Hillbilly Highway – Remembering the Man in Black

Johnny Cash with Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show in 1980.

by Sheldon Birnie

Today, Johnny Cash would have turned 82 years old. Happy Birthday, Johnny!

The legendary Man in Black has been gone from this earth now for almost 11 years, but his legacy seems to grow with every passing year. Beloved by fans who may have been with him now for his whole ride up from the cotton fields of rural Arkansas to the Opry stage and the heights of country music world, and by generations who are coming to his music fresh each day, Johnny Cash’s music lives on with no signs of going gently into that dark night.

The outline and many of the particulars of his life are well known to people by way of the smash hit filmĀ Walk the Line. And there’s probably a thousand urban myths and half-truths about the Man floating around out there as well. Like John Henry and Jesse James before him, Johnny Cash is almost more of a legend than a man of flesh and blood at this point. While we may never be able to see the Man on stage again, we can always drop the needle on his tunes and connect to his music.

Or else we can pick up a guitar, be it by campfire or on the stage in some dim lit bar, and belt one of his classic tunes out. We can plug ourselves in and make ourselves a part of the unbroken circle that is folk music by strumming or singing along. Whether Cash was singing country, rockabilly, bluegrass, or rock n roll, the Man in Black tapped into that circle. And it’s circle which stretches far back beyond even the Carter family into the deep dark woods of America, into the hills and hollers, across rivers and overseas. It’s a circle that stretches back before paved Highways to dirt cart paths and deer trails through the underbrush. Back, again, to campfires and candlelit cabin corners.

Johnny Cash was an inspiration to many, and a damn good songwriter and performer. On Friday night, down at the Times Change(d), John Scoles is throwing his annual Johnny Cash Birthday Bash. Andrew Neville, accompanied by Little Miss Higgins, Grant Siemens, Joanna Miller and John himself on bass guitar, will be performing a stack of Cash tunes. JD Ormond & Josey Krahn of Ultra Mega, and Micah Erenberg will also be playing some. As will my band and me. It’s going to be a great night, folks.

So put on your darkest black, shine up your boots, and come on down. Or, at the very least, put on your favourite Cash tune at home, and sing along. Happy Birthday, John.


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