A recent Project: Reader Reaction question asked participants for memories of music legend Johnny Cash, who died Sept. 12. Some responses:
“This has not been a good year for American heroes. In July we paid our final tributes to Bob Hope, without challenge, the most patriotic entertainer in our country’s long and distinguished history.
“Now, less than two months later, we have sadly witnessed the passing of another true legend. Johnny Cash was as American as apple pie, but there was something deeper in the man’s soul and music that attracted fans worldwide.
“That something broke through all social barriers, including the generation gap that has separated the values of adults and younger people.
“Johnny Cash was the embodiment of the American dream. He grew up dirt-poor, the son of an Arkansas sharecropper, and after a stint in the army was signed by Sam Phillips in 1955 to the then fledgling Sun Records.
“With hits like “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line,” Cash became a major player on the country music scene and by the mid-’60s he was one of the most popular recording artists in the world.
“Unfortunately, during this same period of fame and success, Cash developed a serious drug and alcohol problem that dangerously jeopardized his career and ended his first marriage.
“Longtime fans know the rest of the story — how he met and married June Carter and how he first returned to the roots of his Christian faith and upbringing. If these two events had never happened, Johnny Cash would have probably died many years ago.
“What made this enigmatic man so endeared to so many? I think there are many reasons. First, and foremost, I believe it was the sincerity of his music and the actions of his personal life.
“Cash’s music spoke to the poor and downtrodden, the farm worker, the truck driver, the patriot, the rebel, the sinner and the saint. His songs praised God one moment, then darkly reflected upon how ungodly we treat ourselves and others. Others were social protests, against the Vietnam War for example, yet he still had the class to entertain our troops during this difficult period in our country’s history.
“I wonder if current war protestors like the Dixie Chicks would do the same?
“Lastly, Cash did many humorous songs. The best example of this genre is the classic “A Boy Named Sue.”
“Johnny Cash recorded 1,500 songs, won 11 Grammies, produced 130 hits on the Billboard Country singles chart and sold over 50 million records. He was also the only artist, besides Elvis Presley, to be elected to both the Rock and Roll and Country Music Hall of Fame.
“Cash was no longer considered a hot property on the present country music circuit. But his last four albums, known as the “American Recordings,” garnered three Grammy Awards and introduced Cash to an entire new generation of fans.
“I had the great pleasure of seeing Johnny and June Carter Cash perform live in concert twice. The first time was in Portales at the Greyhound Arena in 1976. It was the bicentennial year and Johnny was wearing his black suit, but there were small red, white and blue stars on the shoulders. Behind Cash, on the stage, was a large television screen showing a film of him riding on a train.
“He started by singing “Orange Blossom Special” and the audience went crazy. I’ll never forget it.
“About 10 years ago, I saw him again in Littlefield, Texas. It was a concert formed in honor of Waylon Jennings.
“Jennings was not in good health back then and had to leave the stage after only a couple of songs. Johnny Cash immediately stepped in and gave an excellent performance. He was a little older, his hair completely gray by this time, but the show was amazing.
“I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried when I first heard Johnny Cash had passed on. While fans have been worried about the man’s health for awhile now, the sudden finality of his demise is still hard to believe.
“His music touched our hearts and minds and showed his listeners that they are not alone in their own inner struggles. We will miss him dearly and his legacy will never be forgotten.” — Bill D. Middleton, Clovis
“Johnny Cash got out of the United States Air Force in 1954 and I joined the USAF in November of 1957. In 1958, when I was only 18 and going through technical training at Scott AFB in Illinois, Johnny Cash had his song “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” in the top 10. I think that was the first song I heard him sing even though his “I Walk The Line” was more popular back then.
“In 1958 It seemed that whenever you listened to the radio, you would hear Johnny Cash singing one song or another. … I guess that is when I became a fan of his. Up until then, country music wasn’t really my favorite. His music changed all of that.
“During (my) 25 years in the United States Air Force, country music became my preference. And while the genre has been somewhat modernized over the years, it’s still my favorite (with the oldies of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s a close second).
“Johnny Cash followed me around all my life and now in my retirement he brings back memories of my younger years. His legend lives on.” — Bob Baker, Clovis
“I grew up listening to Johnny Cash and he has accompanied me on many a date. He sang from the heart and you could almost believe there was a Boy Named Sue because of the way he pulled you into his songs. I will certainly miss The Man In Black and his type of singing.” — Ardyth Elms, Clovis
“While it often seemed that Johnny Cash was simply talking rather than singing, he had an appealing style which got your attention. I began listening to him in the l960s and never stopped.” — Harold Burris, Clovis
“Johnny Cash … with his wife June Carter … have brought joy and peace to all who have listened to their songs. Johnny Cash will always live in my memory … he is up there with Elvis.” — Gerald Majewski, Clovis
“Johnny Cash was one of a kind … loved by all and his music covered all walks of life. His memory will last forever.” — James W. McDonald, Clovis