On the shelves of his former label Columbia since 1984, Johnny Cash’s “lost” album “Out Among The Stars” has finally been released, via Sony Legacy. Despite its long, rocky road to an official release, “Stars” holds up among Cash’s best work — even if it took 30 years to officially complete it.
“Columbia Records had lost interest in Johnny Cash at the time, they didn’t know what to do with him,” says Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, who was around 14 during the album’s initial recording with guests like Waylon Jennings and Carter Cash’s mother, June. “And when I listened to these tracks, it showed the lack of sincere interest that was there – some of these tracks didn’t have guitar solos.”
So Carter Cash helped recruit musicians like “Stars”‘ original guitar-mandolin player Marty Stewart as well as Buddy Miller to lay down additional baritone guitar and Barry Douglas on steel and dobro, to flesh out the original recordings with the instrumentation necessary to fill in the holes. The result is an authentically live, vintage-sounding classic country album – one that didn’t fit in with the pop-crossover sound Nashville was experiencing at the time but still finds Cash at his most refreshed. He’d just completed another stint at the Betty Ford Center after relapsing from drug addiction in 1983, and Carter Cash recalls his father at being in his “real spiritual, mental, physical prime – he was signing better than he had in years and as good as he ever did, really.”
Carter Cash walked Billboard through the stories behind each of “Out Among The Stars”‘ 12 tracks – read on for more details. “I just always remember everything that Dad ever did, he gave his full heart to,” he says. “We always try to stay true to that in the estate, doing things as he would have done, and basically act as if he is in the room. This is something I know my father would have worked on tirelessly.”
1. Out Among The Stars
Originally this body of work was completely untitled. After the fact, we looked at it to figure out what song would make a great statement. This was a song about sadness and tragedy in a person’s life who’s walking away from facing of a bitter end. There’s a great depth of understanding there. But you know, I think being transferred in the title, I think it takes the listener to another place, like perhaps my dad’s music spirit lies outs among the stars. It’s definitely in our hearts also.
2. Baby Ride Easy
My sister Carlene Carter recorded that with Dave Edmond and had a minor hit on it before she brought it to my parents and suggested they record it. I remember them performing it live on stage in the early 80s, they saw the potential of the song, they loved to sing it the energy was there. To me, it’s as powerful as “Jackson.” I love “Baby Ride Easy” — it begs for us to look back and remember what great duet partners they were. My sister Carlene even came into the studio and sang the third-party harmony on the song.
3. She Used to Love Me A Lot
My dad’s voice is really strong here – what an amazing vocal performance. The melody has got great depth to it, but there’s a whole lot to the song. We could take it at face value as a song about a woman, but it’s this world we live in, America for that matter, the things that moved on. In many ways, you gotta look back and see the foundations that were laid are firmly in place. It’s good to remember what they were and how we got where we are. We can look at it in many ways, but for me it’s just a great communication in my experience with my father. To listen to the song reminded me of who he was and his integrity and strength as a person.
4. After All
This was a very different song for Johnny Cash to sing. The melody is pretty unique for him, I can’t think of any other song of this type he ever recorded, the range is so extensive. He always had a way to know if a song could work, he had a way to make it his own.
5. I’m Movin’On
This was a big hit for Hank Snow, so it was something that Dad and Waylon both knew very well and would have been able to sing right off the bat.
6. If I Told You Who It Was
This showcases my father’s humor, his attitude and just his appreciation for laughter. So many people aren’t aware that my Dad had such an amazing sense of humor. He takes on the character of a different person, but what a blessing that he did. We get to see a different side of Johnny Cash, otherwise known as the Man in Black. His laughter and spirit just shine through.
7. Call Your Mother
My dad, the very first thing he really taught me when I was young, the most important commandment is that you honor your mother and your father. And I saw him respect his mother wherever he went. What a blessing that he wrote this song, one of his original songs, for her.
8. I Drove Her Out Of My Mind
This is one of my favorite things on the record in that it’s quite bizarre. It’s one of the only songs that I know of that is joyfully suicidal. [Sings] ‘It’s gonna be goaaaahgeous when they figure out what’s going on with me.’ I don’t think I’ve ever quite heard anything like it. You’ve just got to have an open mind not to take it very seriously and enjoy the song.
Dad always loved the state he lived in for the last decades of his life. He had a good spirit of the people of Tennessee – he was born in Arkansas and died in Arkansas, which is just across the Mississippi River, but he was a patriot, my father. He was a lover of his home state.
10. Rock N Roll Shoes
To me it begs to look back on Dad’s earlier history of his time here. This was from the early days of his writing for this album, and it was not a song that wrote itself. It reminds me of something he would have written back in the old days. There’s a great energy to it and spirit to it – it was too fun to work on in the studio. I remember specifically watching him work on it. His voice was pitch-perfect.
11. Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time
My mother and father’s relationship was always a big part of his musical world. It’s very important to him when he was working in the studio that they do a song together, and this stands out to me. There’s some music on this – acoustic guitar by Bryan Sutton, mandolin by Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas is on this one. It’s really a neat record, and what a blessing as always to hear my parents sing together.
12. I Came to Believe
This is one of the two original songs on the album. My father, he struggled in the early 80s with drug addiction and he searched in his soul for quite a while. It was while he was working on the second step in his program with the Betty Ford Center that he wrote this song about turning his life over and having the faith that something bigger could change his life.