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The Son of Southern Baptist Sharecroppers

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The son of Southern Baptist sharecroppers, Cash began playing guitar and writing songs at age 12. During high school, he performed frequently on radio station KLCN in Blytheville, Arkansas. Cash moved to Detroit in his late teens and worked there until he joined the Air Force as a radio operator in Germany. He left the Air Force and married Vivian Liberto in 1954; the couple settled in Memphis, where Cash worked as an appliance salesman and attended radio announcers? school.

With the Tennessee Two -- guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant -- he began recording for Sam Phillips? Sun Records in 1955. The trio recorded "Cry, Cry, Cry" (#14 C&W, 1955), and followed it with "Folsom Prison Blues" (#5 C&W, 1956). Later in 1956 came Cash's most enduring hit, the million-seller "I Walk the Line" (#17,1956).

Cash moved near Ventura, California, in 1958, signed with Columbia, and began a nine-year period of alcohol and drug abuse. He released a number of successful country and pop hits, among them "Ring of Fire" (#1 pop, #1 C&W, 1963), written by June Carter of the Carter Family and Merle Kilgare. By then, he had left his family and moved to New York's Greenwich Village. Late in 1965, Cash was arrested by Customs officials for trying to smuggle amphetamines in his guitar case across the Mexican border. He got a suspended sentence and was fined. After a serious auto accident and a near fatal overdose, his wife divorced him. By then Cash had moved to Nashville, where he became friends with Waylon Jennings. Together they spent what both have described as a drug-crazed year and a half.

But in Nashville, Cash began a liaison with June Carter, who helped him get rid of his drug habit by 1967 and reconverted him to fundamentalist Christianity. By the time Cash and Carter married in early 1968, they had begun working together regularly. They had hit duets with "Jackson" (#2 C&W, 1967), "Long-Legged Guitar Pickin? Man" (#6 C&W, 1967), and versions of Bob Dylan's "It Ain?t Me, Babe" (#58 pop, #4 C&W, 1964) and Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter" (#36 pap, #2 C&W, 1970).

Cash's 1968 live album, At Folsom Prison (#13), became a million-seller in 1968. Bob Dylan invited him to sing a duet ("Girl from the North Country") and write liner notes for Nashville Skyline, and Dylan appeared in the first segment of ABC-TV's The Prison Show in June 1969. The highly rated series, which lasted two years, developed a reputation as an eclectic showcase of contemporary American music, with guests ranging from Louis Armstrong to Carl Perkins to Bob Dylan. Cash had a 1969 hit with Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue" (#2), a track from Prison at San Quentin; his bestselling album, the live LP was #1 for four weeks.

In 1970 Cash performed at the Nixon White House. He and June Carter traveled to Israel in 1971 to make a documentary, Gospel Road. Cash continued to tour and make hits through the Seventies, including "A Thing Called Love" (#2 C&W, 1972) and "One Piece at a Time" (#1 C&W, 1976). He also became active in benefit work, particularly on behalf of prisoners, Native American rights, and evangelist Billy Graham's organization.

In 1982 Cash regrouped with Sun Records label mates Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis to record The Survivors. Three years later Cash hooked up with three other campadres -- Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson -- to form the Highwaymen, releasing Highwayman in 1985. The Highwaymen performed together sporadically throughout

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