Album of Unheard Johnny Cash Songs On The Way

photo: Alan Messer

Johnny Cash is 20 years gone, but we haven’t heard the last from the Man in Black just yet. Announced earlier this week, a cache of 11 demo tracks recorded in 1993 when Cash was between his final country label deal and signing with producer Rick Rubin, he walked into the LSI Studios in Nashville to record eleven solo written songs he’d accumulated over the years.

Cash recorded the songs to help out his son-in-law Mike Daniels who owned the studio with Cash’s daughter Rosy. The demos ended up getting lost in time, but they were recently unearthed, and stripped back to just Cash’s voice and his acoustic guitar. Then with Cash’s son John Carter Cash and David “Fergie” Ferguson acting as producers, a select group of musicians were invited into the Cash Cabin Studios in Hendersonville to record what is now simply being titled Songwriter.

To be released on June 28th via Mercury Nashville, Songwriter will feature Johnny Cash collaborators Marty Stuart, late bassist Dave Roe, along with drummer Pete Abott and others bringing these original Johnny Cash songs to life. Stuart was part of Cash’s Tennessee Three from 1980 to 1986. Dave Roe toured with cash for nearly a decade starting in the early ’90s. Pete Abbott of Average White Band fame was also brought into to complete the original Cash Tennessee Three sound.

Also appearing on the album will be Waylon Jennings, who passed away in 2002 himself, but provided harmony vocals on two of the songs (“I Love You Tonite” and “Like A Soldier”) during the original recording sessions. Vince Gill also records harmonies on the song “Poor Valley Girl,” and Dan Auerbach of The Back Keys plays a guitar solo on the song “Spotlight,” making Songwriter a star-studded affair.


“Nobody plays Cash better than Marty Stuart, and Dave Roe of course played with dad for many years,” says John Carter Cash. “The musicians that came in were just tracking with dad, you know, recording with dad, just as, in the case of Marty and Dave, they had many times before, so they knew his energies, his movements, and they let him be the guide. It was just playing with Johnny once again, and that’s what it was. That was the energy of the creation.” 

The sessions also included Russ Pahl on steel guitar and other instruments, Mike Rojas on keys, Sam Bacco on percussion, and “Handsome” Harry Stinson from Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives on select songs. Anna Cristina Cash also sings background vocals.

“We just went rudimentary,” said John Carter of the production approach. “We went straight to the roots, as far as the sound, and tried not to overly enhance it. We built as if dad was in the room. That’s what we tried to do. Between the both of us, Fergie and I have spent thousands of hours with dad in the recording studio, so we just tried to act like he was there: WWJCD, right?”

The songs themselves are said to range from sentimental and spiritual moments, to tales of family and survival, and just a dash of humor like Cash was known for. You hear that humor in the first single from the album called “Well Alright,” which takes place in a laundromat. And most importantly, Johnny Cash’s voice that had aged into a stand-in for the Almighty graces all 11 tracks.

But as John Carter Cash emphasizes, it’s really the writing of Songwriter that takes center stage. “I wanted it to be songs that mostly people hadn’t heard and that paid close attention to who he was as a songwriter and who he was as an American voice. One of my most important focuses in the past 10 years is to make sure that history, as best that I can possibly, is to give history the opportunity to notice him as the great writer he is. Bob Dylan says he’s one of the greatest writers of all of American written music and I agree. I want to put that in the forefront.”

Songwriter is now available for pre-order.

JOHNNY CASH – SONGWRITER TRACK LIST

1. Hello Out There
2. Spotlight
3. Drive On
4. I Love You Tonite
5. Have You Ever Been to Little Rock?
6. Well Alright
7. She Sang Sweet Baby James
8. Poor Valley Girl
9. Soldier Boy
10.Sing It Pretty Sue
11. Like A Soldier

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