The CMT original documentary, Johnny Cash: American Rebel, premieres Saturday (Sept 12) at 9 p.m. ET/PT, but back in March of 1994, Cash caused a stir at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, while promoting a new album with a stripped-down, minimalist sound.
“I’m going back to basics, back to the guitar and me,” Cash told the crowd. “That’s what the album is all about — just me and the guitar.”
The project was recorded after the Cash had been written off by major record labels. The album, American Recordings, proved to be a pivotal project in the Country Music Hall of Fame member’s career.
Working with legendary producer and Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin, they created an album cash had been wanting to make for decades.
“Rick Rubin is the one that allowed me to do this — he and his company,” Cash said. “I had an unlimited budget, a big promotion. I feel very good about it. It’s very self-fulfilling, rewarding, to finally do. This has been my dream for 25 years.”
As an artist in the later years of his career, Cash was fully aware of the obstacles he faced in making the album.
“Well, my stature and age kinda are married together,” he said. “That had a lot to do with it. I’m no fool. I know all about demographics and the age group that buys most records. So I really had not expected any more until my record company that I just signed with said, ‘We’re gonna do a record that’s right and comfortable. And we’re gonna take enough time to do it the way you feel it.’
“So it sounded good from the beginning. And that’s the way it’s been. I’ve done it from the gut. From the heart.”
American Recordings went on to win a Grammy for best contemporary folk album and was hailed by critics as one of the greatest moments of his lengthy career.
“I’m excited most about rediscovering my music and being able to do it the way I feel it. For this record,” he said. “Next record, I don’t know what it will be. We’ve talked about a couple of concepts. But for this record it feels so good to do it the way I feel it. In getting the songs in and recording and listening to songs, I discovered a whole world of music that is my heritage.”
For an in-depth look at the Man in Black, tune in to Johnny Cash: American Rebel, premiering Saturday at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
And for much more on Cash’s South by Southwest appearance, watch CMT Hot 20 Countdown this Sunday at 9 a.m. ET/PT.