Johnny Cash Out Among The Stars

Cashbox Canada April 4 Johnny Cash Final.jpg

Submitted by Don Graham

John Carter Cash, who acts as the spokesperson for his late father Johnny Cash’s estate asks "If you were going through your attic and found a Van Gogh, what would you do? You wouldn't put it in your bathroom; you'd want to share it with the world because you know people will love it. I mean, we could stop putting out new material and the classic material would still sell, but why not release something new if it's beautiful?"

And there you have part of the story behind the release of Johnny Cash’s “new” CD ‘Out Among The Stars.’

Out Among the Stars contains 12 previously unreleased Cash recordings from sessions in 1981 and 1984, including duets with June Carter Cash and Waylon Jennings. After Columbia, Cash’s label at the time, scrapped the recordings and they sat  in a vault until 2012 when John Carter Cash uncovered them. "We were like, my goodness, this is a beautiful record that nobody has ever heard," John Carter Cash said.  "Johnny Cash is in the very prime of his voice for his lifetime. He's pitch-perfect. According to Sony “ It's being treated as a new Johnny Cash album and being given the full frontline marketing treatment. They are expecting big things from this release."

The ironic part is ‘Out Among the Stars’ is being released by a division of Columbia, now under the ownership of Sony, the label that dropped Cash in 1986, soon after these songs were recorded. He claimed to be "invisible" to Columbia at the time, despite having been a major figure on the label for 28 years, and he thought  his albums hadn't been given anything like "the full frontline marketing treatment" in years. Cash said of that period in his career: "The magic of the music was gone and I was just doing it because I do it, and I hate to think back on those years."

In 1984, after spending spent 43 days in rehab at the Betty Ford clinic in California, Cash recorded a novelty song called ‘Chicken in Black’ with famed producer Billy Sherrill of Tammy Wynette and George Jones fame.  The song  tells the tale of two brain transplants ,Cash gets a bank robber's, a chicken gets his; Cash becomes a criminal, the chicken is offered a 10-year recording contract – and it came complete with a goofy video.

A lot of people thought the song was a middle-finger to Columbia; but in reality it was an attempt to give Cash his first hit since 1979's (Ghost) Riders in the Sky He originally supported the record, but  demanded it be pulled, along with the video, when his family and friends expressed concern. Columbia was not happy as the song was selling and the result was the work on a full album of Cash's recordings with Sherrill was shelved.

The Young Johnny CashThe Young Johnny CashSherrill had produced Cash before in 1980 and 1981 for an album called ‘The Baron’ and there are two songs left from the 1981 sessions as well as most of the material they recorded in 1984  that make up ‘Out Among the Stars’. As such, it's really not a lost Johnny Cash album as much as it is a compilation of the best unheard songs he cut with Sherrill, some of which were unfinished. They were discovered in 2012 by John Carter Cash, Johnny's only child with his second wife, June Carter. They have been re-mastered, played around with and had things added with guitarist Marty Stuart rerecording some of his parts from the original sessions.

“If I Told You Who It Was” is the song on the album that most shows off  it’s 80′s influence while, Cash’s renditions of “Out Among The Stars” and “She Used To Love Me A Lot”, the heart grabbing  “Call Your Mother,” and  the  sadistic “I Drove Her Out Of My Mind” where the singer fantasizes about stealing a Cadillac and driving both himself and his ex off  a cliff are right in the mode of classic Johnny Cash who was always ready  to dive  deep into the dark side of life. Add to the mix the sweet and easy  approach of songs like “Tennessee” and the appealing duets with June Carter “Don’t You Think It’s Come” and “Baby Ride Easy”. “Rock & Roll Shoes” and the cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” with Waylon Jennings check in as the album’s most fun tunes.

Would Johnny Cash approve of this album? I think so. And as son, John Carter Cash says "It's a question of doing what's right.” And I think they have done right by the man in black.