The Folsom Blues Breakout events are truly all about Johnny! To help us celebrate and commemorate this American music icon, the FBB staff has compiled an extensive timeline of Johnny’s biography, accomplishments, awards, and life-spanning milestones. Enjoy reading, viewing, and, most of all, listening to his music. If you notice any information needing correction or events to add, email us with them. Enjoy!
1932 - February 26
Johnny was born and named J.R. Cash (no first or middle name) to parents Ray and Carrie Cash in Kingsland, Arkansas. He is the fourth of five children. His brothers were Roy, Jack, and Tommy, and his sisters were Reba and Joann. As a child, gospel songs taught to him by his mother is a major influence on him. The family later moved to Dyess, Arkansas. His Dyess home is shown on the left. There, the Cash clan lived in this five-room house and farmed 20 acres of cotton and other seasonal crops. He lived a simple life involving school, church, work in the cotton fields, and music - his own, his family's and what he heard on the family radio.
1942 - February 26
His mother Carrie bought him his first guitar for his 10th birthday. Songs surrounded the young J. R., be it his mother's folk and hymn ballads (she was a devout member of the Pentecostal Church of God), or the working music people sang out in the fields. From an early age Cash, who began writing songs at age 12, showed a love for the music that enveloped his life. Sensing her boy's gift for song, Carrie Rivers Cash scraped together enough money so that he could take singing lessons. After just three lessons, his teacher was enthralled with Cash's already unique singing style. She told him to stop taking lessons and to never deviate from his natural voice.
1944 - May 20
His older brother Jack, at age 15, passed away from injuries suffered from a fall into a whirling head-saw at the mill where he worked; he was nearly cut in two and suffered for more than a week before dying. On Jack's gravestone are the words "Meet Me In Heaven," which would later become the title of one of Johnny's songs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA9PirNVYP0
1950 - May 19
J.R. Cash graduates from Dyess High School. He traveled to Pontiac, Michigan seeking employment and worked briefly in an auto body paint shop.
1951 – July 18
Seeking a better option, he enlisted in the Air Force where he became John R. Cash since the Air Force did not accept initials as a name. He was sent to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas for training, where he met Vivian Liberto, his future first wife. After training, Johnny was stationed in Landsberg, West Germany, where he worked as a radio intercept officer, eavesdropping on Soviet radio traffic. He was the first radio operator to pick up the news of the death of Joseph Stalin. While in Landsberg he created his first band, named "The Landsberg Barbarians". During his military service, he acquired a distinctive scar on his face as a result of surgery to remove a cyst. He and Vivian corresponded regularly amassing thousands of love letters.
1954 - July 3
He was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant, and returned to Texas.
1954 – August 7
More than four years after he met her, John married Vivian Liberto. They had four daughters: Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy, and Tara.
1954 – Late Summer
John and Vivian moved to Memphis where his brother Roy (who worked at the local Chevrolet dealer) arranged a job for him selling appliances door-to-door. Roy also introduced John to two of the mechanics at the Chevy dealer’s garage: Luther Monroe Perkins and Marshall Grant, both guitar-pickers. Together with steel guitarist A.W. 'Red' Kernodle, they formed the Tennessee Three. By the end of the year, Kernodle left the band, and John renamed the group John Cash and the Tennessee Two. They played gospel tunes at an audition for Sam Phillips of Sun Records, but Sun Records was no longer recording gospel, and Sam told Johnny to come back with Country Western.
1954 – September 1
At Sun Records, John Cash and The Tennessee Two recorded "Hey Porter," and "Cry, Cry, Cry". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkWGYydqjxM
1954 – Oct. 17
John and the Tennessee Two sign a record deal from Sam Phillips and Sun Records.
1955 – June 21
Sam Phillips renamed John Cash as Johnny Cash, and the record "Hey Porter," and "Cry, Cry, Cry," (Johnny's first single) is released.
1955 - May 24
Vivian gave birth to Johnny's first daughter, Rosanne.
