Johnny Cash, The Man in Black, may have been an outlaw and he may have battled more demons than many people know exist, but at his core, he was a romantic, a poet and deeply in love with June Carter Cash. Over the course of Johnny and June’s relationship, the couple exchanged poems and letters, a “monstrous amassment” according to the couple’s son John Carter Cash, who took the handwritten letters, poems and documents, penned across the entirety of his father’s life and turned them into Johnny Cash: Forever Words.
Johnny Cash: Forever Words, is a collaborative album consisting of songs created from Johnny Cash’s unknown poetry, lyrics, and letters set to music. Over the course of 2 years, John Carter produced the album with help from Steve Berkowitz and an unbelievable list of artists including the likes of Johnny’s friends, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson; John Carter’s half-sisters Roseanne Cash and Carlene Cash; the late Chris Cornell; and a host of country artists– Ruston Kelly and Kacey Musgraves; Brad Paisley; Alison Krauss; and Jamey Johnson. Jewel, Elvis Costello, and John Mellencamp are also featured.
The album was recorded primarily at The Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee, Johnny Cash: Forever Words is also the musical companion to the best-selling “Forever Words: The Unknown Poems,” a volume of Cash’s unpublished writing edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon and curated by John Carter Cash and Berkowitz.
Many of the songs on Johnny Cash: Forever Words were directly inspired by material in the book while others are drawn from different sources of Cash’s unpublished writings. The tone of the album is established with the opening track “Forever/I Still Miss Someone” featuring Kris Kristofferson reciting the last poem Cash ever wrote alongside guitar accompaniment from Willie Nelson, both lifelong friends of Johnny. Continuing the close-to-home theme, the music then transitions to the deeply personal “To June This Morning,” a letter Johnny wrote to his wife, June Carter Cash, now interpreted by real-life couple Ruston Kelly and Kacey Musgraves.
Twenty-one years after Johnny Cash recorded his cover of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” for his Grammy Award-winning album, Unchained, Chris Cornell continues this special relationship with “You Never Knew My Mind,” setting some of Cash’s own poignant and introspective words to original music on one of Cornell’s last solo recordings.
“Determining the artist for each song was truly a matter of the heart,” said John Carter Cash. “I picked the artists who are most connected with my father, who had a personal story that was connected with Dad. It became an exciting endeavor to go through these works, to put them together and present them to different people who could finish them in a way that I believed that Dad would have wanted.”