catapult magazine

catapult magazine


Johnny Cash: Skilled?


Sep 11 2003
02:05 pm

i wasn’t sure if this would start another large strand of people disagreeing with me, but i thought i’d better just play it safe and begin a new topic.

now to the subject at hand: johnny cash.

as i said, i like the guys stuff, but i don’t really consider him a skilled musician. he’s got a great voice which i’m sure he put some effort into developing, but for the most part it’s just naturally great. even johnny himself in his autobiography refers to it as “the gift”.

he’s certainly not a very technically able guitar player or particularly good song writer. most of his classic performances are covers. “ring of fire” was probably his highest writing achievment and he then chose to mar his recording of it with those silly mexican trumpets.

now if you want to talk about his “spirit” of “soul” or some other intangible ability that affects the music someone creates i have to say ahead of time that i agree with you. johnny cash has that in spades, but i don’t see that as skill. i see it as a natural ability. not something that was worked for and eventually attained.


Sep 12 2003
06:11 am

did you hear that cash died this morning?


Sep 12 2003
10:13 am

What a great man.

I’m surprised at how sad I am that Johnny Cash is gone. His faith was so evident in his work, and not at all in a cheap, tacked-on way. His music is so honest…I can’t think of exactly the right word. Honest comes closest.

Johnny didn’t write this, but he performed it a lot, and I think it’s pretty comforting:

One of these days and it won’t be long
I’ll rejoin them in a song
I’m gonna join the family circle at the throne …

No, the circle won’t be broken
Bye and bye, Lord, bye and bye …
Daddy’ll sing bass, Mama’ll sing tenor
Me and little brother will join right in there
In the sky, Lord, in the sky.

Now I remember after work,
Mama would call in all of us
You could hear us singin’ for a country mile
Now little brother has done gone on
But I’ll rejoin him in a song
We’ll be together again up yonder in a little while.


Sep 12 2003
08:08 pm

i began this topic last night and awoke this morning to the bad news.

i guess you could look at it as poor timing, but this could also be an opportunity for people like jason to say what they thought was cool about the guy.

i too enjoyed his honesty and feel that it does come across in his music as pure and unpretentious.


Sep 13 2003
08:31 am

we watched an episode of VH1 Legends about Cash last night and i thought about your theory, lopez. and you’re right—he was not such an excellent musician, but he was an incredible storyteller.

i think Johnny Cash sets an excellent example for how all parts of our lives are naturally integrated. the music, the stories he heard, the experiences he had—none of these was separate from another. i would say he created an art form that was totally his own, motivated by the Spirit rather than some sort of cognitive decision. he couldn’t help doing what he did for a living. and i think it was his openness as a person with all of his joys and faults on the stage for everyone to see that drew a lot of people to him—i know that’s true for me.

the deaths of famous people don’t usually affect me very much, but i feel the same sense of loss with Cash’s death that i felt with the death of Fred Rogers. for whatever reason and in whatever way, we needed them to make us better people and they did that across all sorts of dividing lines. we need more people like them.


Nov 01 2003
08:49 pm

Ya, Johnny wasn’t necessarily that skilled as a musician, but rock ‘n roll would not be where it is today with out his presence. He helped to give it form and substance. Go back to his live prison albums and you’ll hear it. The attitude, the soul… They were bringing styles together that had not been thought of before. There is the gospel, blues, rockabilly, and country. Incredible!

It is not that surprising that people from different styles of music all claim him as their own.

And I agree about not really paying much attention when some one famous dies. But this got my attention. Heck I am still morning our loss of this great man.

There is going to be a public memorial for him here in Nashville on the 10th. I think it will be carried on CMT the next Saturday. Sounds like some heavy weights are coming to town for it. I think Springstein and Bono maybe and I can’t remember who else.


Nov 02 2003
10:40 am

Lopez, I thought I heard that he didn’t really even write Ring of Fire, he just sort of “arranged” it. I thought his mistress at the time was the one who wrote it, her relationship with John being the ring of fire into which she fell. Could you clear me up on this?


Nov 03 2003
06:29 am

It was his soon-to-be-wife. I’m still not sure what is meant by “skill” here. Is the thesis that Cash is not a good songwriter or guitar player or both? Concerning songwriting, I think Johnny’s “When the Man Comes Around” song about the end times is one of the best songs on his most recent album. The way he translates the message of Revelation in everyday Southern farm-speak is brilliant and dare I say, very skillful.


Nov 03 2003
06:59 am



Dec 02 2003
04:03 pm

I just read Johnny Cash’s own biography, “Man in Black”. I can tell you that, in my own opinion, the late great Johnny Cash is not a highly skilled writer, but he is a GREAT storyteller. I was engaged and entertained throughout the whole thing.

All the things that make Johnny Cash so great are right there on the pages. His sincerity, strong faith and sentimentality concerning the saving power of Jesus all mixed together with a recognition of the harsh reality of life. The best example of this is a section in the book where he tells how people came to his house—at the height of his fame—looking for money or attention, saying that God sent them to see Johnny Cash. Sometimes they’d break in and hide in his daughter’s room. Cash concludes this section in the book by saying that one of his bodyguards finally told one of them, “If God sent you to see Johnny Cash this morning, God must have also told you that he’s in Pittsburgh today.” Johnny Cash never denies that God might have told many of those people to go to his house, but he gives this little wink and a nod to the reader about the foolishness of such things.

There’s another really great part where this guy almost kills Johnny Cash in a prison cell and Cash gets out of the near-fatal headlock by singing a hymn. And another hilarious telling of when Johnny Cash tried to steal honey from his pastor’s bee hive at 2am, knocking himself unconscious.

“Man in Black” is the most sincere, sweet, pure book I’ve ever read, the breath of God to combat rock’n’roll’s sex and drug mythology. And it’s published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, ya’ll.


Dec 03 2003
08:28 pm


Yngwie’s got some serious skills.