1955 - July 30
Johnny Cash and Tennessee Two recorded "Folsom Prison Blues," at Sun Records. Here is a little-known fact about the the writing of Folsom Prison Blues. Johnny "wrote" the song in 1953 when he was still stationed in Germany, but he took much of the song from a tune by Gordon Jenkins called "Crescent City Blues". He had seen the film, "Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison" and this influenced him to use a prison theme and change the setting from New Orleans to Folsom. Click here to learn more. In the report the author at schmoop.com acknowledges that Johhny "put his own unique stamp" on this iconic Johnny Cash song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZPToXstS8M
1955 – December 15
Sun Records released "Folsom Prison Blues," which coincides with their debut on the radio program “Louisiana Hayride”.
1956 – April 2
"I Walk the Line"/"Get Rhythm" by Johnny Cash & the Tennessee Two is released and makes #1 Country &Western single and top 20 Pop single. Cash signs his first management deal with Bob Neal, Elvis Presley's manager. "I Walk the Line" becomes Johnny's first No. 1 hit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHF9itPLUo4 http://www.historyvshollywood.com/video/johnny-cash-get-rhythm/
1956 – July 7
A big dream of Johnny’s came true when he played for the first time at the Grand Ole Opry. He landed a regular spot and traveled to Nashville each Saturday night for to perform.
1956 – July 7
Johnny meets June Carter for the first time backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, when Carter was singing background vocals for Elvis Presley.
1956 – April 16
Johnny's second daughter, Kathleen, was born.
1957 – October 11
Johnny's first album (Johnny Cash with his Hot & Blue Guitar) is released.
1958 – July 9
Johnny announced that he was leaving Sun Records, signing on with Columbia Records, and relocating to Los Angeles. This was primarily due to Sun Records refusing his requests to record a gospel album and to raise his royalty fees.
1958 - July 24
Johnny had his first Columbia recording session at Bradley's Barn in Nashville with producers Don Law and Frank Jones, who became his producers for next decade. "What Do I Care" / "All Over Again" were recorded on a single that made the top 5 Country & Western and the top 40 Pop lists. http://www.45cat.com/record/441251
1958 - December 8
“The Fabulous Johnny Cash”, Johnny’s first Columbia LP enters Top LPs chart, and climbs to #19.
1959 – July 29
Johnny's third daughter, Cindy, is born.
1960 – January 1
Johnny performs his first free prison concert at San Quentin, where 20-year-old inmate Merle Haggard sat in the front row. Haggard at age 18 had been convicted of a burglary charge in San Francisco and was serving a 15-year term, of which he served 2 years. Merle credits Cash for inspiring him to launch his successful recording career that included 38 #1 hits on the country charts. Of Johnny Cash’s prison debut, Haggard said this: “He had the right attitude. He chewed gum, looked arrogant and flipped the bird to the guards—he did everything the prisoners wanted to do. He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us. When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan.”
Tennessee Two becomes the Tennessee Three with the addition of drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland. Holland had been the drummer for Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley, also on the Sun Records label.
The Carter Family joins the Johnny Cash road show.
1961 – August 24
Johnny's fourth daughter, Tara, is born.
1963 - March 25
Johnny and June’s duet "Ring Of Fire" (written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore) was recorded in Nashville with mariachi-style trumpets and the Carter Family backing the vocals.
1963 – July 27
“Ring of Fire" single is released. It was the #1 Country and Western hit for 7 weeks, Cash's first #1 in four years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=It7107ELQvY
1963 – August 6
Columbia released the album “Ring of Fire: Best of Johnny Cash”, containing singles released between 1959 and 1963 and featuring hit single Ring of Fire.
1964 - January 11
“Ring of Fire: Best of Johnny Cash” album is listed #1 on Billboard’s inaugural Hot Country Albums chart. It remained No. 1 for a total of 14 weeks and later became Johnny’s first RIAA gold album.
