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If you like Johnny Cash's story, you might also like:
Sheryl Crow,
Vince Gill,
Naomi Judd,
B.B. King,
John Grisham,
Quincy Jones,
Wynton Marsalis,
Johnny Mathis
and Bernie Taupin

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Johnny Cash in the Achievement Curriculum section:
A Passion For Music

Related Links:
Johnny Cash Music on Jango

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Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash
Profile of Johnny Cash Biography of Johnny Cash Interview with Johnny Cash Johnny Cash Photo Gallery

Johnny Cash Interview

Country Music Legend

June 25, 1993
Glacier Park, Montana

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  Johnny Cash

When did you first have a vision of what you wanted to do?

Johnny Cash: I think the first time I knew what I wanted to do with my life was when I was about four years old. I was listening to an old Victrola, playing a railroad song. The song was called, "Hobo Bill's Last Ride." And I thought that was the most wonderful, amazing thing that I'd ever seen. That you could take this piece of wax and music would come out of that box. From that day on, I wanted to sing on the radio. That was the big thing when I was growing up, singing on the radio. The extent of my dream was to sing on the radio station in Memphis. Even when I got out of the Air Force in 1954, I came right back to Memphis and started knocking on doors at the radio station.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

I tried several things.

I grew up in the '40s and I heard all these great speeches, like Winston Churchill. His most famous, or infamous commencement exercise speech was one that consisted of seven words. He stood before this graduating class and said: "Never, never, never, never, never give up." And then somebody else said: "Every day in every way I'm getting better and better." I didn't especially believe that about myself, but I said it every day and I made myself believe it and it worked. I persevered. I never gave up my dream to "sing on the radio." And that dream came true in 1955.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Johnny Cash Interview Photo

Tell us how that dream came true. Who gave you your first big break?

Johnny Cash: Sam Phillips, at Sun Records. There was a label called Sun Records in Memphis that was pretty hot, with Elvis Presley, and two or three locally well-known country acts, and some black, blues and gospel singers. When I got out of the Air Force I went and knocked on that door and was turned away. I called back for an interview three or four times, was turned away. So one morning I found out what time the man went to work. I went down with my guitar and sat on his steps until he got there. And when he got there I introduced myself and he said, "You're the one that's been calling." I said, "Yeah." You know, I had to take the chance, he was either going to let me come in, or he was going to run me off, turn me down again. Evidently, he woke up on the right side of the bed that morning. He said, "Come on in, let's listen." So he did. He said, "Come back tomorrow and bring some musicians." So I went down to the garage where I worked, where my brother, Roy worked, and was introduced to two musicians down there. Brought them back to the studio and the next day was our first session. We recorded, and released the songs that we recorded the second day.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

It was very simple back then. You didn't worry about arrangements. It was one-track recording.

When you were young, was there a particular book that you read that was important to you?

Johnny Cash: I read a book when I was about 12 years old about an Indian named Lone Bull. Lone Bull had tried to go out and kill a buffalo. He slipped out of the village, against his father's wishes and went out. He was going to be a hero and kill a buffalo and bring it back to the village, so his family and the other people could have meat. And the elders of the village knew about the buffalo herd. They knew it was there, and they were making plans to cut into the heard and cut off some buffalo and kill them and have meat for the whole winter and into the next spring. Lone Bull wanted to be a hero. He went out with his bow and arrow and killed a calf, and ran the herd off into the next state. He drug this calf home, his family was fed, but they were ostracized from the village. They had to leave the village. Lone Bull became a wanderer, until he found a village that would take him in. In that next village where he was taken in, he organized the buffalo hunt that winter, and they had more meat than this village had ever had before. So, I learn from my mistakes. It's a very painful way to learn, but without pain, the old saying is, there's no gain. I found that to be true in my life. You miss a lot of opportunities by making mistakes, but that's part of it: is knowing that you're not shut out forever, and that there's a goal there that you still can reach. Lone Bull's philosophy was, "I'm kicked out of this village, but I will grow up and I'll come into another one and I will do what I set out to do, that was feed the people." So I'm feeding my people right now.

Johnny Cash Interview Photo
A lot of people let failure get them down. You're saying that you've got to move on.

Johnny Cash: You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. If you analyze it as you're moving forward, you'll never fall in the same trap twice, which I can't say that I haven't been guilty of doing. But my advice is, if they're going to break your legs once when you go in that place, stay out of there.

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This page last revised on Aug 21, 2015 13:37 EDT
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