John Carter Cash talks about his latest album, his first-ever cookbook, and his multifaceted career.
Singer-songwriter, producer, and author John Carter Cash has had a packed schedule this past year. Just recently, the Grammy winner released the album We Must Believe in Magic, a compilation of songs recorded over the last decade, and is on the verge of releasing his first cookbook and seventh publication, The Cash and Carter Family Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections From Johnny and June’s Table.
As the only child of country music legends Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, John Carter continues to uphold and extend the family legacy.
Recently, we talked with Cash about his family, his music, and where his creativity might take him next.
Cowboys & Indians: You’ve been in the business for decades and have had such a fantastic career. You’ve done singing, songwriting, producing, and have even written several books. What have been some of the highlights?
John Carter Cash: Early in my career, I worked with my parents and I’d work on the road with them, but working in the studio with them was truly the beginning of my production career. At the time, I knew I was spending time with my parents and I was being creative, and, you know, perhaps even some of me took it for granted. But it was an education, it truly was, and that was 25 years ago, when I first began doing that. Throughout my life since then, I’ve had the chance to continue making a bunch of albums with different artists. But working with my parents is something that’s always stayed with me in my heart.
Now, I have to say that working with Billy Joe Shaver — a Texas roots artist, an amazing songwriter — was a wondrous experience. Then I had the chance to work with Marty Stuart. But the person that I’ve actually worked [in the studio] the most with and recorded more songs with is Loretta Lynn. I’m greatly blessed to have done over 100 tracks with Loretta throughout the past 10 years. ... She’s so much like my mother — she truly is. They’re from around the same area and so [working] with Loretta is a beautiful experience that I had. ... I’m very excited for all creative things, but what is my favorite creative experience? It’s typically exactly where I am at the moment.
C&I: You were raised in a family of musical legends. You’re the grandson of Maybelle Carter and the son of Johnny Cash and June Carter. What was it like growing up in that household? Did you always know you wanted to go into music, or did you gravitate toward that later on?
Cash: You know music was always a part of my very lifeblood from when I was young. My parents put me on stage when I was 3 years old. My father would sing “Boy Named Sue,” and at the end of that, he would call me out and he’d say, “Here’s my son, John Carter Cash.” So I would go to the stage and take a bow. That feeling — the intensity and the energy from the audience — is a beautiful thing and it stayed with me from then. But my parents always supported me and I always followed my heart and that was the first thing that I did. They would never have had it any way other than that. Music was something that was just part of my very being and creativity, in essence. It doesn’t always have to be music. The direction of creativity — it’s what feels right, what’s beautiful.
C&I: You’ve got four kids of your own. Are any of them taking the musical path?
Cash: My oldest son, Joseph, is playing a guitar. He’s performing music. He just graduated from Belmont University and he’s actually an actor, so that has been his focus; however, he’s also a wondrous musician. My daughter Anna Maybelle, who is 17, is also playing guitar and performing. My son Jack plays piano and is about to get into guitar lessons. He’s 12 years old. My youngest is Grace June; Grace is 11 months. She’s got a great musical tone in her voice, there’s no doubt. Now, it’s just lending itself to the formation of words and emotions and whatnot. So we will see. She’s a beautiful spirit.
C&I: You’re a caretaker of the musical heritage of your parents and your grandmother. What do you feel is the most important aspect to pass along to your kids and to your fans?
Cash: Family heritage is most definitely important and love and respect for family heritage. Every step of the way, no matter what I do, no matter where I go, it’s always the same, and so I will follow my heart.
C&I: You’ve received and been nominated for several Grammys as a producer. What’s the difference, for you, between producing someone else’s work and producing your own stuff?
Cash: Working on my own projects has no boundary. It truly is something that I just do to follow my heart. So every album that I’ve made is all about following in the direction that it leads. When I’m working with an artist, it’s more so I want to work with what’s right for them. I want to listen to their spirit and their creativity. It’s the same way within with my own music, but there are no boundaries, no restraints. It’s always about what’s next and where my heart leads to.
