Country Throwback: Johnny Cash Opens Up About The ‘Charisma, That Magic’ of Elvis Presley in 1988

by Matthew Wilson

In this 1988 interview, Johnny Cash reflected on his old friend Elvis Presley as a performer. The King of Rock ‘n Roll was in a league of his own.

For Cash, who knew Presley back at the beginning of their careers, two things set the performer apart from his peers. Presley always had charisma and magical quality that made him entertaining to watch. He had a magnetic pull that drew people into his orbit. Was there any wonder he had a gang of people following his every move? Over the decades, Presley formed a posse known as the Memphis Mafia.

Even Cash, a legend himself, felt star struck by Presley and his music.

“He had a lot of rhythm. He was a very good singer. And he was a fabulous performer in the way he moved the people,” Cash said in an interview. “When he was 19-years-old, that’s when I toured with him at first. And not only the girls loved Elvis. But every man backstage was standing in the wings watching Elvis. He had that charisma, that magic that a great performer needs to get the people right there.”

Johnny Cash Reflects on The Greatest Performer

For Cash, Presley was also the greatest performer ever in his opinion. Presley and Hank Williams ranked among Cash’s favorite performers. Cash and Presley performed briefly together in Memphis before their careers reached its peak popularity. Though they didn’t stay in touch over the years, Cash remembered Presley fondly.

“The best performer probably was Elvis Presley. I don’t think anybody could touch him. I never saw Hank Williams, who was one of my favorites. He died before I ever got to see him,” Cash continued.

During the interview, Cash offered a few names in country music who he thought were exceptional. He took the moment to brag on his daughter, as well.

“Currently, on the scene, I like the new breed of country singers,” Cash said. “I don’t know how many of them have staying power. It depends on those things I talked about. But there’s some really strong people out there if I may say so, Rosanne Cash, Randy Travis, and Reba McEntire. There’s some really strong country talent out there.”

But for many listeners, Cash would have to throw his own name in the ring. And perhaps, light that ring on fire. Cash and his influence continue to be felt in the industry until this day.