Niagara Gazette

Columns

May 11, 2014

SINGER: Remembering the man in black

Niagara Gazette — Johnny Cash appeared at the inception of the Niagara Falls Convention Center in 1974, but I can’t say I saw him there.

Years ago, however, I was a friend of Cash’s former manager, who had agented the growly country music star from 1960-73. When I knew this Saul, he’d retired with his lucre and gold records on the walls, but was now into more intellectual pursuits — truly an omniverous reader. I was thinking of him recently when I saw Barbara Mandrell swing a couple tunes on TV (in a taped show of the ‘70s).

My friend could proffer anecdotes about the vivacious Mandrell, as well as others like George Jones, Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, or the Carpenters — he had known them all. He was bright and engaging, and never repeated himself. And he could certainly say plenty about the man he simply called “Johnny.”

They were an odd couple, and of course Cash’s instability from that era was legendary, before he settled down via a second marriage to June Carter Cash, a re-embrace of Christianity, etc. Saul would tell interesting stories about the man in black, including one on Shel Silverstein running up to him and Johnny at Chicago’s O’Hare — the major hub to elsewhere — bearing a hand-scrawled poem concerning “a boy named Sue.”

Cash started fooling around with it, then recorded a live version at San Quentin near San Francisco, probably never thinking the quick taping would become a late ‘60s hit, selling millions! Funny how rapidly certain classics occur! (Balzac, the French Dickens, wrote a great novel “Père Goriot” in some 40 days. Of course his work days — and nights — were long ones.)

The rapidity of making big dough off songs like “A Boy Named Sue” impelled my friend to deem his former job something of a racket. He looked down on popular taste, but maybe shouldn’t have. People like Cash, Mandrell, Pride, and the rest really did have something special.

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