights, sovereignty, etc. — remain continuously under siege.

The current Supreme Court, for example, is no friend of native people and their treaty rights, even though treaty law is one of the five principle areas of U.S. law. They have shown a willingness, and perhaps an eagerness, to take up cases that violate treaty laws in what amounts to illegal land grabs, a tried-and-true historical tactic that I reveal in the film. After all, many thousands of acres of native land — a sovereign country —are seen by some with a singular interest: rich for exploitation of natural resources and ultimately for development.

Additionally, there are a few things I hoped to achieve with this film. I wanted to provide much-needed illumination surrounding the native plight within a historical and cultural context, but I also wanted to bring forward a powerful creative response from the past that very much speaks to our present and future.

Johnny Cash’s decision to place himself squarely in the middle of the fervent social upheavals of the time was not taken lightly. Cash immersed himself in the issues surrounding the native movement using the penetrating songwriting of little-known folksinger Peter La Farge, who was the first singer signed by iconic producer John Hammond to Columbia Records, who would sign Bob Dylan six months later. La Farge’s music spoke directly to the human condition in a way, as musician Bill Miller says in the film, as “being truthful, and powerful, and poetic in a modern world. And Johnny Cash comes in and takes it, and makes it fly, and gave it wings.” It’s a reminder that even though the specific details of our lives may be different, we all share life’s outline. It’s a demand that we all accept our responsibility as citizens of the world and participate in making that world work better for everyone.

What motivated Johnny Cash to make the album?

Since the very beginning of his career in 1954-1955, Cash wanted to make a concept record dedicated to the struggle of native people, which I explore in great detail in my book, “A Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash and the Making of Bitter Tears.” His great motivation comes simply from his early life growing up with native people in Arkansas. His family's terrible struggle with poverty and deprivation was abated a bit thanks to the New Deal program of resettlement, which provided the Cash family a plot of land to live on and farm in Dyess Colony Resettlement Area in Mississippi County, Arkansas.

Cash saw the dire contrast to what his family was able to experience and that of the native people around him, who were living in near squalor and destitution — thanks in large part to the failure of the U.S. government to honor treaties. Also, for a long period he aligned himself so closely to native people that he often claimed to be native, which he wasn’t and refuted much later in his life. It really came down to a clear, basic mantra for Cash: If any group of people face injustice and are denied their rights, then there is no freedom or justice for any of us. In the letter, Cash made it clear: “I would sing more of this land but all of God’s children ain’t free.”

What was the extent of the resistance to the album when it was released? Were any stations playing it?

This was 1964. The country was white hot with unrest. The looming presidential election was contentious and filled with often abominable, dangerous rhetoric. For example, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate, spoke openly of inciting nuclear war when he proclaimed, “Let's lob one into the men's room at the Kremlin.” He also strongly opposed civil rights, asserting, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

This fraught political environment filled the executive suites at Cash’s label and programming booths of many radio stations with fear. While Columbia honored the contract to ship a minimal amount of records for sale, they undertook a type of “soft censorship” where they did no promotion and just ignored its existence. And of course, many radio stations just refused to play it. When Cash learned of all the opposition, he made it his mission to get the record out there. He bought back thousands of copies of the record, penned a protest letter that he placed as an ad in “Billboard” magazine, stuffed the letter inside each record, and traveled around the country hand delivering the record to radio stations and asking them to give it a chance. A line from the opening paragraph from the letter says it all: “DJs, station managers, owners, etc., where are your guts?”

Photo credit: From Antonino D’Ambrosio’s film, Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears

What was behind the record companys actions? Did they or the radio station owners ever explain themselves?

Columbia Records just wanted the hits to keep coming. In 1963, Cash had massive hits with “I Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire.” They saw Cash’s attempts at concept records as money losers, even vainglorious indulgences even though the label promised Cash that when he joined Columbia that he could explore the ambitious recordings he was blocked from producing while at Sun Records. It was this promise that allowed them to sign him in the first place. And along the way, Cash pioneered concept records years before The Beatles got the credit. As musician Steve Earle explains in the film, “I never didn’t know who Johnny Cash was, but I didn’t realize until I was grown that Johnny Cash was making concept albums like 15 years before The Beatles ever thought about it.”

