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New Johnny Cash Album To Feature Chris Cornell, T Bone Burnett, and Jamey Johnson

Johnny Cash at home on his ranch in San Antonio, Texas in 1960. © Don Hunstein

A new album will put Johnny Cash’s poetry to the music of Chris Cornell and country musician Jamey Johnson. The album will be titled Johnny Cash Forever Words: The Music, and was instigated by John Carter Cash, Cash’s son.

The project first came to light when Johnson mentioned it in an interview with Kentucky Country Music.

“John Carter has a good number of poems that Johnny wrote.” Johnson said. “I say poems because they don’t have music to them. He’s working on an album where’s he’s pairing up these songs with songwriters from our day to finish up these Johnny Cash songs. One of them that I know he’s most proud of and you can’t get it anymore – he’s got Chris Cornell having finished one of these songs and then recorded it. I’m excited for it to come out. I got to do a couple of them.”

Johnny Cash during a recording session at the Columbia Records 30th Street Studios in New York City in October 1959. © Don Hunstein

John Carter Cash recently confirmed the news in an email to Rolling Stone. It is some of the last musical recordings that Cornell, former lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave, did before he died in May this year. The musician's involvement is not only poignant in light of his recent passing, but also because Cash recorded a version of Soundgarden’s "Rusty Cage" for Unchained, Cash’s Rick Rubin produced covers album.

The rural side of Johnny Cash relaxing on his farm in San Antonio, Texas in 1959. © Don Hunstein

Some of the poetry has even had extra verses written to make them more suited to be turned into songs. Johnson along with Cash’s son have both worked on them.

“Part of it was just really cool to get this lyric in that we didn’t have a second verse to.” Johnson told Kentucky Country Music. “So, John Carter and I sat down and wrote a second verse. The way we did it was by creating something akin to a painter’s palette. Where instead of colors on the palette, we put words on the palette out of context and took words that he used when writing his first verse. We just added words that fit the palette that’s similar the words and we took those words and built a second verse out of those words so that it’s still the same context and continues to the story. Of course, the music, it just kind of washes over. It’s what I think Johnny, in the same vein of what Johnny would sing. If I was writing with Johnny Cash, it wouldn’t be any different I don’t think unless he had something really awesome to consider. It was really fun to do that. I know that John Carter is really excited about to put that out. I sure was.”

Johnny Cash in New York with his wife June Carter while recording together at Columbia Recording Studio in New York City 1975. © Don Hunstein

John Carter Cash is the only son of Johnny and June Carter Cash and has been keen on holding the candle for his dad’s legacy. Not just the iconic man in black we all know and love, but showcasing the legendary musician's other sides too.

Last year he released a book of Cash’s poetry called Forever Words: The Unknown Poems, which featured 41 unpublished verses that Cash had written, some of it dating back to as early as 1944 when Cash was only 12 years old. “I want people to have a deeper understanding of my father than just the iconic, cool man in black. I think this book will help provide that.” he told The New York Times when it came out.

Johnny Cash on his farm in San Antonio, Texas in 1959. Photographer Don Huntsein recalls, "He always had a fondness for San Antonio. The San Antonio part was the beginning. That was the hope and the optimism and the dreams and stuff." © Don Hunstein

This new project further aides in that deeper understanding, but it won’t be the first time Cash’s poetry has been set to music. Musician Brad Paisley set one of the poems from the book to music for his track “Gold All Over the Ground” taken from new album Love and War. John Carter Cash says that that recording session was a "precursor to this [new] project."

According to Rolling Stone, along with Johnson and Cornell, Johnny Cash Forever Words: The Music will also feature contributions from Paisley, Jewel, T Bone Burnett, Dailey & Vincent, Kacey Musgraves and Ruston Kelly. There is currently no release date for the album.

Listen to Johnny Cash’s version of “Rusty Cage” below.

Rockarchive is delighted to be able to offer these iconic Johnny Cash images as limited edition photographic prints which you can buy here.