1964 - November 7
"It Ain't Me Babe" (written by Bob Dylan), Johnny’s duet with June Carter, made #4 Country & Western and spent 22 weeks on chart. Later it became a top 10 career-making debut hit by the Turtles in summer '65. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2R2NrV4ve1o
1964 - November 14
The album “Bitter Tears” (Ballads of the American Indian) entered Country & Western chart and makes #2. It contains songs written with Native American laureate Peter LaFarge, including "The Ballad Of Ira Hayes". The production intensified the Cash connection to progressive faction of folk movement. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdNV9JX-Xi8
1965 – June
A 508-acre forest fire in the U.S. Forest Service Ojai District (CA) was caused by a faulty exhaust system in Johnny’s truck. Johnny, reportedly under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both, had driven the truck to access a fishing stream. He was successfully prosecuted and fined $125,000.
1965 - October 5
Johnny Cash was arrested returning from Mexico with possession of 668 Dexedrine and 475 Equanil pills found in his guitar case. He receives a 30-day suspended jail term and $1,000 fine. Shortly after this incident that Johnny appeared at the Grand Ole Opry stoned, and, angry about a faulty microphone stand, takes the stand and drags it across the stage footlights. The Grand Ole Opry fires him.
1966 - Summer
Due to Johnny’s escalating drug use, Vivian filed for divorce, and the divorce was granted in late 1967. Johnny moved back to Nashville, where June Carter began to lead him back to Christianity.
Johnny had his 13,880 square foot home built on Old Hickory Lake just outside of Hendersonville, TN, about a 20-minute drive from Nashville.
1967 – July 21
Still hooked on drugs and alcohol, and miserable over his divorce, Cash waited to die in or near Tennessee's Nickajack Cave, southeast of Nashville on the Tennessee River. Instead, he found God and began his substance abuse recovery.
1968 - January 13
A Folsom Prison concert is recorded by Columbia. http://www.allmusic.com/album/johnny-cash-at-folsom-prison-mw0000257048
1968 - February 29
At the 10th Annual Grammies, Cash and Carter singing "Jackson" win Best Country & Western Performance by a Duo/Group. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GvD_NQrLFo
1968 – February 22
Johnny proposed to June Carter while they were performing together on stage in London, Ontario, Canada. http://theboot.com/johnny-cash-proposes-june-carter/?trackback=tsmclip
1968 – March 1
Johnny and June were married at a church in Franklin, Kentucky. Merle Kilgore was best man, and there was a nonalcoholic reception at Johnny’s new home in Hendersonville, TN, where they lived for the next 35 years.
1969 - March 12
At the 11th Annual Grammy Awards, "Folsom Prison Blues" wins Best Country Male Vocal Performance and the “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” album wins Best Liner Notes (the written accounts on the “liner” that protects the record inside the album cover).
1969 - June 7
"The Johnny Cash Show" premiered on ABC-TV from with special guest Bob Dylan on the first show. The regular cast included Johnny Cash, June Carter and the Carter Family, the Statler Brothers, and Carl Perkins. Bob Wootton became a permanent replacement and mainstay in Cash's band for the next three decades. The Screen Gems 58-episode series ran from June 7, 1969 to March 31, 1971 on ABC; it was taped at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. The show reached No. 17 in the Nielsen ratings in 1970.
Johnny Cash's greatest year: he sold over six-and-a-half million records, which was more than any other artist at that time had sold in one year.
1970 - March 3
Johnny’s only son and child with June, John Carter Cash was born.
1970 - April 17
Johnny Cash was invited to the White House to perform for President Nixon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgXQt-Ut02w
1971 - March 31
"The Johnny Cash Show" which premiered on ABC-TV on June 7, 1969, ended. The show reached No. 17 in the Nielsen ratings in 1970.
1971 - June 19
“Man In Black” album was released. In includes anti-war activist "Singin' In Vietnam Talkin' Blues" and "Ned Kelly", and a duet with evangelist Billy Graham. It made the Country &Western chart and was the #1 hit for 2 weeks.
