Johnny Cash, rock pioneer


JOHNNY CASH was in Baltimore recently to make three commercials for Choice Hotels International. His voice is raspy and he has a slight cigarette cough. As he took another draw of his cigarette, he said, "I've overcome almost every addiction there is, but quitting cigarettes is harder than quitting morphine addiction."

QUESTION. Your election into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a great honor, but it confuses me because I associate you only with country music. Can you explain?

ANSWER. I was a rock pioneer back in 1955 at Sun Records, when I performed with Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. We were called Rock-A-Billies. After Elvis left, the rest of us toured as a Rock-A-Billy show all over the U.S. and Canada. The songs I sang back then, today's rock artists and fans have discovered. Especially fans in Europe, where they are about 10-20 years younger than my fans here. The Europeans are really into my rock-a-billy stuff, which are songs like "Big River," "Get Rhythm," "I Walk the Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues." Most of those were recorded on Sun label back in the '50s. I could do a two-hour rock-a-billy show if I had to, or maybe a rock-a-billy tour, because I have the best rock-a-billy band in the country at this time. But my country fans need to know country is my forte. I know who I am and who my fans are. I was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame 11 years ago and that was the ultimate.

Q. What was your most memorable performance?

A. It was a concert I gave in 1969 in Vietnam. And it made me so sad to know that a lot of the boys who heard me sing that night died the next day. Regardless of how I felt about the war, I always played for our American boys.

I feel strongly about war and when President Bush announced he was sending troops to the Persian Gulf, I wrote a letter to him strongly protesting our involvement. When the war was over, I wrote to thank him for ending it so quickly. I don't want my 21-year-old son, John Carter Cash, to go to war.

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