All-star tribute album an homage to Johnny Cash
All-star cast is paying tribute to Johnny Cash on diverse new album
It seems appropriate to John Carter Cash that one of Chris Cornell’s last solo recordings would be on a tribute album to his father, Johnny Cash. Cornell, who died from hanging last year, recorded You Never Knew My Mind, on Johnny Cash: Forever Words a new compilation co-produced by Carter Cash.
The disc finds an all-star roster of country, rock and R&B artists recording vocals and setting music to The Man in Black’s words.
Specifically, the material is unreleased poetry, lyrics and letters discovered by his son after Cash died in 2003.
“(Chris and I) had met originally back in the mid ’90s backstage at one of my father’s shows in Seattle,” said Carter Cash.
“And Chris came up to me and said, ‘Your father has influenced my life and my artistry more than probably any other artist I can name.’ So that stuck with me and I knew he would want to see something. And so Chris, when I reached out to him, he was very excited.”
Q How would you describe Cornell’s approach to this project?
A I think he knew that if he (was not) honest about it, it would not work. (whispers) He certainly was. I mean from the moment that I heard that song, he sent me a demo, it was a MP3, it really, really just got straight to my heart, the first time I heard it. We developed a camaraderie of sorts, a friendship of sorts, even through the process, and he was like a lion with a thorn in his side. He was such a sweet guy.
Q So his death a year later was a total shock to you?
A Yeah, it was. The last text I got from Chris it was just days before he died. (He seemed happy) on the surface. ‘How are you doing with the tour?’ He was out on the road with Soundgarden, of course. ‘Oh, it’s great, it’s great.’ And he sort of compared it to being back in his younger days in some way.
Q What was the genesis of Johnny’s words for Cornell’s song?
A Back in 1967, You Never Knew My Mind was sort of a goodbye, forlorn song to his first wife Vivian.
Q How much of your father’s writings did you go through to boil it down to the 16 songs on the new album?
A Out of the amassed amount of 300 some pieces there were 60 or 70 that were very strong and there were some that I believed he would want to share or that I believed worked perfectly for another artist.
Q Why use many artists of many genres for this record?
A My dad was full of musical diversity. Some would argue he had a big hit with the first rap song with A Boy Named Sue (1969). Some might say he’s rock ’n’ roll ‘cause he started rock ’n’ roll with those guys (Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison) at Sun Records. Some would say, ‘Well, what’s rock ’n’ roll?” He’s not that, he’s country. And I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think Dad was open to it in the first place. And the proof ’s in the pudding. In the way he lived his life. He recorded a Nine Inch Nail song (Hurt in 2002). And he recorded (Soundgarden’s) Rusty Cage (in 1996).
Q Who was the most fun to produce?
A (Elvis) Costello is a visionary. And, in particular, he was good friends with my dad and so WWJCD (What Would Johnny Cash Do)? I don’t know but sometimes I do. And I think he would have let Elvis do it on his own. I think all but five of (the 16) tracks were done at The Cash Cabin Studio (in Hendersonville, Tenn.)
Q And we actually get to hear your dad’s voice speaking on the Robert Glasper song Goin’, Goin’, Gone. Why that song ?
A Creatively, it was suggested. And so I figured if he was going to be on the album himself, it’d have to be him speaking about something that was very profound — a profound message that he would want to relate — the darknesses of addiction. He would definitely speak out on that.
John Carter Cash has compiled and co-produced a tribute album dedicated to the diverse musical career of his late father, Johnny, seen here with his wife and musical partner June Carter.
John Carter Cash