By Crystal Caviness
© 2014 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.
Welcome to the Cash Cabin Studio, nestled among tall, strong trees on a 40-acre property in Hendersonville, Tenn. Up three steps, across a wooden porch and inside the nondescript door is where John Carter Cash does his work while also maintaining the legacy of his parents, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.
Johnny and June recorded prolifically inside these walls, particularly in their later years. As head of the House of Cash, John Carter Cash weaves the business of his father’s music publishing and recording catalog with recording, producing, songwriting and occasional book-writing via another company he leads, Cash Productions.
“I have to have a balance,” he explained. “The House of Cash is about furthering the legacy. I’m vibrantly excited about the legacy — my parents’ and the Carter Family’s. I embrace it, but I have aspects of my life that are outside of that.”
Within the House of Cash, John Carter Cash has the final word on administering and licensing his father’s deep catalog. While much is handled by BMG Publishing, Cash generally tackles the harder issues, along with his father’s longtime manager, Lou Robin. “I handle the things that are gray,” Cash noted. “We try to make decisions the same way as if my dad were in the room.”
The list of Cash Productions projects is long and varied. In June, for example, Cash released his first novel, Lupus Rex, a fable involving quail, deer, mice, crows and rabbits, all struggling with the timeless themes of life, death, power, war and peace. As a companion to the novel, he released a CD of the same name.
Cash began writing seven years ago, when he authored his mother’s biography, Anchored in Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash. (The book inspired the 2013 Lifetime original movie, “Ring of Fire,” starring Jewel as June Carter Cash.) The idea for the project came as Cash was sorting through his late parents’ estate.
“My mom saved everything,” he said. “There was a camel saddle given to them by a king. We found hundreds of recordings. There were handwritten letters from my dad to my mom and to me. As we cataloged these things, it became clear to do the book.”
Three children’s books followed: Momma Loves Her Little Son (2009) and Daddy Loves His Little Girl (2010, both illustrated by Marc Burckhardt), plus The Cat in the Rhinestone Suit (illustrated by Scott Nash, 2012). Additionally, Cash wrote and published House of Cash: The Legacies of My Father, Johnny Cash (2012).
The Johnny Cash estate also yielded an abundance of unreleased music. Much of it was provided to Sony Legacy, which transferred the content to digital and released it as Bootleg Volumes in four volumes (2011 and 2012).
John Carter Cash also found recordings that his father cut with legendary producer Billy Sherrill in 1983. These tracks, with Marty Stuart on guitar, included duets with June Carter Cash and Waylon Jennings. Cash invited Stuart back to recut his guitar parts. The result, Out Among the Stars, was issued March 25.
Other projects on the Cash Productions calendar include recording a brand new Roy Orbison song, titled “The Way Is Love.” The demo, recorded in 1985 or ’86, survives only as a single cassette tape, which the late singer’s sons Alex, R.K. and Wesley found in their father’s archives. Plans were made to record more vocals to the track laid down by their father, but when Cash listened to the rough, he realized it wouldn’t be easy to bring the audio up to digital standards.
His solution was to bring in a team of German technicians who specialized in such salvage efforts. After several attempts, they completed the operation. A release date will soon be determined for the historic single. “It’s stuff like this that inspires me with life,” Cash insisted.
Another major artist, CMA’s Country Music Hall of Fame member Loretta Lynn, has recorded a large amount of music at Cash Cabin Studio. Cash has produced these sessions since 2007, but they have yet to be heard. “We have 97 songs,” he said. “Gospel, Christmas, Appalachian: She did all of the music with such strength.”
These endeavors, as well as the productions he’s undertaken recently for Angel Mary & The Tennessee Werewolves (who covered “Folsom Prison Blues” with John Carter Cash and Rob Caggiano of the Danish metal band Volbeat) and other sessions he has executive produced, add up to a full schedule. Yet Cash still finds time to write and record his own music. With his friend Bill Miller and Wesley Orbison, he has recorded and mastered 40 to 50 songs. They also perform together, recently headlining the Harvest Moon American Indian Festival in Kansas City, Mo.
“I love it all,” Cash said. “It’s about the heart. I work hard, but it’s about passion and spirit. And that helps me feel really peaceful.”
On the Web: www.JohnCarterCash.com