C&I: Is there a certain project that you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?
Cash: Oh, gosh. That’s impossible to say. I’m most definitely proud of my mother’s albums. So I’m always following the heart and the memory that connects with my mother. … The albums that I produced for my mother that won Grammys will always mean a whole lot to me. The nomination from Loretta’s last album means a lot to me and also working on the albums that my father won at the Grammys means so much.
C&I: You’re about to release your upcoming album, We Must Believe in Magic, which was recorded over 10 years at the Cash Cabin. What do you hope your fans will take away from this album?
Cash: I hope that whoever listens to it will find something that they love. It’s also an homage to wondrous musicianship. Working with Tony Rice and working with everyone from Charlie McCoy to Bob Moore — some of Nashville’s greatest studio musicians — means a whole lot. That will be a memory that I’ll cherish forever and that I hope the listener enjoys also. You know, story songs — I hope that the listener will take a trip, take a voyage, and enjoy it and come back feeling as if they’ve had an experience, as if they’ve read a book.
C&I: Is there a track on the album that stands out for you?
Cash: Well, “We Must Believe in Magic” connects with my father’s life, but it was written by Allen Reynolds. My dad recorded it, but Jack Clement [did it in 1978]. It’s such a beautiful blessing to have had the chance to have known Jack in my life; he taught me so much. That means a lot. “Prayers of St. Regis” — it’s a story song and it means a whole lot to me. It’s that same kind of thing: It’s like watching a film within my mind each time I sing it.
C&I: You also have your first cookbook coming out, The Cash and Carter Family Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections From Johnny and June’s Table. What kind of recipes can we expect?
Cash: Well, it’s diverse. There are recipes from my family, as you would hope, recipes from the South, but there are also international recipes. My wife, Ana Cristina Cash, is Cuban-American and she helped [with] some recipes in the book also. I cooked everything, from the Cuban food to seafood pasta to Southern-style barbecue, all the way to Southern cornbread, to Korean dishes. So it’s diverse, most certainly, but it pays homage and tribute to my family, firstly.
C&I: Any personal favorites?
Cash: Oh, gosh. Probably the daily dishes, like the baked chicken. I love that.
C&I: The book also reminisces about several musicians and film stars who have joined you at the dinner table. Do you have a memorable story to share?
Cash: The memories are of spending time around the dinner table always mean a lot to me and my wife and of the love of family. When I listen to the stories, when I read the stories, it reminds me of those times. Firstly, it stays with me and I just remember being close to my family and the hope and the love that stick with me. That really, really stays with me. The stories that are in the book are varied and about learning how to cook in New York City when I was a boy, working on the road with my mother and father, and eating all around the world. So that stays with me, but there’s a lot more to it than just sitting around the dinner table — the book is greatly diverse.
C&I: Can we expect another book in the near future?
Cash: Yeah. I’m always creative. I have one novel out, actually, called Lupus Rex. Lupus is Latin for wolf. Rex is king. So basically, The Wolf King. It’s sort of a fantasy novel. Who knows which path I will take in my creativity. I do have a number of ideas for novels that I’m considering, but I’m also considering more of that. I’ve written two biographies: one for my mother and one for my father and family. I’m considering the possibility of writing another biography that would encompass focusing more on all aspects of country music.
Speed Round With John Carter Cash
Favorite place in the West: Oregon
First song you look for on the jukebox: “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath
Favorite western movie: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Favorite Western food: New Mexico chile browned in a skillet of butter
Go-to bar drink: Water
Wardrobe staple: “I wear Filson clothing. I like the double tin cloth jackets and clothes, outdoors wear. Very lightweight Merino wool is also very important for me because I spend a lot of time outdoors in the rain sometimes.”
Other artists you’d recommend to your fans: Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash and June Carter
For more information on John Carter Cash, visit his website. Photography: Courtesy Aristo Media.