June 24, 2009 — When Johnny Cash died in September 2003, the loss was followed by a wave of commercial efforts — many of which had already been in the works — that included several books about the Man In Black, new albums and the movie Walk The Line. Not to mention such recordings as Jason Aldean's "Johnny Cash," Heidi Newfield's "Johnny And June" and the George Strait/Patty Loveless duet "House Of Cash."
The latest tribute comes with "Johnny Cash Is Dead (And His House Burned Down)," a searing, rockabilly groove written by his longtime friend Larry Gatlin. Released to radio Tuesday, the song infuses new lyrics with the melody from Johnny Cash's "Big River" to document some of the well-defined artists who helped to build country's foundation: Cash, Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline, Chet Atkins and Marty Robbins.
"I got nothin' against the young country stars," Larry sings. "But I could use more fiddle and steel guitars."
"There are few who could sing these words and get away with it," writes John Carter Cash, the son of Johnny and June Carter. "It is not a song about a man dying and a house burning. It is about a time passing, a certain quality of artist and entertainer just not being there. It reminds me that though there are many inspired and dedicated artists alive today, there will never be another Johnny Cash, another Roy Orbison or another Waylon Jennings."
Larry is uniquely able to write about Johnny in such a manner and still be appropriate. When he first moved from Texas to Nashville in the early-1970s, Larry was literally fired from a job as a janitor at a TV station on a Friday, sang a song called "Help Me" on Sunday at church, then was asked by Johnny — who happened to be in the pews — to come by the studio the next day so he could record it. They were important steps for Larry, who notched the first of 17 Top 10 hits three years later and remained a friend of the Cashes for life.
Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers Band, including Steve and Rudy Gatlin, went into semi-retirement for 17 years, but now plan to include "Johnny Cash Is Dead" when they release a new album, The Pilgrimage, this fall. There's a full-circle element to it.
"My first album was The Pilgrim, and Johnny Cash wrote the liner notes for it," Larry told The Las Vegas Sun. "His son, John Cash, wrote the liner notes for this one."
Look for the Gatlins Saturday on the FOX-TV show "Huckabee."