Johnny Cash: Personal File


Of all the musical treasures left behind by Johnny Cash at the House Of Cash estate in Hendersonville, Tennessee, none is blessed with as much provenance as the archive of audio tape recordings accumulated in hundreds of boxes stored in a room behind the recording studio. Discovered among them, as producer Gregg Geller writes, “were quite a few tapes marked ‘Personal File’ on their white with red-lettering House of Cash boxes.”

The earliest of the tracks on PERSONAL FILE date back to five days of record¬ings in July 1973. “My sense is he had a concept album in mind,” Geller told Fricke, “and these tapes were the beginning of that process.” A total of 24 tracks are presented from those five days, nearly all of which are cover versions from a wide variety of 19th and 20th century sources, many of those American evergreens in the public domain. For Johnny Cash, whose childhood was filled with the music he learned from his mother Carrie Rivers Cash at the height of the Depression in backwoods Arkansas, there is a nostalgic mood running through such familiar titles as “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes,” “Missouri Waltz,” “In The Sweet Bye And Bye,” and the Irish favorites “Galway Bay” and “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen.”

Sequenced thematically, rather than chronologically,PERSONAL FILE never the less chronicles a specific grouping of recording dates. Three months after the prolific outpouring of July 1973, the collection includes a couple of Cash originals recorded that October: “What On Earth (Will You Do For Heaven’s Sake)” and “Over The Next Hill (We’ll Be Home).” Likewise, into 1974, Cash originals predominated on the dates that took place in January (“Virgie”); May (“The House Is Falling Down,” “My Children Walk In Truth,” “A Half A Mile A Day”); June (“Look Unto The East,” “No Earthly Good”); and October (“Have A Drink Of Water”). Into 1976, Cash’s instincts as a gospel songwriter are apparent on “One Of These Days I’m Gonna Sit Down And Talk To Paul” and “Lord, Lord, Lord,” both recorded on February 18th; contrasted with “I Wanted So” (from December).

Johnny’s recording of his step-daughter Carlene Carter’s “It Takes One To Know Me” in January 1977 pre-dates the beginning of her solo career the following year. It is the conspicuous closing track of disc one, just as it was chosen to be the closing track of Johnny Cash – The Legend (created from a subsequent 1977 demo by Johnny and June, finished in 2004 by Carlene, Johnny’s son John Carter Cash and his wife Laura).

The four tracks recorded in March-April 1980 provide a fascinating glimpse into Johnny Cash’s world at that moment in time: A.P. Carter’s “The Winding Stream” and “The Way Worn Traveler” (both from the Carter Family songbook), John Prine’s “Paradise” (from his debut LP of 1971), and Johnny’s (then) son-in-law Rodney Crowell’s “Wildwood In The Pines” (which remains unrecorded by him). Finally, the three “youngest” tracks chosen for PERSONAL FILE all date from 1982: Johnny’s own “A Fast Song” (recorded in February); and the church hymns “Farther Along” and “Life’s Railway To Heaven” (both recorded in December).

“I knew there was treasure there,” son John Carter Cash said. “But specifics – that was the mystery of it. My father was creative until the very end of his life. He was genius wherever he went, whatever he did. Luckily, there was a place where this stuff was set aside.”