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NOD TO THE GODS: Johnny Cash, “I Walk The Line”
January 19, 2014
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Each and every Sunday night when the clock hits eight, The Strombo Show celebrates the spirit of radio over on CBC Radio 2. It's music for music lovers by music lovers. To kick off the program, we always tip our hats to the legends, the noisemakers and the ground-breakers in a segment that we like to call: Nod to the Gods.

Although he's no longer with us, Johnny Cash remains one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. In honour of the outlaw icon, we're spinning his iconic "I Walk The Line."

Cash’s first crossover tune has him claiming that he finds it “very, very easy to be true.” But his voice reveals just how hard fidelity can be. Those hums between verses sound like a man struggling mightily to keep his moral balance. Cash's own explanation was a little different: once while performing the song on his TV show, Cash told the audience, with a smile, "People ask me why I always hum whenever I sing this song. It's to get my pitch."

It was this week in 1968 that Cash walked out onto the grey cafeteria stage at Folsom Prison for what became his most famous concert. Several years later, Cash visited CBC to discuss his past addictions and his fascination with performing in prison.

If you're not familiar with the catalogue of the Man in Black, check out our playlist, which offers a vivid picture of his whole career, starting with his early years recording at Sun Records as the lead singer of the Tennessee Three. Cash's distinct sound was forged here with songs like "Cry! Cry! Cry!," "I Walk The Line" and "Big River."

Johnny Cash by George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight on Grooveshark

Cash played many roles in his long career: he hosted his own television show, produced numerous gospel albums and, in the mid-'80s, formed The Highwaymen, a country supergroup with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.

His recording career and his relationship with his peers in Nashville were at an all-time low by the end of that decade, however. Columbia dropped him from his recording contract, and in his autobiography, he referred to himself as "invisible" during this period. But when the 1990s arrived, Cash came back to prominence through collaborations with U2, Joe Strummer and especially Rick Rubin's American Recordings label. Rubin introduced Cash to a whole new audience with the release of 1994's American Recordings, which featured covers of artists like Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden and Depeche Mode.

Following the diagnosis of a neurodegenerative disease in 1997, Cash stopped touring, although he continued writing up until the final song he penned, "Like the 309." He died in 2003.

A complete album of recently discovered tracks titled Out Among The Stars is set to be released this spring. Cash's fourth posthumous release, it will feature a dozen tracks that Cash recorded in a studio during the early 1980s, including duets with Waylon Jennings and his wife, June Carter Cash.

For further musical musings, new and old, join the collective for The Strombo Show on CBC Radio 2, every Sunday night at 8PM. And if you'd like to catch up or relisten, all of the episodes are archived here.


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