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ICONS: What Would Johnny Cash Do?

The myth, the legend, the man in black.

There was never and never again will be anyone like Johnny Cash. He's my hero and my favorite icon of all time. If you don't know why, let me tell ya.

Little Known Facts About Johnny Cash:

  • Cash became a born-again Christian in 1968 after an outlaw life of drug abuse and trouble with the law. Legend has it he crawled into a Tennessee cave high on drugs to die, and encountered God instead.

  • Much of his songwriting was inspired by Cash's working class childhood on an Arkansas cotton farm.

  • Cash got his break by literally parking himself on the front steps of Sun Records until Sam Phillips would agree to listen to his music.

  • Johnny was a stage name. Most of his friends and family called him "John" or "J.R." His birth name was J.R.

  • He served in the Air Force and learned how to translate Russian Morse Code.

  • After taking three singing lessons, a teacher told him to go home and never let anyone change the way he sang.

  • During a 1950s tour, Cash and his band bought 500 baby chickens and let 100 loose on each floor of their hotel.

  • Cash was an ordained minister, studying for over two years in the 70s to earn a degree in theology. He officiated his daughter's wedding.

  • Merle Haggard was in the audience at one of the Man in Black's famous prison concerts. The Bakersfied legend was serving time at San Quentin (he really did turn 21 behind bars) and says Cash inspired him to start a singing career when he was released. "He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us. When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan."

  • Cash recorded over 1500 songs and 96 albums.

  • One of his favorite artists was Beethoven.

  • During his wild years, he owned a camper van he nicknamed "Jesse James." The windows were blacked out so he could party in the desert.

  • Cash remains to this day the only person successfully sued by the United States federal government for sparking a forest fire.

  • As a child Cash wrote poetry and as a teenager he wrote short stories. He published several books in his later years, including two autobiographies and a fictionalized account of the Apostle Paul's life titled Man in White, which he considered one of his life's great achievements.

  • Cash had surprising friends and was a generous advocate for other musicians. He famously wrote an open letter defending Bob Dylan when the artist was considered too weird to be folk. His friends ranged from Billy Graham to Ozzy Osbourne.

  • He covered songs by a wide variety of artists ranging from U2 to Simon & Garfunkel. The most famous cover of his later years was "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails. When Trent Reznor heard of it he was upset, because the song was deeply personal to him. When he saw the music video, he changed his mind.

  • Cash was a passionate advocate for Native American rights. He was adopted by the Seneca Nation's Turtle Clan in 1966 in honor of his work.

  • There's an all-black tarantula species found in Folsom, CA named the "aphonopelma jonnycashi" in his honor.

  • Cash only started wearing black because he wanted his band to match, and black t-shirts were the only items they had in common.


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