18 Tales from the Life of American Legend Johnny Cash
18 Tales from the Life of American Legend Johnny Cash

18 Tales from the Life of American Legend Johnny Cash

Larry Holzwarth - September 21, 2018

18 Tales from the Life of American Legend Johnny Cash
By the mid-1970s Cash was a marketing icon for numerous consumer products, with advertisers relying on his longstanding image of honesty. Rockapedia

16. Cash became a marketing icon in the mid-seventies

In the mid-1970s Johnny Cash had gone some time without a hit record, and the sales of his older recordings began to decline. The mid-seventies also featured the first oil crisis in the United States, and the oil companies were widely believed to be gouging the public, bringing what the president referred to as “windfall’ profits while there were shortages of gasoline at the pumps. Cash chose this period to participate in an advertising campaign for Amoco, which also cut into his popularity, despite his reputation for integrity in expressing his opinions. He made a second campaign for STP, a petroleum and gasoline additive which claimed to increase gas mileage, a new consideration for Americans.

He also built on his image as a country and western star to participate in a marketing campaign for Lionel electric trains. By the 1970s electric trains in general were losing popularity to slot cars and other model cars, and those electric trains which did sell were for the most part the smaller HO gauge. The bigger Lionel trains and the larger track sets they required were dying out. Cash called on the traditions of Lionel trains for Christmas in a series of commercials which kept his image on television, themed by his music, during the middle of the decade. Lionel sales continued to drop as the idea of electric trains around the Christmas tree was replaced with a growing number of electronic toys.

18 Tales from the Life of American Legend Johnny Cash
Billy Graham, seen here in the Oval Office with President Gerald R. Ford, was a close friend and business associate of Johnny Cash, who frequently performed at Graham’s crusades. White House

17. Johnny Cash and the Billy Graham Crusades

Johnny Cash and Billy Graham became close friends, which led to them working together to produce the project The Gospel Road, a film and soundtrack album released in 1973. The film tells the story of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, as written by Cash, and the soundtrack album contains numerous songs from throughout his career, connected by narrations during which Cash describes action on the screen during the film. Cash considered the film, which he wrote, to be an explanation of his personal religious beliefs, rather than a strict presentation of the biblical story, and it is reflected in the songs which are selected for the film. The songs include gospel recordings along with his signature, Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.

Johnny and June Carter appeared in numerous Billy Graham Crusades, including several of the evangelist’s TV specials, though he also backslid into drug abuse during the period. Cash recorded an album of gospel songs which he named A Believer Sings the Truth, though Columbia refused to release it when he presented it to executives in 1979. Despite being under contract to Columbia Records, Cash released the album on a private label. Cash’s involvement with Billy Graham was amplified by his own Christmas specials, and his frequent inclusion of gospel and religious music on his more mainstream country albums during the 1970s.

18 Tales from the Life of American Legend Johnny Cash
Kris Kristofferson (far left with guitar) and Johnny Cash worked on several projects together, including made-for-television movies including a remake of the 1939 classic Stagecoach. Wikimedia

18. He gained respect as a serious actor in movies made for television

Besides his work as the host of his own show, Johnny Cash gained critical acclaim for acting performances in several made-for-television movies, as well as being a guest star in both mini-series and episodic television. His first appearance in film was in 1961, in the noir film Five Minutes to Live. It was not well received. In 1971 Cash appeared with Kirk Douglas in The Gunfight, a film paid for by the Jicarilla Apache tribe, in which he shared top billing, but the film did little at the box office. He also did narration for a 2003 film starring Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio del Toro, as well as voiceover work in other films of a documentary nature.

But in television he demonstrated his considerable acting ability, in both sit-coms and episodes of crime dramas, including a well-received episode of Columbo in 1974, and another on Little House on the Prairie in 1976. He was in the miniseries North and South, portraying abolitionist John Brown during the build-up to the American Civil War. He produced and starred in the television films The Pride of Jesse Hallam; The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James (as Frank James); and a remake of the film Stagecoach, in which he played Curly Rogers. He made several appearances on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and also appeared in a voiceover on The Simpsons, as Space Coyote. He had many other roles, throughout his successful career on the small screen.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Cash: The Autobiography”. Johnny Cash. 1997

“The Man Called Cash: The Life, Love, and Faith of an American Legend”. Steven Turner. 2005

“How Sam Phillips Discovered the Sound of Rock and Roll”. Matt Blitz, Popular Mechanics Magazine. August 15, 2016

“Johnny Cash’s first wife tells of romance, heartbreak”. Brett Johnson, VC Star. October 26, 2016

“The Time Johnny Cash Set Fire to a National Forest”. Johnny Whiteside, LA Weekly. June 13, 2014

“Tales From the Morgue: The Man in Black (mail)”. Trish Long, El Paso Times, April 25, 2008

“Sam Phillips: The Rolling Stone Interview”. Elizabeth Kaye, Rolling Stone Magazine. February 13, 1986

“I Was There When It Happened: My Life With Johnny Cash”. Marshall Grant. 2006

“Root of Cash’s hit tunes”. Robert Hilburn. The Los Angeles Times. August 22, 2006

“Christgau’s Consumer Guide”. Robert Christgau, The Village Voice. February 23, 1988

“The Time Johnny Cash was Arrested in Walker County”. Jerry Summers, Times Free Press. July 24, 2016

“The stories of Johnny Cash”. Todd Leopold, CNN Entertainment. December 31, 2013

“Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan Tape TV Number in Nashville”. Patrick Thomas, Rolling Stone Magazine. June 1, 1969

“Johnny Cash and his prison reform campaign”. Danny Robins, BBC World News Service. January 23, 2013

“Johnny Cash Risked His Career to Take a Stand”. Antonini D’Ambrosio, The New York Times. August 27, 2014

“Flashback: See Johnny Cash’s Style-Defining ‘Man in Black’ in 1971”. Stephen L. Betts, Rolling Stone Country, February 16, 2016. Online

“Johnny Cash, Trend Chaser”. Noah Berlatsky, The Atlantic. March 26, 2014

“For Johnny Cash, Billy Graham was friend and confidant”. Juli Thanki, USA Today Network, Tennessean. February 21, 2018

“Rewind: The Uneven Acting Legacy of Johnny Cash”. Kurt Heitmueller, MTV online. November 14, 2005