Johnny Cash photo taken in 1968 by Jim Marshall. That's Bob standing on John's left. For more photos by Jim go to marshallphoto.com.
The Big Fall Books Preview 2013, Amazon.com Editor's Pick:
"To adequately describe Johnny Cash: The Life, it helps to begin with the author. For more than thirty years, Robert Hilburn worked as a music critic at the Los Angeles Times, rubbing shoulders with the greats of the industry--Dylan, Lennon, Joplin, Springsteen, U2, and many others. But this tenderhearted, penetrating biography stands as an argument that he knew Johnny Cash best. Cash was an unlikely artist, born in debt-poor Arkansas to cotton farmers. He began working (and singing) in the fields at the age of five; and from there, Hilburn--who counted Cash as a friend and was the only music journalist at the famous Folsom Prison concert--draws from his extensive personal interviews with the singer, as well as new material from Cash’s inner circle, to create a biography that is both compassionate and clear-eyed. As he details the stunning rises and tortuous stumbles of The Man in Black, Hilburn conveys an intimate, consuming, human portrait of the drama, the art, and the purpose that made the man a legend."
“Ten years after Cash's death, Hilburn has created the definitive narrative of this ‘symbol of American honor, compassion and struggle.’ It's a biography worthy of its subject.” Four Stars
-– Brian Mansfield, USA TODAY
“Hilburn got as close to the Cash inner circle as any journalist could.... The most authoritative and revealing portrait to date.”
-– Eddie Dean, Wall Street Journal
"The ultimate Johnny Cash bio....”
-– David Fricke, Rolling Stone
“Assiduously researched and entertaining ....”
-– Entertainment Weekly
”The perfect Cash biography, as simple, fast and lean as 'Folsom Prison Blues'... Such a monumental figure deserves no less than this caring treatment of his sin-stained greatness.” Four Stars
-– Kyle Smith, People
-- Rod Liddle, The Sunday Times of London
-– William Welch, Garden & Gun
"Hilburn's “Johnny Cash: The Life” is the big biography Cash's fans have been waiting for since the singer's death in 2003 and Hilburn doesn't let them down.”
-– Jeff Baker, The Oregonian
-– Vintage Guitar Magazine
“Far and away the most insightful, entertaining, comprehensive, and well-told Cash biography to date.”
-– David Cantwell, Slate
“Evocative and surprising biography.”
--Los Angeles Magazine
“What Hilburn also does perfectly is present enough of Cash for you to love, hate and love him over and over again.”
“A deeply personal, multi-faceted portrait.”
“Hilburn’s vivid new biography thoroughly examines all aspects of the performer’s life...Hilburn is particularly canny when it comes to Cash’s genius for slipping in and out of musical categories.”
--The Daily Beast
-– Peter Lewry, The Man in Black magazine
“This is a very big and significant American life and this is a very big and thorough book about that life by a writer steeped enough in it to present a definitive version of the facts for years to come.”
“Brings us the Man in Black as a man in full.”
“JOHNNY CASH: The Life succeeds at both expanding and complicating its subject. Hilburn does an artful, enviable job of reconciling all the facets…[it’s] measured and mindful, allowing of all the paradoxical bits.”
Hilburn “ably sets Cash’s achievements in context…writes in a clear, straightforward style…fills in the outlines of Cash’s life with meticulous detail, with emphasis on the conflict between his religious and secular sides…[Cash] is well-served by a biographer who finds a balanced approach to an often unbalanced life.”
“A brilliant section about creativity…What makes Hilburn's account so instructive is the way that this biographer acknowledges Cash's huge debt to the earlier song.”
--George Anders, LinkedIn.com
“Arguably the ultimate biography of The Man in Black.”
--San Antonio Current
Gift Guides/Best of Lists:
New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani’s 10 Favorite Books of 2013
Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2013: Nonfiction
Amazon’s Big Fall Books Preview: Editors' Pick
NPR's Great Reads of 2013
Kirkus’ Best Books of 2013
The Wall Street Journal's What to Give Guide: Music
Los Angeles Times Holiday Gift Guide: Entertainment
San Francisco Chronicle’s Gift Guide: Literary
San Antonio Express-News' Gifts to fill a holiday playlist
Clive Davis's Favorite Book of the Year in The Wall Street Journal’s 50 Notable People
O, The Oprah Magazine
KIRKUS: STARRED REVIEW
"Veteran music writer Hilburn (Cornflakes with John Lennon, 2009) masterfully separates fiction from fact in an exhaustive, but never exhausting, biography of the legendary musician.
