Johnny Cash recorded songs by the truck load for decades until his death in 2003, and since has become a regular cottage industry for publishers and had his life portrayed in the blockbuster Walk the Line. This fall, marking the 10th anniversary of Cash’s passing, another slew of commemorative editions will appear such as the Life Magazine/Sony Music partnership that brings us LIFE Unseen and Life Unheard, a richly illustrated book and CD combo that will feature rare photos and music tracks. The real cream of this crop, however, looks to be Robert Hillburn’s Johnny Cash: The Life. Hillburn was music critic for the Los Angeles Times for 30 years, and during that stretch was cozy with and wrote numerous articles and books about major league music acts. For all his time rubbing elbows with the rich and songful, it seems one musician stood above the others as a friend and favorite: The Man in Black. That friendship has led to this biography, running almost 700 pages and releasing from Little, Brown on October 29th.
Big things are expected from Johnny Cash: The Life. It’s rare to see so much fanfare this early, but the book jacket will be a veritable red carpet of endorsements: Keith Richards, Kris Kristofferson, Bono and Cash’s daughter Rosanne all highly praise Hillburn’s work. He certainly has the experience to write such a title, as he was close to Cash off and on throughout his career, including being the only music journalist at THE Folsom Prison concert in 1968. Cash is sort of the musical equivalent of a Teddy Roosevelt or Winston Churchill; the man simply seemed to be everywhere and was always interesting. His life story is a dream to tell. I for one look forward to hearing how Cash covered “Hurt” and made it into one of the most amazing songs of all time. Hillburn, with his insights and close relationship, should give us the seminal work on Johnny Cash for some time to come.