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Fans identified with Cash’s struggle

Truck stops are a sadder place with the Man in Black gone
/ Source: The Associated Press

Johnny Cash’s music always has been a favorite at truck stops. That’s because Cash “spoke to the American man. He did songs people could understand and relate to,” said Bobby Williams, a big-rig driver getting a breakfast biscuit at a Travel America truck stop.

WILLIAMS, of Spokane, Wash., bowed his head Friday morning upon hearing that Cash had died a few hours earlier at a hospital in Nashville. He then sang a few lines from his favorite Cash recording, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky.”

Another truck driver, Dave Thomas of San Bernadino, Calif., said he’s not a country music fan, but he’s the proud owner of “I Walk the Line” on vinyl.

Nikki Webb, a waitress at a Shoney’s restaurant in Franklin, said Cash’s music resonated with “the down-to-earth, hardworking person.”

Cash was an original, said Jack Krowder, an associate pastor from Louisville, Ky., who stopped at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville along with other fans to pay his respects.

“He didn’t try to copy anybody or try to be anybody he wasn’t,” Krowder said. “You could understand what he was saying. He told a story, he wasn’t just putting out notes. He spoke from the heart.”

In his 1997 autobiography, Cash said he tried to speak for regular people whose lives are often ignored by the entertainment industry. “The Man in Black” said his dark clothing was meant to symbolize the downtrodden of the world.


Cash’s own life struggles, including his addiction to pills, reverberated with people like Donald Jackson, who is fighting his own demons in a Nashville drug and alcohol treatment program.

“He inspired me. He overcame it. He went through it and he talked about it in his songs, and he was qualified to talk about it,” said Jackson, standing outside Union Rescue Mission.

Cash, who credited his wife, June Carter Cash, with helping him overcome his addiction, recently recorded Trent Reznor’s “Hurt,” which details the price of drug addiction: “I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.”

Two of Cash’s most popular albums were recorded live at prisons, and one of his biggest hits was “Folsom Prison Blues” - even though Cash’s only brush with the law was a suspended jail sentence in 1965 on a misdemeanor narcotics charge in Texas.

Tim Hall, an alcoholic with two weeks remaining in his six months of treatment at the mission, joked that “Folsom Prison Blues” could be his theme song. He has served jail time for drunken driving.

“I hope I’ve got my heart right with God,” Hall said. “If I can do as well as Johnny, that’s good enough for me.”

© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.