Today would have marked the 85th birthday of music legend, Johnny Cash. An artist not to be tied to a single genre, Cash exerted his influence over rock and roll, blues, folk, rockabilly, country, and gospel. It’s no secret that Cash was a complex man, to quote the great Kris Kristofferson: “He's a walkin' contradiction, partly truth, partly fiction.” And these contradictions made Cash the compelling character that he was. His life was littered with amazing stories (the stories of his on-the-road mischief are legendary!), and so to honour this year’s milestone birthday, we’ve decided to find 85 of the most badass facts we could about the Man in Black.
1) Johnny Cash isn’t his birth name. His parents named him J.R. Cash as a compromise between the names “John” and “Ray.” When he enlisted in the Air Force, Cash gave his name as “John R. Cash.”
2) Cash took only one voice lesson, after which the teacher advised him not to let anyone change the way he sang.
3) Cash organised his first band The Landsberg Barbarians while in service.
4) While on the road in the late 1950s, Cash and his band bought 500 baby chickens and let 100 loose on each floor of the hotel they were staying at.
5) In Daughter Tara’s book, Recollections, when asked about his first girlfriend, Cash responded “Louise Nichols, but she didn’t know it.”
6) Cash’s first gig with the Tennessee Two was playing for a group of elderly ladies in a church basement.
7) Cash’s hit song I Walk the Line stayed at Billboard’s #1 spot for 43 weeks, selling over two million copies.
8) On his private ranch in Hendersonville, Tennessee, a male ostrich kicked Cash in the chest, leaving him in intensive care with five broken ribs and internal bleeding.
9) He once broke his toes trying to kick the bars out of a jail cell. The incident occurred at a jail in Starkville, Mississippi after Cash was incarcerated for trespassing.
10) He met his first wife, Vivian Liberto, at a skating rink in San Antonio.
11) During Cash’s divorce, he shared an apartment in Nashville with legend Waylon Jennings.
12) As a 22 year old inmate, Merle Haggard saw three of Cash’s shows in San Quentin. He later credited Cash for inspiring him to work on his singing.
13) While touring, Cash and his band flushed cherry bombs down a toilet, destroying the plumbing system.
14) The camper Cash used for his amphetamine binges in the desert was named Jesse James. It had its windows spray-painted black so Cash could sleep during daylight hours, “but also because I just liked to spray-paint things black.”
15) During his first two years touring, Cash clocked over 100,000 miles of road travel.
16) Muhammad Ali wrote Cash a poem called 'Truth', which he kept locked in his safe.
17) Before one meeting with his addiction counsellor, Cash drove a tractor into the lake beside his house.
18) When asked by daughter Tara about 'a memory of a cousin’ for her book Recollections he quoted being in love with his cousin Glenda when he was six. “But she got married and I got over it.”
19) In 1984, after being with Columbia Records for over 30 years, Cash felt they were no longer showing interest in him anymore. He decided to record a song so awful that it would force Columbia to cut his contract early. The title of the album was Chicken in Black, the lead song about Cash having his brain transplanted with that of a chicken. It backfired on Cash as the song became successful. Nevertheless, Columbia and Johnny Cash parted ways soon after.
20) Cash guest-starred as Kid Cole on four episodes of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.