This week, a new Johnny Cash album — American Recordings VI: Ain’t No Grave — was released to coincide with what would have been the music icon’s 78th birthday. Today, we take a look back at the Man in Black, who spoke with Terry Gross in 1997. Cash began recording albums and performing in the 1950s. His long romance with wife June Carter Cash, celebrated in the 2005 biopic Walk the Line, spanned five decades — from their early touring days to their rise as one of America’s most popular country-music couples. Cash recorded over 1,500 songs in his career, including such classic hits as “I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire” and “A Boy Named Sue.” He played several of his most popular songs, including “Folsom Prison Blues,” at that maximum security facility in 1968. The album based on that performance hit the top slot on the country-music charts and revitalized Cash’s career. In the 1990s, Cash worked with rock producer Rick Rubin. The two collaborated on several critically acclaimed Grammy-winning albums — two of which have been released since Cash’s death in 2003.
ALSO, Rick Rubin is perhaps best known for starting the rap record label Def Jam from his dorm room while in college, or for working with hard rock bands like Metallica and System of a Down. But starting in 1993, he entered into a creative partnership with the country legend Johnny Cash that lasted for the last 10 years of Cash’s life. Cash and Rubin called the series of albums that emerged from the collaboration American Recordings. Each album featured original compositions by Cash, traditional songs, and covers, sung by Cash, usually over an acoustic guitar arrangement. Four of the albums came out before Cash’s death in 2003, including American IV: The Man Comes Around, which featured Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails song, “Hurt.” Rubin has produced three albums that have been released since Cash’s death — the box set Unearthed and the albums American V: A Hundred Highways and American VI: Ain’t No Grave, which was released this week to coincide with what would have been Cash’s 78th birthday. Rubin speaks to Terry Gross about what it was like to collaborate with the country music legend. In addition to working with Cash, Rubin has worked extensively with Linkin Park, Slayer, the Dixie Chicks, Metallica, Russell Simmons and the Beastie Boys.
Spoon‘s is not a Cinderella tale, in which a struggling band is plucked from obscurity and releases its bedroom-recorded debut to universal fame and fortune. Instead, the Austin group’s career has required plenty of patience and persistence. Early on, Spoon was dropped from two labels in the span of four years. But after venting its anger with a few vengeful songs, its members turned their focus back to writing tight, ingratiating pop songs — this time to more success. Spoon broke through with its third release, Girls Can Tell, and by its sixth album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, it was hitting the top of the album-sales charts. The band’s latest album, Transference, features a little bit of twang to go with a lot of clean-sounding pop constructs. Spoon will tour from now through May, moving through Europe and returning to the U.S. in time to headline NPR Music’s March 17 showcase at South by Southwest.