Music: Johnny Cash

John Robert "Johnny" Cash (February 26, 1932 — September 12, 2003), easily one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, was a country artist, singer-songwriter, and rock musician. Known for his deep baritone and distinctive wardrobe, he was nicknamed the Man in Black, and started almost all his concerts with the quote at the top of the page. He's also well-known for his relationship with fellow musician June Carter. His life was eventually adapted into the biopic Walk the Line starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.

Cash found his first success with Folsom Prison Blues in 1957, which garnered hits with the title song and "I Walk the Line". Following that album's success, he toured with June Carter and her family before releasing "Ring of Fire" (1963), his first crossover pop hit.

During this time, Cash struggled with substance abuse problems and eventually went public with his drug problems. He eventually tried to commit suicide while under the influence. He failed, and instead experienced an epiphany which led him to reconsider his choices. In 1968 he quit using drugs, though he would relapse on several occasions. He also began performing concerts at prisons, and even recorded there. The most famous of these prison albums was At Folsom Prison

In 1988 Johnny Cash met Frank Zappa backstage and were set to perform together on stage, but when Cash' wife's went sick he couldn't be present, so Zappa covered "Ring Of Fire" alone with his band. Their live rendition can be heard on Zappa's The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life (1991).

Starting in The Nineties, Cash underwent a Career Resurrection. Under the guidance of Record Producer Rick Rubin, Cash recorded a series of albums nicknamed "the American series", starting with 1994's American Recordings. Marked by minimalist production (Recordings was recorded solely with a guitar and vocals) and covers of various bands, such as Tom Waits' "Down There by the Train", Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage", U2's "One", Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat", Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" and Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus", these albums earned him critical acclaim and a new, younger audience of Alternative Rock fans. He died in 2003 at the age of 71, only a few months after his beloved wife, June Carter Cash, died. By that time, he'd earned a reputation not only as a Cool Old Guy, but as one of the greatest legends in music history. He is one of only eleven artists to be in both the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Johnny Cash is the Trope Namer for:

"Hello, I'm Johnny Cash and these are my tropes":

