by Michael Buffalo Smith
John Carter Cash is one busy man. As the only son of country music legends Johnny Cash and June Carter, John has been extremely busy since their passing, working on unreleased music by both of them, writing his mother’s biography, producing bands in Nashville and generally keeping the dynasty alive.
GRITZ spoke with John Carter about his parents as well as the new Sony DVD release that features the best of his father’s late 60’s, early 70’s television show.
Going back when I was 12 or so I remember the show on the air and thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, very groundbreaking for TV at the time. I wanted to get your thoughts on the show, and also ask if your Dad ever say anything to you about the show ?
Yes, he followed his heart on that as he always did. He loved all kinds of music, songwriters - his mind and spirit were always open to that and he was always looking for things that excited him. That show was an outlet of that joy for the music, especially the young artists just kicking in. It gave them a place or a pulpit to relate their songs and visions. There were many people on there that he was simply joyous about. He had creative control on that show. That was one of the conditions of his doing it. I think that part was what made it so beautiful and he could do what his heart told him to do. This may have ruffled some feathers along the way, but the beauty of it was that it lasts and he was able to do what he believed in. He sang those gospel songs and preached the message that he believed in. He did mention it to me over the years and of course it was always a wish, not a dream, or even much of an endeavor that the show be rereleased, but something that I think he wanted to see happen again someday. He didn’t feel it should be left on the shelf.
One thing that I found interesting was watching Johnny and June speak about their little John Carter, as a new baby. When you watch that how does it make you feel?
Well, it’s a window into history or a portal of time that I don’t remember but many people do. This is very meaningful to me to watch, because I see where my parents were at that time, physically what they look like and their creative energies on stage. It’s not just about the entertainment but it’s my Mother and Father onstage.
It’s amazing for me to just study and watch Johnny and June and how much love they had for each other. When he would introduce her there was an adoring look in his eyes.
Oh yeah, it was very true and real and had loved her for a few years at that time.
June was a very funny girl and I enjoyed seeing those comedy bits on the show.
She was the real deal from a very early age. She might not have had the glorious talent of being a singer and technical musician that her Mother and sisters did, but she had unique energy in comedy and a strong spirit that was undeniable and she spread that around whether onstage or off. She was a wonderful performer. There’s a lot about this in her biography that I wrote, called Anchored In Love, which just came out.
What are your overall thoughts on this Best of The Johnny Cash Show DVD?
It was a long process in the creation of these DVD’s and their being released. My parents had a vision for the possibility of it, but never really pursued it too hard. But for the past 10-12 years it has been talked about by Lou Robbin, my dad’s manager and over the past few years I have been more involved. It has taken a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication and time to make this happen. The licensing for this kind of project can be a nightmare and having to locate the artists. I hope consumers will understand that there was a lot of love that went into this and the creation, from Lou Robbin, and my parents themselves and onto the folks at Sony Legacy who worked through many years to make this happen. One thing I am proud of is with the DVD we used the original 8 track audio recordings of all the performances. We found them all, and the outakes as well. So what you get is a high quality stereo mix that is due to my parents character trait of holding onto everything that they had, whether junk or treasure - or maybe both, but more treasure than anything.
You can tell that there is a lot of love wrapped around the DVD, it’s a huge treasure, and I am sure everyone else who sees it will feel that way too.
I wanted to ask you about Walk The Line. Could tell me how close the movie was to real life?
Making a two hour movie you have to leave a lot out, but you can find a focal point and tell it very well. It focuses on one thing as a matter of strong focus, one thing and one thing only, that is my parent’s love affair. If you are looking for more about my father’s redemption or about his relationship with my Grandfather, an accurate picture, you will not find it, because it’s not there. If you search for many things you will come up lacking, but in telling the story of my parent’s love it does so beautifully. When I look back, that is what my parents intended. They wanted to tell the story of their love and I for one am glad that they did get together. (Laughs) I am overjoyed.
How did you feel about the calibre of acting?
I felt they were very professional and I couldn’t have been happier. It’s a character study and certain aspects of their characters could have been more subdued in their performances. Or maybe they brought out certain aspects for the film and held back some aspects of my parents characters - aspects that might have created many more questions and would have needed more definition and there was not time for that in the film. The characters were wonderfully portrayed for the movie.
I saw a great photo of Cash Cabin Studio on your website. It looks really cool from the outside. Tell me a little about it.
My dad built a place in the woods in 1978 that was a log cabin where he could go and write. Then in 1994 he wanted to sit over there and record some songs. At that time some minimal recording gear and microphones were brought into the room and then a couple of years later I started doing song demos in here and recording myself and singing. In1998 my Mom wanted to make a record and get me to co-produce it with J.J.Blair from Los Angeles. I decided to bring all the gear into out little cabin and record it there. Then we had six musicians in this tiny little room and we recorded Press On, and it went onto win a Grammy. Then from there my Dad went on to record American 3,4,and 5 here at the cabin. He did quite a bit of work here and the year he died he added on a big room and I added on a large console a couple of years after that. It’s a very comfortable, rustic environment and a great place to make music.
Could you describe what it was like playing in your Dad’s band in the 90’s?
Well, I toured with my parents from when I was born and never knew a time that I didn’t travel with them. My Dad put me on stage when I was 3 years old and I remember the rush of the crowd and I remember the energy and excitement of the audience upon seeing me onstage. There is not really a time that I don’t remember singing at the end of the show with them. Even in my teenage years at 18 it was already sort of old hat to get up and perform with him. It was fun to learn timing, musicianship and record producing.
What are some of your latest projects?
I just finished Billy Joe Shaver’s latest record Everybody’s Brother, and I produced the Anchored In Love CD for my Mom. And I am doing some independent projects. There is quite a bit going on, and I am working with some local Nashville guys. There is more to come and some of it I can’t speak of now. I am producing records and writing. I am writing another book and have a publishing deal in place.
Give me your thoughts on the music business now? Is it crumbling?
It’s all extraneous to me. To me the heart is the music and the joy of the spirit of the music, and I try not to delve into what works and what will not. There are some changes going on because of the internet and there will be some changes here and there, but the point is that the music is what matters and that will never die or go away.
Is there anything that you can talk about that might be on the boards now, some unreleased stuff...
There is another American 6 slated to come out soon...
What would you say was the most important thing that you learned from your parents?
Spiritual persistence in your life, work, and home life. And at the end of their lives when they were in physical pain and were kind of falling apart, they continued to press on. To me that is a life motto, do what you believe in and what’s fun. If it stops being fun then I will quit.
Perfect. Thank you John.
Thank you Michael.
All Photos borrowed from John Carter's Website johncartercash.com