Okay, today’s entry is a little different from the rest, during which one icon of 20th-century American music good-naturedly ribs another…
“You know at just about all of our shows, and wherever we go, we usually do an impersonation… and we had a request here tonight to do an impersonation of a rock and roll singer… “
An interesting historical footnote is that it was Elvis who first “introduced” Johnny Cash to his future wife, June Carter. In her own words:
He was stooped down on one knee and grasping a guitar trying to tune it to somewhere near the correct pitch to make a correct cord ring - ‘Everybody knows where you go when the sun goes down, Ah-ummm - A - ummm’ and he’d strike the guitar again. Plink: plunk: ‘A-ummm ...’ What are you trying to do, I asked. ‘I’m trying to tune this blame guitar, honey, and I’m trying to sing like Johnny Cash’. Who is Johnny Cash I asked Elvis Presley, and I grabbed the guitar away from him. Mother Maybelle would never let me or Elvis go on the stage with a guitar that was that far out of tune! What’s the a-um-a-um for? ‘That’s what drives the girls crazy’ Elvis said. ‘Cash don’t have to move a muscle, he just sings and stands there’. I don’t know this Johnny Cash I said, and Elvis said: ‘Oh you’ll know Cash. The whole world will know Johnny Cash. He’s a friend of mine’. So the whole tour, my first with Elvis, we went into small cafes all throughout the south and Elvis played Johnny Cash on the jukebox while I fought off the girls trying to get through Scotty, Bill and I to Elvis. And the thing I remember the very best was the voice of Johnny Cash singing ‘You’re gonna cry, cry, cry and you’ll cry alone!’. Somehow this low voice just penetrated my heart and spoke to my loneliness, for I had no lover in my life and there was a terrific loneliness in my soul. I had visions of myself screaming ‘Hey Porter’ and riding a lonesome train home.
I had been working at the Grand Ole Opry since 1950 with my mother Maybelle and sisters, Helen, Anita and Chester Atkins. I would rush home from a tour on Saturday nights back to the same routine of loneliness and this particular night, I found myself backstage trying to tune my guitar humming Ah-ummm Ah-Ummm, when all of a sudden, there he was! The voice was the same. Johnny Cash took me by the hand and said, ‘I’ve always wanted to meet you’. The strangest feeling came over me. I was afraid to look him in the eyes. It was one of the things I did best. I never stammered and still found myself not able to say much of anything. I think I finally blurted out - I feel like I know you already. Elvis plays you on the jukebox all the time and he can’t tune his guitar without humming ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’ Now he’s got me doing it.
‘Why don’t you work with me on the road sometime?’ I’d like to I said. Hey, bring me one of your records. I’ve become a real fan.
I can’t remember anything else we talked about, except his eyes. Those black eyes that shone like agates. I only glanced into them because I believed that I would be drawn into his soul and I would never have been able to walk away, had he asked me to go with him. I felt that he was the most handsome man I’d ever met. I saw him take six encores that night. He had a command of his performance that I had never seen before. Just a guitar and a base and a gentle kind of presence that made not only me, but whole audiences become his followers. I walked away from him that evening.
The next time I saw Johnny Cash, he brought me his new record and we did find the time to talk together. Both of us afraid to look, and both afraid to see the lost and lonely souls that we were. For the next few years, I never saw him where I did not remember when, where and who he was with. John told me that after seeing him on stage that very first time in Nashville, he knew he was going to marry me. I guess neither of us ever forgot that. We walked away from each other and we both made some bad choices in our travels. I wondered if he has as hard a time with my blue eyes as I had with his, and after he wrote ‘I Still Miss Someone’ I think he might have really looked.
It took such a long time of praying and of walking away when I knew from first looking at him that his hurt was as great as mine, and from the depths of my despair, I stepped up to feel the fire and there is no way to be in that kind of hell, no way to extinguish a flame that burns, burns, burns. And so came the idea for the song ‘Ring Of Fire’. I was ashamed to tell John that I had always cared, that I couldn’t get him off my mind. Out of the loneliness came one song after another. There was so much hurt for both of us. And hurt for those we loved that only God could have pulled us out of that ‘Ring Of Fire’. For the last 35 years, I have been able to look into those black steel eyes and feel his love, and realize he always cared.
—from the liner notes for the Johnny Cash CD, Love.