recalls his association with the late Country Music Hall of Fame
great Johnny Cash, who was a classmate and friend in the School
of Broadcasting at Keegan
Technical Institute in Memphis.. Jim enrolled
in January 1955 and in March of that year met John R. Cash, who
had enrolled in the night school in January, then transferred to
the day school in March 1955.
quiet but friendly guy named John Cash became a member of our
class of 12 or 13 students, I introduced myself and we became friends immediately,
discussing matters in class each day and talking
common home county, Mississippi County Arkansas. "John and
I took a mid-morning break each day at Cooper's Restaurant,
which was across Madison Avenue from the school," and drank a
cup of coffee while discussing our future
in the radio business.
One day in April 1955,
Ralph Mathis of Houston, Mississippi, who with brother Robin, a
fellow student, became owner of WCPC Radio, which went on the
air in the fall of 1955 as a 1,000 watt station but later was
developed into a 50,000 watt powerhouse, told me that Cash was
going to bring his guitar to school the next day and record a
couple of songs on tape to send to Paula Levine, a fellow
student who had recently graduated and took a job at a station
in Independence, Missouri. As a matter of fact, all of us said
"hello" to Paula on that tape. At the time, I didn't know
that John sang and played guitar.
day, when it was time to record the tape for Paula, John pulled
up a folding chair, perched his right foot on the seat of the
chair, put the guitar strap around his neck and sang two songs
while one of us held a microphone up to him. I stood no
more than three or four feet from Cash as he sang "Cry, Cry,
Cry" and "Hey Porter," which turned out to be the two sides of
his very first Sun record in June 1955.
gosh," what a great sound!" Hearing John Cash sing made an
impression on me that will not be forgotten as long as I live.
He was different from any country singer I had ever heard ...
different and very, very good. He had a unique sound that
was unlike anything that of any previous country music singer.
That deep, resonant voice made goose bumps; I remember those few
minutes as if they happened yesterday. I thought to myself,
"this guy is going places." This guy was not trying to
emulate any currently popular singers - he was . . . himself . .
. different and, as I said, very, very good!
Sometime during the fall of 1955, Bobby Ritter, an announcer at
WMPA who was helping Charlie Boren, manager of WAMY in Amory
promote an upcoming concert, told me about the event, saying
that one of the performers was "Johnny" Cash. I told Bobby that
I had a friend named John Cash in the class ( there were only
twelve or thirteen of us) at school in Memphis who sang, and
asked if he knew if they were one and the same. A day or
so later, Ritter came in with the above picture, the very firist
promotional image of the upcoming Country Music Hall of Famer.
So, I made plans to go to Amory and see him.
Allen Thomas, who later became a state representative, and I drove to Amory that Friday evening in
December 1955, arriving early so I could visit with Cash.
As we entered the old Armory in Amory, I saw John standing up in
the bleachers on the right. He yelled "Hi, Jim." I
responded, and we made our way over to him. We visited a few
minutes, then John took us up to the stage and down a staircase
to the basement underneath, where a nervous young man named
Elvis was standing (but not still). We were
introduced to Presley, who took a liking to the sport coat I was
wearing - charcoal with a hot pink grid - Elvis's two favorite
colors. He wanted to buy the coat from me, but I wouldn't
sell - my parents in Blytheville had given it to me as a
Christmas gift the previous December.
evening, backstage, John introduced me to his wife, Vivian
Liberto Cash (the
mother of Roseanne Cash) and gave me a copy of his new Sun
record, "Folsom Prison Blues." Please keep in mind that
John Cash, Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins (who wowed the crowd
with 'Blue Suede Shoes' that night) were known regionally, but
had yet to become nationally famous. Since that night I
have often asked myself why I didn't ask John to autograph that
copy of 'Folsom Prison Blues,' and I have often wondered what
happened to the tape we recorded for Paula Levine.
John Cash had a huge influence on me from the moment I heard him
sing the morning we made that tape. Be natural, be
yourself, dont' try to emulate someone - if you're good enough,
and you have something unique to offer, you'll make it on your
own. And, of course he did, in a big way.
That was the one and only time I saw John after leaving school.
I tried to make contact with him a number of years later for a
class reunion, but he was in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas,
filiming a movie for ABC.
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