  • Adam Westing: On Columbo, in "Swan Song," Cash plays Tommy Brown, who is one half of a husband-and-wife team of gospel-singing country stars who kills his wife and stepdaughter through a staged plane crash so he can be with his mistress and won't have to give away all their money to build a tabernacle.
  • The Alleged Car: The car from "One Piece at a Time" is one of the weirder examples. See Stealing from the Till below.
    Now up to now my plan went alright
    'Till we tried to put it all together one night
    And that's when we noticed that somethin' was definitely wrong
    The transmission was a '53
    And the motor turned out to be a '73
    And when we tried to put in the bolts, all the holes were gone
  • Anti-Love Song: "Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart."
  • As the Good Book Says: "The Man Comes Around" and "Belshazzar"
  • Audience Participation Song: The video project to rotoscope "Ain't No Grave" one frame at a time.
  • Badass Baritone: Fits his ballads, too.
  • Badass Boast: But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die...
    • "Ain't No Grave" is this as a song.
  • Badass Grandpa: He's Johnny Cash.
  • Basso Profundo: Though normally a baritone, his booming voice (which is his trademark) can reach the lower bass range.
  • Biopic: Walk the Line
  • Ballad of X: "The Ballad of Ira Hayes."
  • Black Comedy/Gallows Humor: One good example is "Joe Bean", about a young man sentenced to death by hanging on his birthday. He's hoping for a pardon from the governor, but instead, the governor sends birthday greetings to him. And the last verse goes:
    Happy Birthday Joe Bean
    Happy Birthday Joe Bean
    Happy Birthday dear Joe
    (sound of a gallows platform dropping and a rope tightening)
    Happy Birthday to you.
  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: Cash recorded a version of the Trope Namer.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: "A Boy Named Sue."
  • Catch Phrase: "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash." Owned by Cash to such a degree that Trace Adkins once remarked: "I couldn't go out and say Hello, I'm Trace Adkins.; people would be like Aw, he's doing Cash."
  • Concept Album: Johnny has released several concept albums for Columbia including Bitter Tears (songs about Native Americans), Ride This Train (songs about trains and railroads), a few cowboy song albums, a few patriotic song albums, Blood, Sweat and Tears (songs about the working man)
  • Cool Old Guy: His comeback in the 90s cemented his status as this.
  • Corpsing: In the Live at Folsom Prison performance of "The Long Black Veil," after the line, "For I'd been in the arms of my best friend's wife," someone on the audience applauds, which catches him off guard.
  • The Cover Changes The Meaning: Cash has done this a few times. "Personal Jesus" was originally a scathing look at religion, but Cash made it much more spiritual. Trent Reznor's version of "Hurt" is more about self-loathing than Cash's reflective contemplation on life as it comes to an end, looking back at what he's lost. Most of the songs on the posthumously released American VI: Ain't No Grave also become appropriated to Cash's (then) impending death.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: He dressed in black in sympathy for the suffering of others.
  • Despair Event Horizon: "Folsom Prison Blues" and "25 Minutes to Go"
  • Do Not Call Me Paul: "A Boy Named Sue"
  • Downer Ending: Crops up in a few of his songs. Notably 'Don't Take Your Guns To Town' (Billy Joe gets gunned down in the streets trying to live out a cowboy fantasy) and 'I Hung My Head' (The unnamed narrator is executed for the accidental murder of a rider).
  • Embarrassing First Name: "A Boy Named Sue"
  • Flipping the Bird: A picture of Cash doing this was taken at the 1968 San Quentin concert. Rick Rubin made it famous by turning it into a 1998 ad in Billboard as a Take That to "the Nashville music establishment and country radio" for ignoring Cash's Career Resurrection. The finger now has its own Facebook page.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: "A Boy Named Sue", yet again. Hell, how many tropes does this song fit into?
  • Gender-Blender Name: Sue in "A Boy Named Sue", given to him intentionally by his father to toughen him up.
  • Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: A lot of his songs deal with this theme, especially the ones he performed at prisons such as Folsom, about how the entire justice system (or "justice", as he might have called it) is flawed.
  • Horsemen of the Apocalypse: referenced in "The Man Comes Around."
    • Of course, the song is about the Second Coming.
  • "I Am" Song: "The Man In Black", where he explains his choice of clothing.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: "I Hung My Head", where he sings about a man who kills an innocent man by accident while practicing his aim.
  • Institutional Apparel: "I Got Stripes"
  • It Amused Me: The protagonist of "Folsom Prison Blues" is there because "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die."
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: The dying man in "Give My Love to Rose" tells the narrator to tell the man's wife to go find another man after he dies since it wouldn't be fair to her to force her to live alone after he's gone.
  • Jail Bake: "I Got Stripes".
  • Johnny McCoolname: Even has the first name. Must've led to a lot of puns after he became rich and successful.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The whole idea of "God's Gonna Cut You Down." If you're a sinner, God is pissed and He's coming for you. It doesn't matter how long and far you run for, you will get the judgment you deserve.
  • Last Request: "Give my Love to Rose" and "Streets of Laredo" feature a recently released convict and cowboy, respectively, asking a complete stranger to perform a task for them.
  • Laugh Track: For no particular reason, "Sunday Morning Coming Down" has a really fake sounding applause machine at the end. He also put out a re-release of "Get Rhythm" (it was previously just a b-side) that had sound effects dubbed in to give the impression that it was being done live.
  • Longer-Than-Life Sentence: In Cocaine Blues Willy Lee end sentenced, for murdering his girlfriend, to:
    99 years in the Folsom pen
    99 years underneath that ground
  • Manipulative Editing: There's a famous moment on the Folsom Prison live album where the line "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" is followed by cheers from the audience — which are actually from a completely different part of the recording, and were spliced into the track during post-production.
