Johnny Cash left this world 18 years ago today. When he passed, Cash left a hole in the heart of the country music world. However, his plainspoken yet poetic songwriting and booming voice remain a constant presence. Not even the twin forces of death and time can silence a voice as loud and important as the Man in Black’s.
Johnny Cash’s music transcends the boundaries of genre and generation. Listeners from all walks of life can turn up the volume on Cash’s classic tunes. After all, there is plenty to enjoy. Over the years, he was an outspoken advocate of the downtrodden, an Outlaw -in song and in life- and a Highwayman.
Country music wouldn’t be the same without his influence. He inspired Merle Haggard to take up a career in music. Likewise, he introduced the world to Kris Kristofferson. Both of those men influenced countless artists with their own music.
That influence, combined with the authenticity of the songs he wrote and the power he lent to those he didn’t made his catalog more than just music. His songs are an irremovable thread in the great American tapestry.
On the anniversary of his passing, we’ll remember Johnny Cash the way remember him every day: through his music. Let’s take a look at the songs that bookend the Man in Black’s legendary career.
‘Hey, Porter’: Johnny Cash’s First Single
Johnny Cash started his recording career at the legendary Sun Records. The first song he and the Tennessee Two recorded for the label was “Hey, Porter.” The track is the perfect introduction to Cash and his backing band. Several elements in the song would go on to be hallmarks of Johnny’s unique brand of country music. The poetic writing style, railroad theme, and boom-chicka rhythm of the song would show up time and again in his music for decades to come.
Johnny Cash co-penned “Hey, Porter,” with Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant. They released it on June 21, 1955.
‘Like the 309’: Cash’s Final Song
“Like the 309,” was the last song Johnny Cash wrote before his death. Much like his first recording, this song is about traveling the rails. In a way, the song brings Cash’s career full circle. He started it all with a song about riding a train home to Tennessee. He capped it off with a song about riding a train home to Glory.
Johnny Cash wrote and recorded “Like the 309,” for American V: A Hundred Highways. He finished the album shortly before his death. By that time, June Carter had passed away and Johnny knew he wasn’t far behind her. Rick Rubin, who produced Cash’s American Recordings albums told Billboard that Cash used the recording process to help him navigate his wife’s passing. About that process, Rubin said, “I think it was the only thing that kept him going, the only thing he had to look forward to.