There's arguably no name more synonymous with country music than Johnny Cash. Throughout the five decades of his career, it seemed everyone could identify with him. Country, rock, folk and punk fans all equally loved the "Man In Black." His music transcended genres, his influence upon the world unquestionable.
In the final decade of his life, Johnny Cash released some of the most passionate, acclaimed work of his career via Rick Rubin's American Recordings label starting in 1994. It's almost hard to believe that in the 1980s, many in the country music establishment saw Johnny Cash as a has-been whose best work was behind him.
So imagine the surprise felt by John Carter Cash, the only son of Johnny Cash and his second wife June Carter Cash, when he was pouring through his father's archives and came across a series of unreleased recordings from this unheralded period of Cash's career. So he assembled 12 of these never-before-heard songs to make the "new" Johnny Cash album Out Among The Stars".
Originally recorded at Nashville’s Columbia Studios in 1981 and at 1111 Sound Studios in 1984, the original sessions were produced by Billy Sherrill, whom many consider to be the architect of the "countrypolitan" sound. What's most striking about the songs on "Out Among The Stars" is that they don't sound the least bit dated despite now being more than 30 years old
"In speaking with the people at Sony Legacy, I think we all agree that some of the predecessors at the label made a mistake choosing to shelve these recordings," John Carter Cash tells HuffPost Canada Music.
"That isn't to say that there wasn't wonderful music being done in Nashville at the time. There were some great records to be found. But behind closed doors, the label did not see my father as fitting in with what they were doing at the time. I think their attitude was largely that was he was done. There weren't going to be any more hits from him. There was just such a limited vision in the business at the time about my father and those around him. Because they deemed that he didn't fall in with what was happening, he just wasn't on the radar of the powers that be."
Interview continues after slideshow
The recordings found on "Out Among The Stars" first surfaced in 2012 when John Carter Cash, along with people from his father's former record label were cataloging the extensive musical archives left behind by his parents.
Carter Cash says that they originally came across 16 tracks that had been previously unreleased but opted to use the 12 songs that they felt formed the most cohesive body of work.
"All of the elements that were common throughout my father's career and life were to be found on these 12 songs: his humour, his faith and his love for my mother."
Initially, some of the songs found on "Out Among The Stars" were in various states of completion. Some of the songs recorded by Johnny Cash’s band at the time -- a young Marty Stuart on guitar and mandolin, Jerry Kennedy on guitar, Pete Drake (steel guitar), Henry Strzelecki (bass) and Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano -- were missing solos or other parts deemed vital to the song.
Along with co-producer and archivist Steve Berkowitz, John Carter Cash enlisted Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller and his stepsister, Carlene Carter to help fill in those missing parts.
Carter Cash admits having approached the need for overdubbing "new" parts with extreme caution.
"Mr. Sherrill is not interested in being a part of the music business these days and so we pressed on and did the best that we felt that we could within our hearts. We wanted to pay respect to Billy and not go back and fix things that didn't need to be touched up. The band he had backing my father was amazing. They were all such great players.
"Our intention was to make the touch-ups that we were making a seamless thing to the listener. We know that we have done well when people say that they cannot necessarily tell what was recorded then versus what was recorded in the last couple of years."
An especially touching moment on "Out Among The Stars" comes via the song "Baby Ride Easy," a duet between Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter. A classic Cash-Carter duet in the same vein as their earlier hits like "Jackson," what is especially notable about the song, aside from the duo regularly trading off lead vocal duties, is the happiness that permeates their respective vocal tracks.
"That song is such a vibrant, feverish song. It is one of the songs that grabs me the most because it reminds me of the good times that my parents shared. They were very much in love throughout their marriage. You can hear that in the song. They even had the vision that the song could have been a big hit for them. Sadly, the record companies weren't interested in that at the time.”
Admitting that there is more in the way of unreleased material in his father's archives, including numerous tracks from his prolific time at American Recordings, John Carter Cash looks forward to sharing more music from his legendary father in the future.
"There will definitely be more music coming but it has to be the right time and has say something unique," he says. "We want to preserve the integrity to my father's work and career, first and foremost."
"At the end of the day, it is just such a joy to be able to share these songs with everyone. It is a chance for people to hear the music of my father at a particular snapshot of his life. I want people to know more about the person that I remember so dearly."