A birthday shout-out to the Man In Black, Johnny Cash! He was the first "country" artist I ever respected and I always loved his baritone voice and shuffling-yet-soulful '50s tunes. The fact that he did concerts for incarcerated people, opposed the Vietnam war and included topics (and actions) in respect to indigenous culture gave him a lot of real cred, in my opinion. His music had just the right amounts of country, rockabilly, gospel, blues, folk and even mariachi and he totally OWNED that Nine Inch Nails song. There was nothing artsy about his style, just a direct approach with his stories and words that many could relate to.
Born and raised in Arkansas, he was singing on the radio by 12. In 1950 he moved to Detroit to work in the auto factories but started playing guitar while in the Air Force. After moving to Memphis he got his career rolling with his '55 hit single for Sun Records, "Cry Cry Cry"/"Hey Porter". The first of several successful singles for Sun, this string of tunes made Cash a star. In '58 he signed to Columbia and was finally able to make his gospel album he'd always wanted to do in '59 (Hymns By Johnny Cash).
While he still shone big star in the '60s, he was increasingly dogged by drug abuse and run-ins with the law. His '64 mariachi-inspired tune "Ring Of Fire" was a success, co-written by June Carter, and stands as one of my personal favorites. (It was also a hit in Jamaica, with several ska versions!). June helped raise Johnny's fortunes and the two were married in '68. The late '60s also saw the release of his two mega-popular prison albums and he appeared on Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline album. The Johnny Cash Show debuted on television in '69.
He started doing some acting and was an outspoken advocate for human rights. His autobiography, Man In Black, came out in '75. Although his chart hits started to dry up a bit, he remained a popular artist. His signing with Rick Rubin's American label in '93 brought him a whole new generation of fans. His cover of NIN's "Hurt" in 2003 was a last blast of spotlight. His wife June died shortly thereafter and Johnny survived another four months past her, but not before completing another 60 songs, many of which may still see the light of day.
This clip speaks a lot:
From Cash's '57 appearance on the Tex Ritter Ranch Party tv show: