Johnny Cash’s ‘Legacies’ as a father live on

Like his father, Johnny Cash often snacked on peanuts.

For much of his adult life, he would regularly sprinkle a handful of them on his father’s grave whenever he had a chance to visit after Ray Cash’s death in 1985.

In the nearly 12 years since Johnny Cash died in 2003 at the age of 71, his only son, John Carter Cash, has done the same at the site that marks his own father’s final resting place.

A few times a year, including Father’s Day, the younger Cash pays his famous father a visit and leaves behind a few peanuts for the Man in Black.

“On a special day, once in a while — just a couple times a year because he ain’t in there, to put it in a Southern way, he’s just not in there — anyway I go leave peanuts on his grave,” said John Carter Cash, leaning back on a kitchen chair and gazing at the ceiling at his Cash Cabin Studios in Hendersonville.

“People go to his gravesite and leave all kinds of things, and if anybody ever sees a few little peanuts, that’s me or my sisters.”


By the time John Carter Cash was born in 1970, his father had already established himself as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

The elder Cash won nearly every major music award, as well as earning Kennedy Center Honors (1996) and the National Medal of Arts (2001), in a career that spanned parts of six decades. He is one of only 13 artists to be inducted into the country music (1980) and rock and roll (1992) halls of fame.

However, when former CNN talk show host Larry King once asked him how he wanted to be remembered, Cash’s answer famously had nothing to do with music.

The 19-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter simply said, “As a good father.”

“In that, he was very successful,” said John Carter Cash, who published “House of Cash: The Legacies of My Father, Johnny Cash” as a tribute to their relationship. The paperback version of the memoir was released in April.

“So many people, I believe, see my father as a darker, more foreboding figure,” John Carter Cash continued. “He was a man of light and laughter, and that’s what I wanted to try and perpetuate with this book — was to point out the good man, the man of faith and love. The man of integrity and the man that I knew as a father.”

Curating the book was a personal process for John Carter Cash, and “House of Cash” often reads like an intimate conversation between a father and his son.

The younger Cash went through everything, including previously unpublished photographs, letters and notes that capture the creative spirit and the loving nature of his father.

The private handwritten documents have always meant the most to the Cash family.

There were letters written back and forth between Johnny and second wife June Carter Cash (John Carter Cash’s mother), as well as correspondence “of the heart” between father and son.

“That’s what stood out the most,” John Carter Cash said. “I realized there were a lot of things I wanted to keep private and Dad would have intended it that way, but, at the same time, I realized there was a trove of things that I believe he would have liked to have shared with the world.”

The book is the culmination of five years of “handling the project with care.”

First released in hardcover in March 2012, “House of Cash” is ultimately a multilayered portrait that humanizes an otherwise almost God-like man, whose mere presence then and now remains larger than life.

“He’s still alive in so many ways,” John Carter Cash said. “I can’t call him on the phone. I can’t ring him up, but I get to experience a relationship with him right now in my head and in my heart. Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming, I guess, if it’s always there because it’s a constant reminder that he’s passed away, but I’ve learned to embrace it.”

In addition to releasing “House of Cash” in 2012, John Carter Cash also unearthed a collection of songs that had gone unreleased. “Out Among the Stars,” which had initially been shelved by Columbia Records back in 1984, received critical acclaim after its highly anticipated release 30 years later.

John Carter Cash, who has been a producer on five Grammy award-winning albums, had previously worked as an associate producer under Rick Rubin on “American III: Solitary Man” (2000) and “American IV: The Man Comes Around” (2002) before concluding the series with “American V: A Hundred Highways” (2006) and “American VI: Ain’t No Grave” (2010) after his father’s death.

“I get to hear my father’s voice almost every day,” John Carter Cash said

From the time he learned how to walk and talk, he shared the stage with his parents. And he’s shared them — namely his iconic father — with the world.

“I think early on, I was a little jealous,” John Carter Cash said, admitting it was as confusing as it was normal, especially while trying to develop his own self-image. “I was standing on stage next to this man who was 10 feet tall and the whole world loves him, and I’m imitating him and I’m trying to be like him.

He had a way, though, of separating it — being my father from (being) Johnny Cash. They were both two very real people, but they were both distinctly different.

“He distinctly attempted and was successful in life in being that father independent of ‘The world needs me’ or ‘The world is pulling me,’ ” he continued. “He took me on fishing trips. He spent time with me one on one. It wasn’t even that the world was taking him away at certain points in my life; it was his addiction and whatnot that was there that pulled him away from me in my early teenage years.”

It’s been 40 years since Johnny Cash released his first candid autobiography, “Man in Black” — he released a second autobiography 10 years before his death — and John Carter Cash’s memoir is equally forthcoming.

He shares a letter his father wrote him on Dec. 18, 1983, after checking into a Palm Springs, Calif., rehab facility. The elder Cash wrote, “This is a beautiful place to get well. Though I am lonely, I am happy here for the next month.”

“I’m very careful, trust me, with the things that I’m telling,” said John Carter Cash, who three pages later shared a letter written in the summer of 1992, in which his father was citing Scripture for his son.

This time, it was John Carter Cash who was struggling with drugs.

His father taught him to embrace the struggles — “a fool’s voice is known by a multitude of words” — and to be grateful for their pain. Like each of their fathers before them, the Cash men learned to pick themselves back up.

As Johnny Cash told King in 2002, “I don’t give up. I don’t believe in it.”

Now, John Carter Cash said, Father’s Day is more about him.

He’s a father of three children — Anna Maybelle Cash, Joseph John Cash and Jack Ezra Cash — and much like the lyrics to the Jewel song “Family Tree,” which he cited — “That’s the job of the kid / to do better than our parents did” — the recently divorced father said it’s his daily responsibility to learn from his own mistakes.

“I’m going to mess up over and over again,” John Carter Cash said. “I always do. That’s just part of who I am, so I have to make my own footprint and learn from my own mistakes, too. It’s the good that endures, and that’s what I believe and hope for.

“That’s my creed anyway.”