1971 - October 23
The Johnny Cash Collection (Greatest Hits, Volume II) entered Country & Western chart, climbed to #5, and became his final RIAA certified platinum album.
1975 – August 1
Johnny’s autobiography, The Man In Black, is published.
1976 – May 1
"One Piece at a Time" was released and climbs to No. 1 on Billboard Hot Country Singles. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWHniL8MyMM
1977 – January 31
Johnny receives the Award of Merit at the 4th annual American Music Awards.
1980 - October 13
Johnny is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. At age 48, he is the youngest living inductee.
1985 – June 1
Johnny joins the Highwaymen comprised of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson, and they release their first album together “The Highwayman” (a certified RIAA gold). It achieved #1 and continued to spend a total of 66 weeks on the Country & Western chart and 35 weeks on the Pop chart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPHuQFN7L70
1986 – September 10
Man In White, a novel about the life of Paul the Apostle by Johnny Cash, is published.
1986 – July 15
Columbia drops Johnny Cash from the label.
Mercury Records signs on Johnny. “Mercury Years” is an 18-track round-up of the best tracks recorded during his stay with Mercury during the late 80's and early 90's. Includes duets with Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams Jr., Waylon Jennings, W. Lee O'Daniel and Tom T. Hall. Highlights include a cover of Dylan's “Wanted Man”, “Sixteen Tons”, “Sweeter Than Flowers” and the former #1, “Don't Take Your Guns to Town”.
Rick Rubin (original producer/co-founder of the Beastie Boys with Russell Simmons, of Def Jam Records) from American Recordings signed Johnny in 1991 and introduced a whole new generation to his music. Nine albums of new material were produced between 1994 and 2010 (the final four posthumously). The first one of these is titled American Recordings. https://unofficial-johnnycash.com/discography-american-recordings/
1991 – March 13
Johnny receives the Academy of Country Music's Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2x4Fa3euxI
1992 – January 15
Johnny is inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame. He became the only person ever inducted into the three Hall of Fames (Rock-and-Roll, Country, and Songwriters Halls of Fame.
1992 – February 25
At the 34th Annual Grammy Awards Johnny receives the Grammy Legend Award "for ongoing contributions and influence in the recording field.".
1996 - November 5
Johnny’s second album with American Recordings, “Unchained”, is recorded.
1996 – December 9
Johnny is honored at the annual Kennedy Center Awards. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwSvbDXhZoc
1997 - October
The second story of Johnny’s life is published: Cash: An Autobiography.
1998 – February 25
1998 Grammy Awards: American Recordings “Unchained” won a Grammy for Best Country Album. Title song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccFDISWlx_0
1999 – February 24
Johnny receives the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, which says "Johnny Cash, truly one of the most influential figures in country music, transcends both generations and musical genres."
2002 – February 26
Johnny spent his 70th birthday in Jamaica, relaxing away from the Nashville winter and enjoying a quiet celebration with family. Sony Music and Columbia produced “Johnny’s 70th Birthday: Man In Black (Limited Edition 70th Birthday Sampler)”. It included his classic hits along with “Girl From The North Country” (Johnny Cash & Bob Dylan), Wanted Man (Johnny Cash), and Me and Bobby McGee (Johnny Cash, written by Kris Kristofferson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnhAX8BARBs).
2003 - Early February
Johnny recorded "Hurt" (written by Nine Inch Nails singer Trent Reznor) in 2002 for his American IV: The Man Comes Around album. In early 2003, Hurt's producer Rick Rubin approached Johnny about singing "Hurt" in a music video production and Johnny reluctantly agreed. This highly acclaimed video capped Johny's spectacular career. At the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, "Hurt" was nominated for six awards and won the Best Cinematography Award. Johnny Cash also became the oldest artist to be nominated for an MTV Video Music Award. Justin Timberlake, who won Best Male Video that year for his 2002 Cry Me a River, said in his acceptance speech that the MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video should have gone to Cash. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AHCfZTRGiI
2003 – February 23
Johnny receives the Grammy Award for Best Country Male Vocal Performance - "Give My Love To Rose" - which he originally recorded in 1957 for Sun Records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoZJND_PH5E
2003 - May 15
Johnny's beloved soulmate and wife, ,June Carter passes away at 73 years old from of complications following heart-valve replacement surgery, in the company of her family and her husband of 35 years.