    • Much of the album's cheering was edited in after the fact. Some fans point to At San Quentin as the superior live album due to its lack of editing.
    • Not just for that reason: San Quentin has better production, superior performances, more guest appearances (including the legendary Carl Perkins) and a better structured set. For those who consider Bob Wootton a more capable electric guitar player than Luther Perkins, there's that too.
  • Misery Builds Character: The basis of "A Boy Named Sue".
  • Motor Mouth: In his rendition of "I've Been Everywhere".
  • Murder Ballad: A large number of them.
    • "Folsom Prison Blues"
    • "Delia's Gone"
    • "Cocaine Blues"
    • "Don't Take Your Guns to Town"
    • Indeed, one greatest hits compilation was a 3 disc set labeled "God", "Love", and "Murder."
  • Music of Note
  • My Eyes Are Up Here: On the Folsom Prison live album, Cash introduces June Carter to sing the duet "Jackson" with him, and they talk a bit, leading to this exchange:
    Johnny Cash: Well, I like to watch you talk.
    June Carter: I'm talking with my mouth. It's way up here.
  • My Name Is Inigo Montoya: "My name is Sue! How do you do!? Now you gonna die!"
  • Notable Music Videos: "Hurt."
  • Numbered Sequels: The American albums (which started being numbered from the third one, Solitary Man, onwards)
  • Ode To Sobriety: Type 1 with "Sunday Morning Coming Down," and Type 2 with "Cocaine Blues."
  • One-Letter Name: His birth name was J. R. Cash, because his parents could not think of a good name at the time. Later, as the Air Force wouldn't take him without an actual first name, he changed it to John R. Cash (the middle initial still didn't stand for anything).
  • Person with the Clothing: Nick-named the Man in Black.
  • Precision F-Strike: "Cocaine Blues", released in 1968 on Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison, contains the line "I can't forget the day I shot that bad bitch down", which was borderline-scandalous for a country music album in The Sixties.
  • Rail Enthusiast: A noted one, as he spent the 80s doing advertisements for the Lionel Toy Train Company and making a whole documentary about the history of American railroading titled "Ridin' the Rails".
  • Real Men Love Jesus: He was a devout Christian for the latter years of his life but he never lost his edge.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: "I Hung My Head" from American IV starts with a young man violating rules #1 and #2, resulting in the death of an innocent horeseman and his hanging for manslaughter. "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" is also about this.
  • Retired Gunfighter: "The Last Gunfighter Ballad"
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" tells the tale of a Real Life one, who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima. He turns to alcohol to dull the pain and it eventually kills him.
  • Shoe Shine, Mister?: The fictional shoeshine boy in "Get Rhythm."
  • Something Blues: "Folsom Prison Blues," "Cocaine Blues," "Rockabilly Blues," "Singin' in Vietnam Talkin' Blues," among others.
  • Stealing from the Till: "One Piece at a Time" which features an assembly line worker who eventually steals enough car parts from his employer to make his own version. It turns out to be a laughable chimera of automotive pieces from various generations.
  • A Storm Is Coming: "The Man Comes Around," one of the most epic examples of all time.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: "A Boy Named Sue" ends this way:
    I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
    And I called him my pa, and he called me his son
    And I came away with a different point of view
    And I think about him, now and then
    Every time I try and every time I win
    And if I ever have a son, I think I'm gonna name him... Bill or George! Any damn thing but Sue! I still hate that name!
  • Suicide by Cop: In "Out Among the Stars" a young, jobless man robs a liquor store... but he lets the cashier run away, and he waits in the store for the cops to come.
    Even though he knows they'll come with guns a-blazing
    already he can feel a great relief.
  • Super Group: The Highwaymen, with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson.
  • Take That: In the 1980s, he released "Chicken in Black," a big Take That to his label, wherein Cash's brain is placed into a chicken who starts becoming famous, while he himself gets the brain of a killed bank robber and begins sticking up banks.
    • In-work, the song "Sam Hall" is about an unrepentant murderer using his last minutes before the hangman's noose to tell all present to go screw themselves.
    • Also, when Unchained won a Grammy Award for Best Country Album, American Recordings put out an ad containing an old photo of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera, with the caption "Johnny Cash and American Recordings would like to thank the Nashville establishment for their continued support".
  • Tattered Flag: The song "Ragged Old Flag" "I take that back, I'm mighty proud of that ragged old flag!"
  • Thirteen Is Unlucky/You Are Number Six: "Thirteen."
  • Three Chords and the Truth: He was a noted progenitor of this style, especially when compared to his contemporaries.
    • The American series is a particularly good example; the first in the series was recorded with only his voice and acoustic guitar.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: All over the place.
    • "I Walk the Line" jumps all over the place, in particular, actually ending a full octave below where it started.
    • Another notable example is "Oney", which uses both of the most common increments for this trope: minor second (A-flat to A) and minor third (A to C).
    • "The Night Hank Williams Came To Town" is in E-major for the first 90 seconds of the song, but it modulates up to G major before the second verse and remains there until the end.
    • "I Got Stripes" modulates up for the last verse.
    • The San Quentin rendition of "The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago" starts in E-flat for Cash's and June's solos, but after the second chorus, it modulates to F for the last verse.
  • Un-Person: Attempted by the dying cowboy in "Streets of Laredo", who doesn't want his murderer identified in a letter home, so as to deny him notoriety. It may also be possible that the cowboy did not want his killing to initiate a Cycle of Revenge.
  • Vocal Evolution: He sounded extremely ragged after the health problems he endured in the late 1990s (namely, Parkinson's and diabetes).