Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash

J. R. Cash was an American country music singer and songwriter. He was sometimes known as John R., and "Johnny" later in life--and also simply as "the man in black."

He was born in Kingsland, Arkansas, the son of a poor farmer. His family soon moved into a farm in Dyess, Arkansas?provided cheaply by the government as part of the New Deal?and by age five he was working in the cotton fields. He began playing guitar and writing songs as a young boy and in high school sang on a local radio station.

After serving in the United States Air Force, Cash moved to Memphis, Tennessee where he sold appliances and studied to be a radio announcer. At night, he played in a trio and one day approached Sam Phillips at Sun Records. Because he had been singing mainly gospel tunes, Phillips said "go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell." He did and in 1955 his first recording at Sun, "Cry Cry Cry", was released, meeting with reasonable success on the country hit parade.

His next record, "Folsom Prison Blues", made the country Top 5, and "I Walk the Line" was number one on the country charts, making it into the pop charts Top 20. In 1957, Johnny Cash became the first Sun artist to release a long-playing album. The following year he left Sun to sign a lucrative offer with Columbia Records where his single, "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," would become one of his biggest hits.

Within a few years, Johnny Cash had to battle drug problems that severely affected his career a...