John Carter Cash Moves Forward

By John Gerome, AP - Posted June 28, 2007

John Carter Cash knows all about the pressure of following in famous footsteps. Not only was his father the musical legend Johnny Cash, his mom was June Carter Cash, a beloved member of the pioneering Carter Family.

His half-sisters, Rosanne Cash and Carlene Carter, are successful recording artists. His ex-brothers-in-law are Rodney Crowell, Marty Stuart and Nick Lowe.

"Everywhere I've gone people say, 'Why don't you sound like your dad?'" he reflected recently. Then, as if pondering the question yet again, he answered himself: "Well, God didn't make me that way."

At 37, he finds himself in the delicate position of trying to preserve the family legacy while maintaining his own identity as a producer, husband and father.

This month he released a book about his mother, "Anchored in Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash," and a companion tribute album he produced that includes Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow, Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello and Brad Paisley.

As the only child of Johnny and June Carter Cash, he saw the book as a chance to pass on to his three children an "honest interpretation of who my mother was," and, in some ways, to deal with her death.

He writes frankly of his father's drug abuse and reveals for the first time that his mother also was addicted to prescription painkillers in her later years. "She simply stopped speaking in full sentences and went off into her own world. Her mind was not the same," he wrote.

"That was one of the things that made it so hard to write the book because I knew if I was going to do it I had to go there. I had to tell the truth," he said. "But I wanted the point of the book to be one of redemption, lasting family values, love in the face of suffering and continuing to press on."

He spoke from the woodsy log cabin where his parents once came for solace and musical inspiration. His voice is soft and his gaze solemn. He has a seriousness about him that seemed at least to outsiders so apparent in his father.

He's experienced significant loss. His mother, his father and his half-sister, Rosey Nix Adams, all died within six months of each other in 2003. This spring, the lakeside home where he grew up was destroyed by fire, a blow he described as being similar to a death in its suddenness.

"I'm real proud of him the way he's stood up to all the rigmarole that he's had to go through since John and June passed away," said his uncle and Johnny Cash's brother, Tommy Cash, a singer and real estate agent.

"All the stress and the pressure. People want to know every single thing they can possibly think of. I think he's handled it extremely well maybe better than some of the rest of us in the family."

A couple years ago, John Carter Cash served as executive producer of the Cash biopic "Walk the Line," a film that upset some of the family because of the way certain events and people were portrayed. With the book, he wanted to be honest without being offensive.

"Of course I was concerned, and there were things I took out of it he said, she said those kinds of things," Carter Cash said. "I would be glad if my mother could read the book right now, because my parents and I were always very straightforward with each other. We tried to be. That was our motto 'Tell each other what you think.'

" He always knew music was his calling; he just didn't know how he fit in. He had a rock band in his teens and played rhythm guitar in his father's group in the '90s. He started writing songs when he was 9.

But like much of his family, he was dogged by personal problems, including substance abuse and a broken marriage. As a musician, people expected so much of him.

He began to find his niche when his father and then his mother hit a creative surge in their later years. He worked with famed rock producer Rick Rubin on some of his father's "American Recordings" albums. He co-produced his mother's acclaimed 1999 album "Press On" and produced her Grammy-winning 2003 project "Wildwood Flower." His 2005 production "The Unbroken Circle: the Musical Heritage of the Carter Family" was a Grammy nominee.

"The whole time I was on the road with them (his parents) I was searching. When I did my own music I wasn't sure. When I found producing, I knew that was what I wanted to do," he said. "I love working with music in the studio. I love working with the artists. I love to help clarify and minimally direct and capture sound."

He's produced recordings for George Jones, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Earl Scruggs, Norman and Nancy Blake, John Prine, Billy Joe Shaver and many others. He does much of his work in the cabin/studio in the woods next to his house.

"He's all the things I think a great producer should be. He's a musical guy. He listens a lot. And he holds his tongue until he has something significant to say in terms of suggestions," said Jeff Hanna, singer and guitarist for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. "I was watching him in a session with his dad one time and it was the same thing."

As he spoke that morning at the cabin, surrounded by old photos, instruments and other reminders of his parents, Carter Cash seemed satisfied with his place in the family legacy, as though he'd found the peace that often eludes the offspring of celebrities. He excused himself to attend his daughter's kindergarten graduation, and as he stepped outside to leave, he looked off into the shady woods.

"The children of entertainers have a common thread: We usually suffer a lot. We're spoiled, we suffer and then maybe we figure out who we are and what our purpose is."

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