Johnny Cash was one of the most influential and iconic musicians of the 20th century. He was known for his unique blend of country, rock, and folk music and deep baritone voice. But what many people don’t know is that famed country singer had a number of close friendships with other artists throughout his career.
From Willie Nelson to Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash forged strong relationships with some of the most influential musicians of his time.
Let’s take a look at some of the friendships that helped shape and define Cash’s career. So grab your guitar and get ready to explore the world of Johnny Cash!
A Close Tie: Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan
Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan’s friendship transcended music genres and backgrounds. The two first connected when Bob Dylan sent Johnny Cash a fan letter in 1961, which started a friendship that lasted until Cash’s death in 2003.
The admiration between the two was mutual, as both artists saw the genius in each other’s work. They deeply understood each other’s musical styles and often collaborated.
In 1969, Bob Dylan was a guest on Johnny Cash’s TV special to sing duets with him. The duo performed “Girl From The North Country” and “I Threw It All Away” together. Their voices blended seamlessly, creating a truly special sound.
Cash and Dylan remained close over the years, often writing letters to one another and supporting each other’s music. Even after Cash’s death, Dylan referred to him as his “true friend.”
Johnny Cash, June Carter, and the Power of Love
Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash are renowned for their deep and abiding love. The couple married in 1968 and remained together until June passed away in 2003. No other country couple has inspired more reverent admiration than Johnny and June, as portrayed in the 2005 biopic “Walk the line” with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.
Theirs is a story of enduring love, overcoming obstacles, and finding joy in each other. Johnny wrote letters to family and friends, but he also wrote letters to himself, expressing his love for June.
In one of these, he wrote, “There’s unconditional love there. You hear that phrase often, but it’s real with me and her [June Carter]. She loves me in spite of everything, despite myself. She has given me the courage to go on in life.”
The couple performed many songs together, including the classic “Jackson” by June Carter and Merle Kilgore. Kilgore was a Country singer, actor, and manager for artists like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash.
Other artists, including Bobby Darin and Joan Baez, have covered the song, but Cash and Carter Cash made it magic. Their playful vocal interplay lent it a timeless quality.
The couple also had a son together in 1971. He was named John Carter Cash after his father, but their bond went far beyond that of a parent-child relationship – they shared a mutual respect for each other’s work and created lasting memories together.
The Everlasting Friendship between Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson shared a deep friendship that lasted for decades. They first met in the mid-1960s when they were both starting as musicians, and their friendship quickly blossomed.
The two collaborated on several albums together, including the hit album “Highwaymen” in 1985. The album reached number one on the country charts. It featured Cash and Nelson taking turns on songs associated with each artist, usually with the other performing harmony or occasional verses.
Their friendship was evident when they took the stage together for their live shows. Cash and Nelson often shared stories about their respective careers and sang each other’s songs together. It was a magical moment to witness them playing off each other’s energy and getting lost in the music.
Their bond was strengthened even further when they celebrated milestones in each other’s lives. Cash attended Nelson’s 70th birthday party in Austin, Texas and Nelson showed up to Cash’s christening of his son Shooter in Hendersonville, Tennessee. These special moments are a testament to their lasting friendship.
Cash and Nelson remained friends until he died in 2003. Nelson was one of the honorary pallbearers at his funeral.
In 2015, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard collaborated on “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash” to honor his memory.
The song is a beautiful tribute to Cash, as it expresses how his music and influence live on.
Merle Haggard: From Rivals to Friends with Johnny Cash
Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash have a long and storied history, beginning as rivals in the industry and eventually forming a close friendship. In 1958, Haggard was still in prison when Cash made a guest appearance on ABC’s “The Johnny Cash Show.”
After his release, Haggard quickly gained fame as a country star and even collaborated with Cash on various recordings.
In later years, they would often appear together on stage and in special projects, such as Nelson and Haggard’s “Unfair Weather Friend,” a reflective and meditative song that honors their friendship.
Haggard was also part of the so-called “Outlaw Country” movement, a group of artists – including Cash, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings – who thumbed their noses at more established musical conventions.
While he may not have been mentioned in the same breath as Cash or Jennings, Haggard was an important figure in the genre, and his influence can still be felt today.
Perhaps most importantly, Haggard and Cash shared an unshakeable bond that was evident every time they came together. They were both giants in their own right, but their friendship made them stand out.
Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash: Two Musicians United by Music
Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash were two of the most influential country music artists of their time. Both men deeply respected each other as musicians and formed a strong bond as friends.
In 1985, Kris joined Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson in the country music supergroup “The Highwaymen”. As part of the group, the two men created two hit albums that remain beloved by fans today.
Kris Kristofferson was known for his poetic and scholarly songwriting and was a source of inspiration for Johnny Cash.
The two men shared a special bond, and it was evident when Kris wiped away tears during interviews about his relationship with Johnny Cash at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
Kris often credited Johnny Cash for being both an amazing musician and a loving husband and father.
Waylon Jennings: A Friend for Life
The relationship between Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings was a special one. Not only were they friends, but they even lived together in the Madison Apartments in Madison, Tennessee.
During an appearance on David Letterman’s show, the two singers reminisced about their time as roommates and laughed about the memories they shared.
June Carter even helped with cleaning duties while they lived together.
The two first met in the mid-sixties and became close friends due to their shared love of music. In 1978, they scored a No. 2 hit duet with “There Ain’t No Good Chain Gang” and later formed the group The Highwaymen with Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson.
One of their most iconic collaborations was Cash’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings”, which became a timeless classic when it was released off his album Heroes with Jennings in 1986.
In 2014, Kristofferson and Nelson added their own vocals to the track, giving it an updated sound while still keeping its original charm intact. This song is a testament to Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings’ musical chemistry.