After the massive hits of 1963, the label could no longer stall Cash’s efforts to finally record a native concept record comprised entirely of folk protest songs. This was essentially a decade in the making for Cash, and he poured all of himself into it, explaining: “I dove into primary and secondary sources, immersing myself in the tragic stories of the Cherokee and the Apache, among others, until I was almost as raw as Peter. By the time I actually recorded the album I carried a heavy load of sadness and outrage.”

And that outrage only grew when he learned that radio stations across the country refused to play the record. Again, this was the height of the civil rights movement and many in the record industry, particularly in the South and Midwest, couldn’t accept Cash adding his voice to the protest. Some felt he was co-opted by the Northeast liberal intelligentsia, others by the left-leaning folk movement, and others just didn’t like the music and its theme of native issues, a people they deemed to be lower than Black people.

To what extent was Johnny Cash's career hurt by the album?

It was mixed. On a personal level, he was bitterly disappointed by the opposition to the record. It’s one of the reasons that he always played a few of the songs from the record at every concert the rest of his life. It was Cash’s ongoing protest. On a creative level, the label made it very difficult for him to ever undertake a record of this kind again — even though he broke out with his live album “At Folsom Prison” four years later in 1968, which was the year that the American Indian Movement was born. But it was not an entire record held together by a theme and a narrative, with every song dedicated to a specific social justice issue. Essentially, “Bitter Tears” would be the last record of that kind Cash would ever do. Yet, this record revealed the true courage of an artist thinking out loud and telling painfully real stories that paved the way for Cash to do other protest songs such as “Man in Black” years later.

Cash refused to endure what he deemed as a cowardly censoring and suppressing of his work. In his Billboard ad, he referenced the single from the album, a folk ballad written about the native U.S. marine Ira Hayes immortalized in the Iwo Jima flag-raising photograph. Cash wrote, “‘Ballad of Ira Hayes’ IS strong medicine. So is Rochester — Harlem — Birmingham and Vietnam. I had to fight back.” He saw it as one movement: human rights. Rosanne Cash told me this was a lesson. It still is.

Photo credit: Sony Masterworks

How would you compare the reception of the re-recording with the release of the original?

The reception for the re-recording, “Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited,” was also mixed. Recently, Sony Masterworks’ Chuck Mitchell and I half-jokingly discussed that in some ways this new record suffered the same fate as the original, which is another reason that the reception of the film at festivals around the world and now by PBS has been so inspiring. In any creative endeavor, particularly one that is a creative response, there is always a chorus that wants to drown out the voices of those whose suffering has been buried to maintain the illusion that what was done to get here was noble and honorable. But we, as one people, are imbued with everything that has come before — that is our history. Those ghosts don’t remain in the past but rattle around us in the present waiting for someone to listen and to unleash their spirit so they can finally be heard. Many people, including those in indigenous communities here and abroad, have expressed that this project in some way heals and gives peace but also rouses action. And that has been quite humbling.

This album was released in 1964, when the civil rights movement for Black people was occurring. Many people might say that Black people have achieved more progress from their efforts than Native Americans have from theirs. Do you think this would be a good subject to explore in the future?

Yes. This film is the first in a series exploring these issues. And this particular historical moment seems to demand it with so much underway with regard to revising and erasing uncomfortable historical truths. I continue to work with many of the native artists, thinkers, advocates involved in the film and book and beyond to craft that next film and further amplify what remains muted.

The film ends by asking, “Why?” What do you think the answer is to that question?

Whenever you pull back the curtain on the spit-polished version of American history and reveal the bodies, the butchery, the spilled blood that led us here, there is always a backlash because power is built upon using and then crushing the dispossessed and marginalized, the groups first stomped on to attain power. We can see the insidiousness of this ideology all around us today in our politics and our culture. So for me, and I think many of the artists involved in this book, record, and film, it’s less about answering the question, “Why?”, and more about asking the uncomfortable, difficult questions not permitted to be asked: “Why not?” To deny history — our real history — prevents democracy from taking root and flourishing.

Photo credit: From Antonino D’Ambrosio’s film, Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears

There were nearly 400 Indian treaties, and nearly all of them were broken the way the Seneca Treaty was broken. Why did you happen to select that one?

In the history of this country, there is perhaps no more egregious, flagrant, and wanton abuse of law than that of treaty law by the U.S. government. And it was important for me that treaty law was explained. Both in how it was grossly violated and how it served as the heart of the native movement by distinguishing it from the civil rights movement.

