The North West saw a lot of Johnny Cash in 1968 – in fact he could hardly keep away!
In one eventful year, the man behind the classic hits Ring of Fire, I Walk the Line and Man in Black, played the Free Trade Hall and Odeon in Manchester as well as two gigs on Merseyside.
Cash flew into Ringway Airport in May, newly married to fellow performer June Carter after a whirlwind engagement. He proposed to her on stage in Ontario in February and the marriage took place a week later in Kentucky.
June accompanied Cash on his UK tours and had only agreed to marry him if he ‘cleaned up’ the drug addiction that had plagued him throughout his career.
Before he came to Manchester in 1968, Cash was at a severe low. A year earlier, he divorced his first wife Vivian Liberto and was cancelling performances.
Things only looked up when his rendition of the song Jackson with future wife June won a Grammy Award.
Another turning point in 1967 came when Cash was arrested in Lafayette, Georgia, after police found him with a bag of prescription pills after a car accident.
Cash tried to bribe local sheriff Ralph Jones and was jailed for the night. Jones only released the singer after giving him a stern talk about how he was wasting his life and talent.
It made a huge impact on Cash who returned to Lafayette to play a benefit concert for the local high school. More than 12,000 people came along, even though the town’s population at the time was around 9,000!
Cash later claimed that the sheriff’s intervention helped save his life. He said: ‘I was taking the pills for a while, and then the pills started taking me’.
So the brooding bass-baritone from Arkansas, whose songs were full of sorrow, moral doubt and regret, was back on the right track when he took the stage at the Free Trade Hall on Saturday May 4th 1968.
Touring with the Johnny Cash troupe was another renowned rockabilly and country music singer-songwriter Carl Perkins, who had his own problems with the demon drink.
The pair supported each other musically as well as in their efforts to stay sober. Cash recorded the Perkins’ tune Daddy Sang Bass in 1968 and went to Number One in the country music charts for six weeks.
Perkins played lead guitar on Cash’s chart-topping single A Boy Named Sue recorded live at San Quentin prison in San Francisco in 1969. The performance was also filmed by Granada TV.
Before his 1968 visits, Cash had played live at Manchester’s Astoria Club in October 1963 and at the Palace Theatre in May 1966.
In between, he met the Beatles backstage when they played at the Cow Palace, San Francisco, in 1965 – the final stop on their North American tour.
Cash was all smiles when he flew into Manchester in September 1971 to headline at the Kings Hall, Belle Vue. Alongside him were his wife June and 18-month-old son John.
By this time he had rediscovered his Christian faith after declaring his new-found belief to the Reverend Jimmie Rodgers Snow, son of country music legend Hank Snow, at the Evangel Temple in Nashville.
Cash had also adopted the familiar public image of the Man in Black, performing in black suits and knee-length black coat.
He said he wore black for the prisoner who had long paid for his crime, the poor and hungry and all those betrayed by age or drugs.
In October 1981, Cash performed at the Manchester Apollo, opening his concert with the four classics Ring of Fire, A Thing Called Love, Folsom Prison Blues and Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.
He rounded off the set with Man in Black and I Will Rock and Roll With You after stirring renditions of San Quentin and I Walk the Line.
Cash managed to stay drug free until 1977 when he started relying on amphetamines again. In 1983, he checked into the Betty Ford Clinic in Rancho Mirage, California.
He was back at the Manchester Apollo in May 1988 and visited the city again in April 1991. All the classics were on the set list which ended with Riders in the Sky and Jackson.
After Cash’s death at the age of 71 in 2003, his lakeside home was bought by Barry Gibb of Manchester band the Bee Gees for $2.3 million in 2006. The house burnt down during renovations a year later.
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