Johnny Cash became a country-music legend by remaining the same through the years: plainspoken, patriotic and religious. The Arkansas native, who began as a rockabilly singer in 1955, has stayed a presense in country music despite divorce, drug abuse and serious illness, mostly recently heart surgery in 1988.
During his 36-year career, the 59-year-old “Man in Black,” who has won seven Grammys, recorded 1,500 songs on more than 400 albums, with 30 of those albums making the pop charts, unheard of for a country singer.
Among his biggest hits are “A Boy Named Sue,” “Ring of Fire,” “I Walk the Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Big River,” “Jackson,” “If I Were a Carpenter,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Pickin’ Time.”
Cash will bring these hits, plus others, to the Maine Center for the Arts, where he performs in an 8 p.m. concert Friday, Oct. 11. Performing with him will be his wife, June Carter Cash; their son, John Carter Cash; and his in-laws, the Carter Family.
Cash should attract a diverse audience to the concert in Orono. Not only is he the youngest living member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, but he has also been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Still he keeps his music straightforward and simple, with no glitz and little variation.
“I have no illusions about who I am and how old I am,” Cash told USA Today. “…I know who my record buyers are. They’re solid, dyed-in-the-wool country fans.”
In recent years, Cash has recorded two albums and toured with the Highwaymen, made up of Cash and his friends Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. The group was nominated for a 1991 Grammy.
Earlier this year, Cash caught the mood of the country during the Gulf War with his single, “Going by the Book,” a vision of a biblical final conflict starting in the Middle East.
That song was but one indication of Cash’s religious faith. One of his good friends is Billy Graham. Cash performed at Graham’s crusade in New York City’s Central Park, before 250,000 people. Cash also won an Angel Award for his 19-hour tape “The Johnny Cash Spoken Word New Testament.”
Cash credits much of his success to God.
“I make my daily commitment to God,” he said at a Washington concert in August. “And so long as I keep the commitment, the day goes really good. If I try to break it and run everything myself, I usually mess it up.”
Cash also keeps his hand in as an actor, mostly in TV movies. His most recent work was the Disney Channel Production, “The New Adventures of Davy Crockett.”
His latest venture is “Cashland,” a $35 million theme park in Branson, Mo. The 140-acre complex, scheduled to open in May 1992, will have two 2,500-seat music theaters, a miniature-horse arena, a go-cart track, a music museum and retail shops. A water park, rides, motels and restaurants will be added later.
Tickets for the Johnny Cash show are available by calling the Maine Center for the Arts box office at 581-1755.