Unraveling the enigmatic persona of Johnny Cash, the legendary ‘Man in Black,’ takes more than just a deep dive into his discography. This article aims to paint a fuller picture of Cash by shedding light on ten intriguing facts of his life, from his early days as a code breaker for the U.S. Air Force to his unique connection with a species of tarantula.
1. From J.R. to Johnny Cash
J.R. Cash, the name that Johnny Cash was given at birth, faced an unexpected change when he enlisted in the United States Air Force. The military didn’t allow initials as a first name, so J.R. Cash morphed into John R. Cash. His transition to the now-famous moniker, Johnny Cash, didn’t happen until 1955 when he inked a deal with Sun Records.
2. Faith Manifested in Audio
A staunch Christian, Johnny Cash took an extraordinary step in 1990 to showcase his devotion. He recorded himself reading the entire New Testament Bible (NKJ Version). Remarkably, the entire recording spanned over 19 hours.
3. The ‘Johnny Cash Machines’
Banks typically use the acronym ATM, but in an unusual twist, a bank for which Johnny Cash served as spokesperson renamed their ATMs as ‘Johnny Cash Machines’ during his promotional stint.
4. A Tribute with Eight Legs
The Aphonopelma Johnnycashi, a tarantula species found near Folsom Prison, was named in honor of Johnny Cash. This was in recognition of his iconic hit, “Folsom Prison Blues.”
5. Champion of Native Americans
Demonstrating his commitment to social justice, Johnny Cash fervently advocated for the rights of Native Americans, dedicating an entire album to their cause. Despite radio stations’ refusal to broadcast any of the album’s tracks, Cash’s resolve remained unwavering. He responded by purchasing a Billboard ad, challenging the stations with the question: “Where are your guts?”
6. The Iconic ‘Man in Black’
Straying from the conventional attire of rhinestone suits and cowboy boots prevalent among major country acts of his era, Johnny Cash adopted a signature all-black ensemble. He explained his fashion choice in the song “Man in Black,” stating that he wore black as a symbol of solidarity with the poor, the hungry, and those betrayed by age or drugs.
7. Cracking Codes before Cracking the Charts
Before his rise to stardom as a musician, Johnny Cash served as a Morse Intercept Operator for the US Air Force, specializing in deciphering coded transmissions and intercepting Russian intelligence. Notably, he transcribed the first news of Stalin’s death.
8. The Heartbeat behind ‘I Walk the Line’
Johnny Cash attributed the tempo of “I Walk the Line” to his heartbeat at the time he wrote the song. The accelerated rhythm of his pulse that day provided the beat that would become the backbone of this classic tune.
9. The Ostrich Incident
An odd confrontation with an ostrich at his exotic animal refuge near his Tennessee home left Johnny Cash with five broken ribs and a significant stomach wound. The injuries led to his prescription for pain killers, triggering a two-year relapse into his former alcohol and amphetamine addiction.
10. Inspiring a Future Country Star
Merle Haggard, a 20-year-old inmate at San Quentin, witnessed Johnny Cash’s first prison concert in 1958. This transformative experience inspired Haggard to pursue a career as a country artist. Cash, recognizing Haggard’s talent and authenticity, would often say, “You’re everything that people think I am.”