In the world of country music, there’s a few artists that are inextricably tied to the sound of their voice.
Willie Nelson immediately comes to mind and in modern times Chris Stapleton probably has the most universally recognized vocals, but without a doubt there’s few people on earth that won’t recognize a Johnny Cash song when it starts playing, even if they’ve never heard it before.
The deep baritone and near speaking style of singing is synonymous with the Man In Black, but it appears that voice wasn’t unique only to him.
We previously saw a viral video of a kid named Andrew Hensley who certainly sounded a bit like Johnny Cash, especially since he was only around 15 or so when he recorded it, but there’s another artist with a voice that sounds even more like Johnny, and they just so happen to be related.
Thomas Gabriel is Johnny Cash’s eldest grandson, born to Kathy Cash who was one of four daughters he had with his first wife Vivian Liberto Cash.
Gabriel got an early interest in music but also began following the tragic part of the family’s history by getting into drugs and alcohol at a very young age. Johnny tried to steer him away from music as a career and he became a police officer for 8 years before he was forced out of the job because of his substance abuse issues. His life spiraled from there and he wound up spending a few years in prison for various crimes.
But he was able to get his life back together with the help of family, friends, and rehab and eventually began pursuing music full time, releasing his first independent album in 2018 titled Long Way Home.
While a quality artist in his own right, being the grandson of Johnny Cash is inescapable, which lead to him doing a series of acoustic performances titled Live at Cash Cabin, which were released a few months ago.
In this series, he performed a number of his favorite of Johnny’s songs, and while they are all good and his vocals are very remnant of Johnny, none of them were as nearly identical as his performance of “Folsom Prison Blues”.
If you close your eyes and someone plays this for you, you’d think Johnny rose from the dead or that it was a newly found recording from just before his death in 2003. Give it a listen for yourself and tell me the spirit of Johnny isn’t alive and well in Thomas Gabriel.
“Country Roads” Was Supposed To Be A Johnny Cash Song
John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” has become one of the best-known country songs throughout the world. Despite being released way back in 1971, it’s still a staple for karaoke and dueling piano bars.
Growing up in West Virginia, I heard this song more than the national anthem (despite the fact that the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenendoah River are really more prominent in Virginia and Maryland than West Virginia). Hell, they even made it the official state song of West Virginia in 2014. I still get a little nostalgic any time I hear it.
But I never knew that it was originally meant to be a Johnny Cash song.
The classic song was originally written by Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert during a drive through Maryland – having never set foot in West Virginia themselves. Later the duo played the song (that they were planning to sell to Johnny Cash) for John Denver. According to Denver, he told the writers that he had to have it for his next album. The trio then finished up the lyrics, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The song was released on Denver’s 1971 Poems, Prayers & Promises album, and has since become one of the most recognized songs in country music – not just in the United States, but around the world.
But we don’t have to wonder what the song would have sounded like had it actually made it into Johnny Cash’s catalog. Cash once joined Denver for a duet of “Country Roads,” showing off his deep baritone and classic storytelling style of performing that takes the song to a whole new level.
As they say up at WVU, cue “Country Roads.”
“Ring Of Fire” Was Gonna Be Used For A Hemorrhoid Commercial
When June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore first penned “Ring Of Fire,” something tells me they never saw this coming.
Of course, “Ring Of Fire” was popularized by Johnny Cash in 1963, and went on to become one of the most iconic country music songs of all time. According to her autobiography, I Walked The Line: My Life With Johnny, Cash’s first wife Vivian alleges that Johnny wrote the song himself, but gave the credit to June Carter because she needed the extra money.
And it pissed Vivian off because she could tell he was smitten by her:
“One day in early 1963, while gardening in the yard, Johnny told me about a song he had just written with Merle Kilgore and Curly while out fishing on Lake Casitas.
‘I’m gonna give June half credit on a song I just wrote,’ Johnny said. ‘It’s called “Ring of Fire.”‘
‘Why?’ I asked, wiping dirt from my hands. The mere mention of her name annoyed me. I was sick of hearing about her.
‘She needs the money,’ he said, avoiding my stare. ‘And I feel sorry for her.'”
Vivian also confessed that she was a bit blind to Johnny’s affection for June, even though the writing was on the wall:
“I was so naïve and trusting. The idea made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t argue about it. I still believed everything Johnny told me. To this day, it confounds me to hear the elaborate details June told of writing that song for Johnny. She didn’t write that song any more than I did.
The truth is, Johnny wrote that song, while pilled up and drunk, about a certain private female body part. All those years of her claiming she wrote it herself, and she probably never knew what the song was really about.”
Of course, Johnny would go on to divorce Vivian in 1966 and would later marry June Carter in 1968… so her fears proved to be true. But whether it was written by Johnny or June, and whether it was about female body parts or burning love, “Ring Of Fire” firmly cemented its place in the country music history books.
However, in 2004, it took a funny twist.
Merle Kilgore, the co-writer of the song and manager of Hank Williams Jr., got a call from Florida television producer who cooked up the idea to feature “Ring Of Fire” in a hemorrhoid commercial for Preparation H.
Ok, that’s pretty funny… I mean, it’s a perfect fit, right?
Kilgore thought it was funny and had even made that joke himself in the past, but the Cash Family wasn’t having any of it. Rosanne Cash told The Tennesseanin a 2004 interview:
“He started talking about this moronic tie-in without talking to any of us. The song is about the transformative power of love and that’s what it has always meant to me and that’s what it will always mean to the Cash children.”
Kilgore apologized, and the commercial idea got thrown in the trash.
“I certainly didn’t want to upset the Cash family because I love them. I just thought it was kind of funny.”