The Man in Black

Johnny Cash, otherwise known as the man in black, was an artist who’s career skyrocketed right around the time Rock and Roll was making it’s mark. He is well known for combining Rock, Country, Blues, and Gospel Music. Cash grew up picking cotton in the middle of nowhere Arkansas and taught himself how to play the guitar while he was stationed in Germany during WWII. He was dead set on being a country singer/songwriter when he came back from the war. And he went on to be just that. He forced the producer at Sun Records (the same company that signed Elvis Presley) to give him an audition, and at first they turned him away saying they couldn’t sell the gospel sounding music Cash was producing. He then wrote the song “Hey Porter” and signed with Sun Records less than a week after his initial audition.

My all time favorite Johnny Cash song “Ring of Fire” was released in April of 1963 and was labeled in the genres of both Rock and Roll and Country. When listening to the song and watching the video I noticed three things right off the bat: the use of brass instruments (trumpet in particular), the use of background singers (in this case three women), and the use of acoustic guitar and an electric bass. Each of these things seemed to have been used in an entirely different form than we had seen them being used in previous genres. The trumpets seemed to be adding a Mexican or south american vibe with the melody they are playing, but also tying in the blues sounds with the use of brass. we had not yet seen the concept of backup vocalists in any of the genres we had seen so far so it was interesting to me to see this present in Cash’s music. Obviously the acoustic guitar was giving Cash’s music a country and gospel feel. The use of an electric bass was maybe what caught me off guard the most. When listening to the song one would assume it sounds like an upright bass, but when watching the video you can find a bassist using an electric bass and using country plucking techniques to give it the country sound Cash is famous for.

All of these aspects come together so seamlessly in this song, but I still don’t quite understand how this song is classified into two genres, especially genres as different as country and Rock and Roll. To me it seemed like a Taylor Swift scenario where you cant escape her because shes on every single radio station no matter the genre because she thinks she should be in every genre. Despite my own confusion Cash was inducted into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame. His music has influenced musicians and artists in every genre of music. Current famous artists who were influenced by him include Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Mick Jagger, Bono, and so many more. His music and influence will never be forgotten.


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