With countless songs of sorrow and redemption -- all sung with a deep baritone voice and a trusty 6-string dreadnought -- Johnny Cash, aka "The Man in Black" was one of the genre-bending kings of country, rock and roll and gospel. Johnny Cash songs run the gamut, from classic country tunes like "I Walk the Line" and "Ring of Fire" to some of his later covers of contemporary heavy-hitters like Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and Soundgarden.
Beneath the varying textures and often-rebellious messages of Cash's catalog, you'll find the common thread of his simple, yet powerful guitar playing. The distinctive, intimate sound of his solo recordings, as well as the train-like, chugging nature of his backing band give his songs an urgency that lives on, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time.
We've hand-picked some of our favorite Johnny Cash songs that guitarists of all experience levels can enjoy learning. Have fun channeling one of the true heroes of American music with these picks:
Cry, Cry, Cry
One of the original songs that kicked off his career, "Cry, Cry, Cry" is quintessential Johnny Cash. Appearing on his first record, With His Hot and Blue Guitar, the song features an acoustic guitar layer performed by Cash, and a clean electric guitar layer performed by Luther Perkins of The Tennessee Two, Johnny's original backing band. In this lesson, instructor Mike Olekshy talks about steady acoustic strumming, open chords, the use of a capo, and the "boom chucka" rhythm that makes this song special.
Originally written and recorded by Johnny Cash, and later made famous by the country supergroup The Highwaymen (which featured Cash), "Big River" features a steadily strumming acoustic guitar part with a capo on the second fret. There's also a cool melody played on a clean electric guitar that sets the song's vibe from the intro. Instructor Mike Olekshy will show you how to play both guitar parts, spending some time on both acoustic technique and simple country lead approaches.
Waiting For A Train
Written by Jimmie Rodgers in 1929, "Waiting For A Train" is a classic country train-hopping tune made famous by Johnny Cash on Blood, Sweat and Tears in 1963. In this lesson, instructor Caren Armstrong teaches you how to master this easy song using four basic chord shapes in the key of C Major with a capo on the first fret. Another song that implements the "boom chucka" rhythm, "Waiting For A Train" truly embodies the feeling of a locomotive rolling down the tracks.
In The Jailhouse Now
Another song generally credited to Jimmie Rodgers (although its roots are uncertain), "In The Jailhouse Now" was recorded by Johnny Cash in 1962. This song has deep roots in Americana, specifically in vaudeville of the early 1900s -- so deep that its even performed in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? by the fictional group, Soggy Bottom Boys. This rich history makes "In The Jailhouse Now" a great song to have in your back pocket for the next time you're playing guitar around the campfire.
With a history dating back as early as 1882, "Wabash Cannonball" is a true piece of American folk history, made famous by Johnny Cash on his Happiness Is You record in 1966. Another "train song," this one features a quick "boom chuck" strumming pattern. Once you start playing, you can almost feel the rails rocking under your feet. In this lesson, Caren Armstrong will walk you through the quickly modulating keys and even quicker 200 BPM tempo that makes this song special.