“In my opinion you are either in or you are out,” says Joanne Cash. That short statement sums up her new album Joanne Cash Gospel, the way she lives her life and the legacy of the Cash family.
She pauses to ask me if I saw the movie Walk The Line that portrayed the early part of her brother Johnny Cash’s career and the love story between him and June Carter. “In that movie there was a song that was played during Johnny’s early life in Memphis and it was played at Sam Phillips recording studio. The name of the song was “I Was There When It Happened” (track 9). Continuing she says, “That song is about living in the reality of Jesus and I sing it a lot.”
Talking about the song leads her into a deeper disclosure concerning her own faith, “We ought to know in our hearts, you, me and everybody else whether or not we have accepted Christ. I want to (ask the question) do you know and if you don’t know you can know. I can look back to the day when I received Christ. Not only did I receive Him but also He changed my life. It is a beautiful thing and I am happy to be free in Jesus and living the Christian life.”
Turning to the songs on this record Cash says, “A lot of the songs on this CD tell the story of the future and about meeting me in heaven. “When He Comes”, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and “Into The Blue”. Our past is forever gone. I know that when we ask for forgiveness it is all under the blood and the best is yet to come. That is what I am trying portray with this CD that people need to know (the Lord) and need to get ready to meet the Lord.”
“Why Not Tonight” is a song from this album that reaches all the way back to the Cash family’s roots in the little town of Dyess Arkansas located less than an hour from Memphis. “It is an old standard that we used to sing in the cotton fields when I was walking up and down the cotton rows. We would sing it as I picked cotton. Singing these kinds of songs would bring a smile (to my face). They uplifted you and it was wonderful.”
The singer says with the songs that she has selected for this album, she is just trying to let (people) know that the Christians experience is real and that you can have Christ in your heart.
Cash recalls her childhood days, “My momma used to take me down to what we called Road 14 Pentecostal Church. They called everybody brother and sister. They would say to my momma, ?Sister Cash would you come up and lead the testimony service?’ She would stand up there and ask, ?Has anyone got a good word about the Lord doing something for you today?’
“I remember looking up at her (momma) and thinking not only was she tall in stature, five foot nine inches, but tall spiritually. She was the first one to tell me that Jesus loves me and that He is my savior. That is where the song “Why Not Tonight?” comes from. She would say, ?Why don’t you come tonight? Why do you want to put it off? Why not tonight?’ She got that from the verses in the song. That in itself is the preciousness of the song,” Cash says.
Just like our conversation, Joanne Cash has not tried to dilute the message in her songs for fear of stepping on someone’s toes. Her message is simple, very clear and non-apologetic unlike some tunes today that leave you wondering if they really are talking about the Christian experience or referring to a great experience you had while diving into a banana split.
“I know that with some songs you really have to look hard to find the message in them. There is just a straight, simple message in gospel music that I want to portray. I want to live for Christ and live the way His Word says we need to live. We all make mistakes, not a single one of us doesn’t make a mistake but that is why we have a wonderful Lord to go to.” she says.
Knowing that the year 2003 was a particularly difficult one for the Cash family as several members of the family passed away, I wondered if recording the song “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” was bittersweet. Cash says that the song took on even greater significance for her, “In 2003 we had to say goodbye to four family members in six months and it was the hardest year my life. In the month of April, our sister Louise passed away from an illness then in the month of May June (Carter) passed away. In September, Johnny passed away and in October, June’s youngest daughter Rosie (not to be confused with Roseanne) passed away. It was a horrible year for us.”
Cash says, “It is difficult to say goodbye to our loved ones here on earth but our blessed hope is that we will see them again. I don’t believe the circle will be broken. I believe we will be together. I know Johnny was ready, because we talked about it many, many times. I know I will see my family again in heaven because they were ready to meet the Lord.”
In one of those unexplained things that occur in God’s kingdom the author of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” was June Carter’s great-uncle A.P. Carter, whose brother Ezra later married Maybelle Carter, June’s mother.
Joanne Cash while continuing to reflect upon the song “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” says, “The prayer for all of our families is that we all will be gathered in heaven together. That is what the bible promises if we live for Christ.”
“Softly and Tenderly” (track 14) and “Lower Lights” (track 11) were the last two songs that I recorded with Johnny in his own studio Cash Cabin. It is right across from his house in a wooded area. We walked over from the house, sat down and recorded them. Our engineer on those two songs was my nephew, Johnny’s son John Carter Cash who now owns and runs the studio,” she says.
“Lower Lights” and “Softly and Tenderly” go way back in my family to my childhood when we used to sing in the cotton fields. It was a very hard life. A line in one of Johnny’s songs says, ?singing seems to help a troubled soul pass the time of day.’ Those songs are older than I am and older than you are but they brought us spiritually closer. They have just been part of our lives.
The third song on the album that Joanne and Johnny sing together is “When He Comes”. Johnny Cash wrote the song on the Mount of that captures his thoughts as he stood on the Mount of Olives, how it affected his faith and his hope in Christ.
Another of the songs that has deep roots in Joanne Cash’s life is “Cotton, Popcorn, Peanuts & Jesus”, written by her husband of thirty-five years, Harry Yates. The title of the song was Cash’s response when Yates asked her how she was raised. The two of them met in 1970 in a church where Yates was serving as a youth leader. About six months after Cash’s profession of faith, Cash and Yates found themselves ministering through the television program Grand Old Gospel Time. When the program ended several years later, they embarked on a fifteen-year traveling ministry that saw them crisscross North America numerous times.
In 1990, Cash and Yates retired from their traveling ministry but not from ministering to others. Inspired by a cowboy church that they had once attended in Calgary, Alberta Canada the two of them began a similar work with six people in Nashville. The humble beginning took place in a Holiday Inn. “Today we have transferred to the six hundred seat auditorium at the Texas Troubadour Theater (Nashville). We have between four and six hundred people on Sunday morning. We call it Nashville Cowboy Church (www.nashvillecowboychurch.com)
These are not two city slickers gone country, you are already aware of Cash’s background but her hubby Harry grew up on a west Texas ranch. He preaches in a cowboy hat, western clothes and cowboy boots. The services have a live band, including many of the fine musicians that appear on her album. The service is broadcast internationally on shortwave radio and on XM satellite radio.
Joanne Cash during the course of this interview talked about her faith simply and clearly. She talked about the unconditional love of Christ and the gift of eternal life that is offered to each of us no matter who we are, regardless of our past or our present circumstances. The best part is the gift is free and unconditional. If you are reading these words and do not have the assurance that Christ lives in your heart today do not let this opportunity pass you by.
Copyright © 2007 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague. Joe Montague is an internationally published freelance journalist / photographer.