John Carter Cash always feels connected to the spirit of his late father, Johnny Cash, whenever he revisits his handwritten words. In his 2011 book, House of Cash: The Legacies of My Father, Carter Cash wrote about how whenever his father sat down to write, his heart always seemed to be connected to the pen he held in his hand.
When his father passed in 2003, he left behind a body of unfinished work that Carter Cash has compiled into the new album, Johnny Cash: Forever Words, the musical companion to the bestselling volume of his father’s unpublished writing Forever Words: The Unknown Poems.
Available April 6, the compilation transposes Cash’s original works into new songs performed by Rosanne Cash, Brad Paisley, Alison Krauss & Union Station; Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson; and Kacey Musgraves and Ruston Kelly. The late Chris Cornell delivers one of his finest vocal performances on song four, “You Never Knew My Mind.” Carter Cash served as the album’s co-producer and recorded the project at the Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tenn.
“People say,” Carter Cash told CMT.com, “why dig up these old works?’ The words begged to be heard, going through them, I thought, ‘There’s my dad again.’ It was coming back in contact with the full range of his personality.”
But as reflective as his father’s words are, Carter Cash describes his father as a shrewd editor of himself who never shied away from spontaneity in his work. For example, it wasn’t long after Shel Silverstein had read “A Boy Named Sue” to Cash when he performed it live for the first time at San Quentin State Prison in 1959.
“He got up onstage, he had that paper in his pocket, and he turned around to the band and said, ‘Play something in A.’ And he recited ‘A Boy Named Sue,’ and that’s what we hear on the radio. It was the first time he ever performed it.
“And I was there when he wrote ‘The Man Comes Around’ from American IV. He wrote an original version, and then had a second page that had slight edits that barely changed. That’s what wound up being the song on the album. However, through the process of writing that second page, he wrote about six or seven other pages that wound up in the trash.”
Cash’s memory is eternal through his words and music. And as an artist who headlined tours with Elvis Presley, state prisons, military entertainment tours overseas and primetime television shows, he continues to unify country fans around the world who represent all walks of life in spirit. When asked for his thoughts on how his father’s music would unify America in the wake of the issues the country faces today, Carter Cash explained that’s why he wore black.
“My father was a patriot,” he said. “My father was a humanitarian, but he didn’t side one way or another with any certain right’s groups. He just believed in people.
“He wore black for those who couldn’t speak for themselves or the ones no one would listen to. He wore it as a reminder of the sadness and struggles that are out there. He didn’t point the finger. He just said pay attention where know one else looks. He did not believe in war, fighting and violence. But he supported the young men who were fighting for our freedoms and that were afraid. He performed for vets in Vietnam. He was self-sacrificing in many different ways, and my father was a man of paradoxes.”
“But if you knew the man, then you knew the truth,” he said. “And that’s all within his writing, and that’s all within Forever Words.”