2003 - September 12
Only four months later, Johnny Cash passes away from complications related to diabetes.
2003 - September 22
Johnny Cash portrait graced the cover of Time Magazine and an extensive article about Johnny's life was the cover story.
2005 - November 18
Johnny’s biographical movie “Walk The Line” (20th Century-Fox) opened nationwide and stars Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June. It was co-written and directed by James Mangold.
2005 - December 5, 14
The album, Legend of Johnny Cash was certified Gold on 12/7 and Platinum on 12/14 by the RIAA.
2006 - May 19
Legend of Johnny Cash was certified 2x Platinum by the RIAA.
The albums "The Legend of Johnny Cash" placed 9th and "American V: A Hundred Highways" placed 182nd on the Billboard 200 chart.
2007 - February 14
The Vivian Liberto Cash memoir I Walked the Line is published.
2013 - June 6
Release of the Johnny Cash Forever stamp coincided with the grand opening of the new Johnny Cash Museum, a short walk away from the famed Ryman Auditorium. The first-day-of-issue-ceremony was held at the start of the CMA Music Festival.
2013 - October 19
The Johnny Cash-themed First Annual Folsom Blues Breakout Half Marathon was held in Folsom, CA. It starts in the shadow of Folsom Prison on the Folsom Crossing Bridge and follows a scenic route around Lake Natoma to finish in Historic Folsom. A Johnny Cash Finish Festival with a JC tribute band awaited the runners and their friends at the finish. The hugely popular event has been held in October every year since.
2013 - October 19 to 21
First Annual Johnny Cash Heritage Festival. A concert that closed out the Festival took place in an Arkansas field where the music legend picked cotton as a youth, near his restored boyhood home in Dyess, Arkansas. The small town is about 50 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee. The concert featured Cash's oldest daughter, Rosanne Cash, and Kris Kristofferson.
2014 - October 4
Phase I of The Johnny Cash Trail opened for public use with a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony. Johnny's daughter Rosanne Cash performed at the ceremony. This 1.5-mile segment of trail connects the popular Folsom Lake Crossing Trail by way of the new bike/pedestrian over crossing that soars over the four lanes of traffic. The over crossing connects to the new trail segment on the opposite side, keeping cyclists and pedestrians safely set back from Natoma Street. Read more...
2015 - September 12
Premier of CMT's original documentary, Johnny Cash: American Rebel
2016 - November 17
The Johnny Cash Hendersonville lakefront property is put on the market, appraised for $1.1 million. The original home and property were purchased in 2005 for $2.2 million by Barry Gibbs of the Bee Gees and his wife Linda. It was burned nearly to the ground in 2007. The Gibbs sold it in 2014 to James Gresham of Lakehouse Homes, the current owner/seller.
2017 - Oct. 14
The City of Folsom proudly completed and opened the Johnny Cash Trail on October 14, 2017 - a 2.5 mile Class I bike and pedestrian trail that majestically connects the Folsom Historic District home to restaurants and shops to the Folsom Lake Crossing Trail welcoming visitors to the heart of historic Folsom. Learn more...
2020 - May 16
WideOpenCountry.org publishes a heartwarming article about the impact of Johnny's 2002 recording and subsequent 2003 video of Nine Inch Nail's "Hurt" (see above under 2003). Johnny's late-in-life video of him singing "Hurt" (by Nine Inch Nails) caps Johnny's career and earned him 6 2003 MTV nominations. Listen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AHCfZTRGiI) and learn more... https://www.wideopencountry.com/johnny-cash-hurt/