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Johnny Cash: More than the Man in Black

ASHEBORO — “I was a fan going in and I’m an even bigger fan now.”

 

That comment by Robert Burke Warren is an indication of his extensive study of music icon Johnny Cash. The result of his work is “Cash on Cash: Interviews and Encounters with Johnny Cash.” The book has been recently released by the Chicago Review Press and Warren will talk about it at the Friends of the Library Sunset Signature Series at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Sunset Theatre in Asheboro. The show is free to the public.

 

Warren will be joined by Casey Noel, a North Carolina-based singer/songwriter. Together they’ll trace the life of Cash, performing many of his songs. Warren will read from his book and answer questions from the audience.

 

During a telephone interview, the Catskill Mountains, New York, author called “Cash on Cash” an anthology based on interviews and features from the 1950s to shortly before Cash’s death in 2003. The book is one of a series called “Musicians in Their Own Words.” 

 

Warren said his research led him to “fascinating interviews back to the ‘50s. It’s him talking in his own words, starting from his mid-20s to just before his passing.” Much of the information Warren discovered is unknown by the public.

 

The book’s 25 chapters and 276 pages delve not only into the life of Cash but how writers wrote about him. The reading is chronological in order, showing how the Man in Black went from a Rockabilly artist to a world icon.

 

“He garnered a following unlike anyone with the broad appeal of his work,” Warren said of Cash. “Everybody claims him, all genres, conservatives and liberals. You can see why when you read the quotes. He was a fascinating artist. My job was to find materials and write introductions in context to each.”

 

During his research, Warren realized that Cash was so much more than just a highly-recognized voice on the radio. “He could speak on history — Roman history. A lot of the 70s he was educating himself. He was a Bible scholar. He was a champion of the down-trodden.

 

“His depth of knowledge of certain things was striking,” said Warren of Cash. “He was as comfortable sitting with a book as he was on stage. 

 

“He could go to the other end of the earth and perform. He was always going somewhere and had a global reach.”

 

Warren then backed up his statement: “Just today I got a message from the Netherlands, two guys 20 and 22 years old. They run a Johnny Cash fan site and said they can’t wait to read the book.”

 

Even though Cash has been gone nearly 20 years, Warren said, “He has 11 million followers on Spotify and 300,000 on Instagram. His recording of “Hurt” has been streamed a half billion times on Spotify. And the numbers keep going up. The way his celebrity expands is a testament to his work.”

 

Asked what other details he had discovered about Cash, Warren said, “I was surprised how funny he was. He was making jokes all the time. In his TV shows there was lots of comedy.” Warren also found that Cash’s image as the Man in Black was cultivated.

 

Warren is no stranger to Asheboro. His wife, Holly George-Warren, grew up here. She is a Grammy-nominated music journalist and author of a biography on Janis Joplin, among other works.

 

Noel has performed at Floydfest, Byrds Creek Music Festival and Bristol Rhythm and Roots. Her single, Page 52, was added to Spotify’s Emerging Americana playlist.

 

The Sunset Series has been bringing high-profile speakers and performers to the Sunset Theatre since 2018. Sponsors are the Heart of North Carolina Visitors Bureau and the City of Asheboro as well as the Friends of the Randolph County Public Library.

 

For details, call 800-626-2672.