"Even as a child, Johnny Cash (1932–2003) knew he wanted to write songs and perform them in front of large audiences, but he had no realistic plan to accomplish those goals. After high school, he joined the Air Force, a choice that taught him a great deal about life outside Arkansas but did not seem to bring him closer to his musical goals. He met Vivian Liberto while still in the military. They eventually married and had four daughters amid numerous struggles with Cash's marital infidelities and amphetamine addiction. As for the professional dream, Cash reached fulfillment only due to his gutsy foray into Memphis, where record-company impresario Sam Phillips eventually succumbed to the novice's entreaties. Hilburn expertly navigates the ups and downs of Cash's music career before, during and after stardom; the divorce from Vivian and eventual marriage to June Carter; his debilitating addiction to pills; the TV and movie appearances that increased Cash's cultural presence; the slide into apparent professional has-been status; and the unlikely pairing with music producer Rick Rubin after the fall that not only revived Cash's fame, but took his singing in amazing new directions.
"Hilburn packs his mostly chronological narrative with cameos by famous artists who admired Cash, including Carl Perkins, Waylon Jennings, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and even some heavy-metal and rap musicians. As the longtime music critic for the Los Angeles Times, Hilburn followed Cash's career vigorously and interviewed him multiple times before his death.
"The personal knowledge aided by extensive archival research and always compelling, accessible writing make this an instant-classic music biography with something to offer all generations of listeners."
"With straightforward prose,and through years of meticulous research, Robert Hilburn unravels the sometimes dark and magical life of one of music's greatest legends. Oftentimes this is a chronicle of pain, whether Hilburn is detailing Cash's early loss of his beloved brother, or the anguish he talked to Rick Rubin about feeling upon the death of his wife June, but Hilburn gives much insight into what drove Cash's work. This is a harrowing story of addiction, musical genius and enduring faith that goes far deeper than any film biopic ever will. In the end, Hilburn has achieved what is most certainly the definitive Johnny Cash biography."
-- Charles R. Cross, author of Heavier than Heavy: A Biography of Kurt Cobain
"Robert Hilburn put his heart and soul into this book. Johnny would have proud that there is now a comprehensive chronicle of his life and music."
-- Lou Robin, who managed Johnny Cash from 1973 to 2003
Johnny Cash and Sam Phillips celebrating the success of "I Walk The Line" in 1956.
“A rich, engaging look at a very complicated man that is, by far, the best book ever about him and one of the best biographies, music or otherwise, that I’ve read.”
--Lincoln Journal Star
“In his excellent biography…[he] uses the facts about the American cultural icon's life to construct a story that's both larger and more fascinating than the legend. Hilburn doesn't seek to sensationalize or scandalize or demolish the image of Cash…ties Cash's triumphs and his famous failures together.”
“[The] story and much more is told with clear-eyed, riveting detail.”
--San Antonio Express-News
“More thorough, compelling and honest than even [Cash’s] own two autobiographies.”
--Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Full of information that will at once delight, depress, stimulate and surprise Cash's fans, Hilburn's admirable biography also evokes an image of the "Man in Black," staring ahead, somberly and slyly, and daring you to "Figure me out, son."”
"For [Cash's fans], the book won't be long enough."
From the Folsom Prison concert in 1968
Here is the first story Bob ever wrote for the Los Angeles Times about Johnny Cash. He was a free-lance writer, specializing in country music, and convinced the paper to send him to Folsom Prison to cover John’s January, 1968 concert--it was his first out of town assignment. Hilburn loved the concept--the man who wrote “Folsom Prison Blues” actually singing it to the prisoners at Folsom--but had no idea it would be such a landmark moment in John’s career and in country music.
Scroll further down to see my San Quentin review.
Scroll further down to see my San Quentin review.