Tom Petty: An Unexpected Friendship
Tom Petty and Johnny Cash developed a strong friendship during Cash’s later years. It began with the release of Cash’s “American Recordings II: Unchained” album in 1996.
Many may not know that Tom Petty played a significant role in the making of Johnny Cash’s 2nd album under the guidance of Rick Rubin.
In contrast to the first collaboration between Cash and producer Rubin, which featured Cash alone, the second edition included a variety of renowned musicians.
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsay Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood were among the guests, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers provided the instrumentation on all of the album’s tracks.
Petty supplied admirable accompaniment throughout, but it was on the cover of Don Gibson’s “Sea Of Heartbreak” where he truly stood out.
Not only did he contribute guitar, but his one-of-a-kind voice blended perfectly with Cash’s gruff baritone, producing harmonies that made the already upbeat song even more delightful.
Cash and Petty developed a strong bond while working together.
When Cash sent Petty a postcard with the message, “Tom, you’re a good man to ride the river with,” it was something Petty kept in his home for years. His Biographer Warren Zanes described it as “one of a few treasures” that Petty held on to.
The Bond Between Singer Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash
The relationship between Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison was one of mutual respect and admiration. Cash, a veteran artist at Sun Records, initially gave Orbison advice on how best to make it in the music industry.
When Cash secured his own TV show in 1969, he invited Orbison to join him as a guest star. The two performed a duet of Orbison’s massive hit “Oh, Pretty Woman,” displaying the deep respect they had for each other’s talents.
Afterwards, they went on to collaborate on several other occasions over the years, including a 1985 special featuring fellow Sun Records alums Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
Despite their different musical styles, Cash and Orbison remained close friends until their deaths in 2003 and 1988 respectively.
Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash: Admiration and Respect
Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash have a lot in common. They both changed popular music by recording with Sam Phillips in Sun Studios, served in the U.S. military, and suffered from a drug dependency.
Both also restored flagging careers by collaborating with the right creative partners—Elvis with producer Chips Moman and Johnny with producer Rick Rubin.
Elvis revived a moribund career through his work with Moman, which resulted in some of the best music of his career. Similarly, Johnny Cash returned to artistic greatness when he and Rubin released “American Recordings” when Cash thought his recording career was over.
They both embraced different genres of music, from country to folk and pop, setting them apart from their peers and creating unique sounds that shaped music for decades to come.
Although they weren’t close friends, their respect for each other was evident to everyone around them.
The Special Relationship Between John Prine & Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash and John Prine had a special relationship. Although they weren’t close friends, the two musicians had mutual admiration. In his video about Cash, Prine said, “Johnny Cash was like Abraham Lincoln to me.” Prine was a lifelong fan of Cash’s music, and the two shared a deep appreciation for each other’s artistry.
Rosanne Cash also noted the admiration between her father and Prine, saying, “There was a mutual appreciation between my dad and Prine. John had been a fan since his youth and always had the utmost respect for my father as an artist and a friend.”
The connection between Cash and Prine extended beyond admiration. They had several collaborations, including David “Ferg” Ferguson’s engineering work on both of their albums.
Ferguson is now known as the keeper of Nashville’s history, having worked with Johnny Cash and John Prine over the years. The two also famously shared the stage at the 1992 edition of Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert, performing “I Shall Be Released” together.
John Prine has spoken many times about his admiration for Johnny Cash and the impact he had on him as an artist. He fondly remembers the time he spent with Cash in his music, saying, “he was larger than life to me, and I will never forget him.”
Creating Lasting Memories with Glen Campbell & Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell developed a special friendship over the years. Growing up, Johnny Cash was a fan of Campbell’s work, studying his writing and songs to understand better the art of being an entertainer. Later, they collaborated on several tracks, including the 1981 release “I Just Came Home to Count the Memories” on Warner Brothers Records.
Campbell was also featured in the 56 interviews conducted for the Johnny Cash film, as he was one of the few people who knew Cash before he became a household name. During his long career, Campbell traversed genres and created music that spanned multiple generations.
Marty Stuart & Johnny Cash: A Tale of Musical Collaboration
Marty Stuart and Johnny Cash first met in 1980 when Stuart joined Cash’s band. The two quickly developed a strong friendship, with Cash taking Stuart under his wing and mentoring him in both music and life.
During this time, Stuart began to accompany Cash on solo tours and was even invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry by Cash.
In 1985, the pair recorded the Class of ’55 album together in Memphis with Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. At the end of the session, Perkins presented Stuart with his guitar.
Throughout the rest of Cash’s career until his death in 2003, the two remained close friends, with Cash even making appearances on several of Stuart’s albums.
Fun fact: Stuart was married from 1983 to 1988 to Johnny Cash’s daughter Cindy.
The Possum and the Man in Black: Johnny Cash’s Friendship with George Jones
The relationship between Johnny Cash and George Jones is a testament to the bond of brotherhood within the country music community. The two legends first met in the mid 1950s, when Cash heard Jones’ song “White Lightning” on the radio.
Immediately impressed by Jones’ distinctive voice, Cash reached out to him and became an early mentor to the aspiring singer-songwriter. Over time, their friendship grew into a deep and lasting bond that would endure for decades.
“The Possum” George Jones once admitted that the only thing he was jealous of about Cash was his ability to write songs better than him.
The two could often be seen performing together on stage, joking and laughing with one another during their shows. The two men supported each other in times of turmoil and were often seen performing together on stage.
They even recorded a duet, “The Last Cowboy Song”, which was featured on Jones’ album I Am What I Am. The pair also co-wrote several songs, including “Give Back My Heart” and “You Oughta Be Here With Me”.
Their friendship lasted until the end, with Cash sending Jones a telegram shortly before his death in 2003 expressing his love for him.