Chickens, ostriches, camper vans and cousins…

Eleven years after his death, Johnny Cash is back in the charts. ‘Out Among The Stars’, released at the end of March, is a collection of lost recordings from the early-’80s, is a timely reminder of the man’s unerring genius and eternal influence. His was a life of peaks and troughs. Here are some insights into what went down throughout it.

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Johnny Cash, ‘Out Among The Stars’

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When their fourth child was born on February 26th, 1932, Ray Cash and Carrie Cloveree didn’t know what to name him, so they called him JR. When, many years later, JR joined the air force, they wouldn’t let him use his initials, so he took the legal name of John R Cash.

After his career took off, Cash battled amphetamine addiction, something started as the result of briefly sharing an apartment with country singer Waylon Jennings. Cash had a camper called Jesse James that he’d use for going on amphetamine binges.

In June 1965, an oil leak from the camper started a fire in Los Pardres National Forest in California. Several hundred acres of forest were burned. Cash was successfully sued by the USA for starting the fire, but when questioned in court remarked: “I didn’t do it, my truck did, and it’s dead, so you can’t question it.”

Muhammad Ali wrote a poem for Cash, which the singer kept locked up in a vault. However, he set the lyrics to music and turned it into the song ‘What Is Truth?’. It was never released on an album, but has appeared on many bootlegs. 

In 1973, Johnny Cash narrated and helped write the film Gospel Road: A Story Of Jesus. The soundtrack is one of 11 gospel albums that Cash recorded and released in his lifetime. He also wrote a Christian novel entitled Man In White.

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June Carter Cash – whom Cash married on March 1st, 1968 – was a member of the Carter family. Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the USA, who served between 1977-’81, was her (distant) cousin. Johnny Cash was her third husband.

In 1984, Cash was pretty pissed off by Columbia, his record label, as he felt they were ignoring him. So he made a self-parodying song called ‘Chicken In Black’, in which his brain gets transplanted into that of a chicken. The video is actually hilarious. (So we’ve posted it below.)

Speaking of birds, Cash was once attacked – and hospitalised – by an ostrich. He kept them on his ranch in Henderson, Tennessee, and was one day kicked by one in the chest. It left him with five broken ribs and internal bleeding. While in hospital, he became addicted to morphine.

For 20 years, Johnny Cash lived next door to Roy Orbison in Tennessee. In 1968, Orbison’s house burned down, killing two of his three children. Cash then bought the land where the house had been and turned it into a memorial grove.

He was, obviously, well known as The Man In Black, because he always wore black on stage. Remarkably, though, that’s absolutely true – from his very first performance to his very last in 2003, Cash wore all black at every single one. Now that’s commitment.

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Words: Mischa Pearlman

‘Out Among The Stars’ is out now on Sony Music. The official Johnny Cash website is here

Related: more 10 Things… features

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