There was no duplicity or slickness in the music Johnny Cash sang to America for nearly half a century.
The country music icon who died early this morning at 71, was as straightforward and direct as the rough-hewn characters he sang about. "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash," he'd state simply before launching into "Ring of Fire" or "I Walk the Line."
In the simplicity of his songs and the heartfelt manner in which he sang them, Cash probably came closest to the classic definition of true country music that veteran songwriter Harlan Howard coined years ago: "Three chords and the truth."
Singers who want to learn about connecting with their audience should listen to recordings of Cash singing "Folsom Prison Blues" in one of his many prison concerts. The energy and exhilaration Cash unleashes in those prisoners is almost scary.
His phenomenal career stretched from early rockabilly days of Sun Records in the 1950s, where he was a peer of Elvis Presley, to last month's MTV Video Music Awards ,where his cover of the Nine Inch Nails song, "Hurt," received seven nominations. In between those eras, he scored 14 No. 1 country music hits and toured the nation, performing at county fairs, auditoriums and venues such as Walker's We Fest.
Difficult to pigeonhole, always uncomfortable with the Nashville establishment, Cash walked the line in his own way and left a music legacy that will be difficult to match.
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