In this week’s music feature, we spoke with John Carter Cash about Out Among The Stars, the record he found stashed away in the Cash family vault long after his father Johnny had laid its songs to tape. Cash went into detail about the circumstances surrounding Out Among The Stars–namely, his father’s returning dependency on amphetamines and a resulting trip to the Betty Ford Clinic in the middle of the record’s creation–and how he came to find the record Columbia shelved nearly 30 years after it was originally conceived.
Below are a selection of Cash’s stories that didn’t make it to print regarding Out Among The Stars and its new-found place in the Cash canon.
On the importance of context and the Cash standard: “Of course, not everything is worthy of being released, but we tried to be true. We asked ourselves, ‘Is this something that JR would’ve wanted if he was sitting in the room? Is this something he would’ve wanted people to hear?’ Through this process, we believe that we’ve put out stuff that is worthy of release. This record stood alone. It’s something that Billy Sherrill did in the early 1980s, in a period in my dad’s creative world when Columbia was losing interest in him. It wasn’t long after these recordings were done in ’84 that Columbia dropped Johnny Cash. When we heard these, there was some of it that was unfinished, and we knew that if we were going to finish it we were going to do it right, so hopefully we did that. We felt like it was something that was a work of art. It was something beautiful, you know? It was worthy of sharing with the world. Dad would’ve loved to share it. We went about making that happen. I don’t know. I think it’s going to touch people. I think people will get insight as to who my dad was during this period in his life. Not as many people know who Johnny Cash was in the early 1980s. For the main reason, through the early 1980s, he had a relapse into drug addiction. He was on pain pills. In 1983, he went through the Betty Ford Center. When he came out of there, he had a true spiritual renaissance period in his life.”
On his personal connection to the record and Out Among The Stars as a “blessing”: “I encounter Johnny Cash and June Carter every day. It’s part of my life. I try to embrace that. I try to take that in as a part of my life, not my whole life. I try to appreciate it and know that the fact is that I share this love for these artists, these people that I knew in various standings, in different ways. My mother and father have gone on. I can’t call them on the phone and see what they’re doing. I can’t ask them for advice. In the process of listening to these recordings, I’m able to have that closeness with my dad again. I’m able to feel like I’m standing next to him at 14-years-old again. It’s a blessing, and if I take it as anything less than that, I’m not being honest.”
On being in the studio with Cash and Waylon Jennings while they were recording “I’m Moving On”: “[Cash] was always working on the next thing to be excited about. The only thing I really remember is hearing him writing for a few years on the road every night. And then I remember being at the session when he recorded with Waylon. I remember his energy at the time. He would always move onto the next thing. He was writing a novel at this time called Man In Black and he was so passionate about that. He was always giving 100% of his heart into his endeavors. No less with any of these recordings. He was always following his heart and it’s there.”
On updating Billy Sherrill’s recordings: “It was unfinished, so we sort of had to bring the new technology to it, but for the most part, it was finished. I listened to the guitars, in particular Marty Stewart’s. I called him up and said, ‘Marty, you’re a better guitar player now than you were when these recordings were done. Would you like to come and replace your guitars?’ So Marty came back in to replace his guitars, he replaced his mandolins. Hopefully that’s seamless. That’s what I hope, that the listener doesn’t even know that any new recording’s done. That’s what I’m praying for. I truly respect Billy Sherrill and his genius with what he did. We didn’t want to take away from that. We wanted to bring another dimension to the new material.”
On whether or not Out Among The Stars measures up to “Walk The Line” and the hits of Cash’s catalog: ” I think it’s up to the listener to determine. I think it’s a very viable and important part of his catalog. There are listeners out there that are going to appreciate and love the stuff he did towards the end of his life a lot more than they do the stuff he did in the early part of his life, and vice versa. But I do believe that through investigation, the listener will enjoy it, and they’ll find a true picture of who my father was. There’s so much of my dad that can be heard in these recordings. The fan that wants to know more about the man, this is the record for them. The fan that is excited about hearing ‘new’ Johnny Cash music, this is the record for them. The fan that’s never heard his voice before in the first place, when you hear this record, this is a representation of a great artist. My dad was always creative. I’m not going to say that he was better here than he was when he was old. What means the most to me are the recordings he did later in life, because I was there. After watching him prevail through the sicknesses and struggles he was going through his life, and you hear the frailty in his voice in these recordings. More than that he has endurance. You hear the underlying strength. I got to experience that. I got to be face-to-face with that. That means the most to me.”