To be fair, Cash had always been ahead of the curve. One of the original 1950s Sun Records gang (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc.), Cash's music was a wonderful mongrelization of country and folk music, rockabilly, blues, and pop. And as a friend of Bob Dylan's, Cash recorded the Zim's songs in the early '60s, long before it was a hip/trendy thing to do. Some vilified Cash for speaking out against the Vietnam War and for Native American rights — the Klan even started a rumor that Cash's first wife, who was of Italian descent, was in reality African-American. But the man in black wouldn't back down from anyone.
Long before gangsta rap, Cash sang one of the meanest lines in pop music history. The song "Folsom Prison Blues" has the immortal couplet, "When I was just a baby, my mama told me, 'Son, always be a good boy, don't ever play with guns'/But I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die." The bastard didn't diss him; the narrator just wanted to see his life ebb away. The new Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition box set commemorates the 40th anniversary of the original album with a boss expanded omnibus. Two CDs, with a total of 31 previously unreleased tracks and a DVD doc, includes interviews with daughter Rosanne Cash, peer Merle Haggard, and former Folsom inmates. Talk about your historical document — besides, much of the music is primo, though unpolished, Cash.