Culture & Criticism Since 2003
John Carter Cash (JCC) is the only son of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. In keeping with the family bloodlines, JCC is a country musician and record producer who has attained a large measure of success in his own right. While another young man might have seen Johnny Cash as an impossible shadow to transcend, John Carter Cash chose to bask in it, drawing inspiration and spiritual guidance from the man in black. JCC began his career as a record producer in 1999, standing beside his mother in the studio as she created the Grammy-award-winning Press On. But one of his finest hours came working under Rick Rubin as an associate producer on Johnny Cash’s American III: Solitary Man and American IV: The Man Comes Around; albums which won a plethora of awards while documenting the journey of a true American original. Later, in 2004, JCC produced Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family for which Johnny Cash recorded “Engine 143.” This would be the final track he’d lay down as he would die shortly thereafter.
As noted, John Carter Cash introduces his father’s book Forever Words (reviewed by The Electric Review here), and The Electric Review was fortunate to be able to sit down with him for this interview.
I truly don’t remember a time in dad’s life when he wasn’t writing and wasn’t creating. He always had a pen and paper in his hand. And after he passed away, there was this tremendous amassment of paper – drawings; an essay on The Book of Job; letters to the kids; letters back and forth to my mother. And song lyrics – some brilliant fragments, some incomplete songs. And there was also a great deal of poetry. But in this [amassment of paper], I saw a cohesive picture, a definite poetic statement. And I saw a true life portrait. At that time it became a part of my mission to see this book of poems released.
As I look at my father’s life after his passing, I see that he had so much love in his heart. I look at his life – the struggles, the physical pain he endured at the end. But the beauty and goodness never waned. And that’s what I focus on. Really, the word “redemption” is mine, not his. And it comes from me looking at the beauty of his life and work.The beauty and love are what matter [and these things] were always there. My statement on it is that he was a good man and a good father. And that’s what I found in these words – that his heart was redeemed and cleaned.
Not quite as many people are aware of his great sense of humor. Johnny Cash would much rather laugh than cry. There was so much light and hope beneath the facade. It’s not that “the man in black” wasn’t real – but he was very funny too. And that’s evident throughout this book. He had a very unique sense of humor. And it’s all here, all the different aspects of his character.
These writings help me to remember my father, it’s as if he’s speaking to me from these pages. The poems help to put me in touch with who he was.
My parents had a great work ethic and continued on the road their whole lives. They really believed “the show must go on.” Mom carried this with her for her entire lifetime. I am also struck by the determination – they did not stop. Even in the latter parts of their lives they were determined musicians. It’s that sense of will to continue – “I will not stop” – even in the face of adversity and great pain. Both my parents exemplified this in their daily lives. It was in their actions, not just in words. I remember those things about them. And the love. They were very forgiving, open-minded, gentle people.
Oh yes! From about the time I could stand up….
The first time had to be when I was around three years old. Dad would bring me on stage when he played “A Boy Named Sue.”
My father was always quite supportive of what I was doing, even when I was doing heavy metal in the 1980s. He was always supportive and very patient with me. We actually wrote a few songs together. One of them is called “Death and Hell” and it’s on the Highwaymen III album The Road Goes On Forever.
I follow what I love and go where my heart leads. I’ve produced the last two Loretta Lynn albums. And I am doing a project with Bonnie Tyler next week. I produce the music I love and carry on as my father would have, peeling away the different layers, finding more underneath.
What I remember most is the laughter and the joy, his persistence and his fervor for life. Like when he could barely breathe and he still found the strength to write a song that talked about asthma. Laughing in the face of death.
[During the time he was ill] I saw him daily and was there until the end. The last time I worked with him was at Cash Cabin Studios, shortly before he died.
“Engine 143.” In the morning session we did “Like The 309.” And in the afternoon “Engine “143.” That was the last song.