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Johnny Cash: Early Years and Air Force

1932-1954

By

Johnny Cash - American VI album cover

Johnny Cash - 'American VI: Ain't No Grave' (2010)

Image courtesy of American Recordings

Early Years

Johnny Cash was born John R. Cash in Kingsland, Arkansas, on February 26, 1932. He grew up near Memphis in Dyess, a planned community constructed as part of the New Deal. Johnny Cash was first introduced to country music through the radio.

Death of Brother

Johnny began playing his own songs at the age of 12, the same age when his beloved older brother, Jack, died. While working at a mill, Jack was pulled into the blade of a moving saw. He was just 15 years old, and it took Jack over a week to succumb to his wounds.

The accident had a profound impact on Johnny Cash's life.

"Jack has stayed with me," the singer wrote in his 1997 autobiography Cash. "He's been there in those songs we sang at his funeral . . . and those songs have sustained and renewed me my whole life. . . They're powerful those songs. At time they've been my only way back, the only way out of the dark, bad places . . ."

Military Service

After receiving his high school diploma in 1950, and briefly working in a Detroit auto plant, Cash enlisted in the Air Force. He was stationed in Landsberg, Germany, during the Korean War. He remained there until 1954 when he was honorably discharged.

Cash returned to San Antonio, Texas, where he had received his military training, and married his first wife, Vivian Liberto.

The pair relocated to Memphis. Johnny took a course in radio announcing (he had worked as a DJ in Germany). He also formed a three-piece band with guitarist Luther Perkins and bass player Marshall Grant (later known as the Tennessee Two), that played shows at night.

  • Early Years and Air Force: 1932-1954

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