In one of the most impactful and thoughtful interviews I conducted for my book, the late musician and American Indian Movement activist John Trudell explains:

“In my mind, the Indians could never have a civil rights movement. The civil rights issue was between the Blacks and the whites, our issue was around law. It was legal. There are five kinds of law in America: common law criminal law constitutional law statute law and treaty law. That’s important to note — treaty law is one of the five principal laws in America. The agreements that the United States made with the tribes were legal agreements. So our movement was based around treaty law and making sure these were upheld and not broken. This isn’t about morals and ethics — I mean, of course it is to a degree — but the United States has a legal responsibility to us. So in the end this is about the law.”

The Seneca Treaty is one of this country’s oldest treaties. I selected it because, as a subject for La Farge’s songwriting and Cash’s imaginative interpretation, it serves as a devastating metaphor for all treaty violations. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, grand public works projects were very popular — many of them were unnecessary boondoggles including the building of the Kinzua Dam on Seneca land in upstate New York. This was also a time where the terrible policy of termination was beginning to be used as a political weapon to undermine native sovereignty. Many engineers, land use experts, and esteemed journalists provided mountains of evidence that this dam was not only unwarranted but also a human rights and environmental catastrophe. New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson, outraged by the patent land-grab, used his “Critic-at-Large” column to bring attention to the tyranny the Seneca faced. “For the moral question is one no one dares face: Is the Kinzua Dam right or wrong? It is wrong,” Atkinson wrote.

The song that chronicles all of this in the film is called “As Long As the Grass Shall Grow.” The title reveals everything, as it takes the language directly from the treaty: “as long as the grass shall grow and the waters flow…as long as the sun rises and sets” this treaty would stand, respected and protected, forever. It did not. Again, Trudell puts a fine point on it when he told me movingly: “If you’re a nation of laws, then you have to respect this. And if you don’t respect these treaties, then we get that you’re not really a nation of laws. It’s all about the rule, and if you don’t adhere to that then it’s all bullshit.”

The Airman in Black — when Johnny Cash was stationed in Germany

LANDSBERG, Germany — Many famous musicians have served in the armed forces, but it’s unlikely that any assignment to Europe influenced the history of rock ’n’ roll and country music as much as when Johnny Cash learned to play the guitar here.

At 19, Cash volunteered to join the Air Force during the Korean War. He left his native Arkansas for Texas to begin training, then spent most of his time in service stationed in Landsberg am Lech, in southern Bavaria, working as a Morse code interceptor.

The base at Landsberg, Germany, was the scene of heavy U.S. military activity in the decade following Word War II and was maintained into the 1980s. It is now a German air force base.

In 1951, unable to travel, away from friends and family and with only one phone call home allowed per year, the young Cash felt lonely and isolated from the world when he arrived in Landsberg, he would later say.

On the third day, when Cash saw the documentary “Inside Folsom Prison” at the base theater, the film had a big impact on him and the music world. Afterward, he wrote the hit song “Folsom Prison Blues,” according to letters he sent back to his first wife, Vivian Liberto.

“He (Johnny Cash) was here against his will, with no friends, not able to leave. So when he saw this film, it struck him that ‘they are like me. We are all prisoners here,’ and it left an impression on him that stuck with him his whole life,” base historian Herbert Wintersohl said. “It was a very influential period of his life.”

As a radio interceptor, Cash worked in shifts and had a lot of time with not much to do, Wintersohl said. Thankfully for music, Cash bought a guitar in a local store off base and began learning to play. Cash eventually started his first band on base, called the “Landsberg Barbarians,” a play on the name of the base newspaper, the “Landsberg Bavarian.”

He played at events that would routinely pack the local officer club, Wintersohl said.

During his three years in Germany, Cash worked on many songs that would later become famous. He also met an airman who referred to his service-issued footwear as “blue suede shoes.” He suggested while on tour in 1955 with Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley that the description would make a good song.

When he was done with his Air Force tour in 1954, Cash returned to the United States and began the career that would have a lasting effect on both rock ’n’ roll and country music.

“Although he was only here (in Germany) for three years, it had a huge impact on who he became and, of course, the music that he became famous for,” Wintersohl said.

Watch the video: Billy Idol, Miley Cyrus - Rebel Yell Live


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