Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash’s friendship was a thing of purity that lasted close to 40 years. Initially, it was simply born out of a love for the music that one another were producing. However, it soon grew to be more significant than merely a mutual appreciation of artistic sensibilities.
The two shared the stage multiple times throughout their careers, and Dylan often turned his hand to the odd Johnny Cash song during his live performances, with perhaps the most notable his spellbinding version of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. However, the duo would only record together once, a time when Cash made a delightful cameo on Dylan’s Nashville Skyline record, which was as riveting as you’d expect from two seismic talents of this stature.
Cash was the elder statesman and a figure that Dylan grew up idolising. However, interestingly, it was the ‘Ring Of Fire’ singer that initiated the contact between the pair. Furthermore, when the singer compiled the line-up for the debut episode of ABC’s The Johnny Cash Show in 1970, he called upon Dylan to appear, and of course, he didn’t say no.
In a 2014 Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’, his son, John Carter Cash, shed some light on what his father was like behind closed doors and, surprisingly, revealed that he “truly loved” Russell Crowe in Gladiator, among other unexpected facts about the country icon. However, he also opened up about his father’s relationship with Dylan and revealed how they became friends: “My father told me he met Bob Dylan in a New York City hotel room in the early 1960s,” Carter Cash noted.
Adding: “They had corresponded, writing letters back and forth, dad said that when he met Bob that Dylan rushed into his room, jumped on the bed, and began bouncing up and down chanting I met Johnny Cash, I met Johnny Cash.
“They had a dear friendship. And although they didn’t spend a lot of time together in the last part of my dad’s life, they never ceased being friends.”
A common misconception is that Dylan and Cash first met at Newport Folk Festival in 1964. However, his son’s admission pokes a giant hole in that story. Additionally, Cash did write in his autobiography that it all began with letters that he penned to the new, hotshot musician.
“I had a portable record player that I’d take along on the road,” he noted. “And I’d put on [The] Freewheelin’ [Bob Dylan] backstage, then go out and do my show, then listen again as soon as I came off. After a while at that, I wrote Bob a letter telling him how much of a fan I was. He wrote back almost immediately, saying he’d been following my music since ‘I Walk the Line,’ and so we began a correspondence.”
The feeling was most certainly mutual, “In plain terms, Johnny was and is the North Star; you could guide your ship by him – the greatest of the greats then and now,” Dylan said upon Cash’s passing in 2003. “Truly he is what the land and country is all about, the heart and soul of it personified and what it means to be here; and he said it all in plain English.
“I think we can have recollections of him, but we can’t define him any more than we can define a fountain of truth, light and beauty. If we want to know what it means to be mortal, we need look no further than the Man in Black. Blessed with a profound imagination, he used the gift to express all the various lost causes of the human soul.”
Dylan was still early in his career when Cash decided to instigate contact, and hearing that one of his musical heroes had given him his blessing must have been a confidence boost – not that he was never short on anyway, even the self-assured Dylan was in awe of ‘The Man In Black’.