I’m old enough to know about Johnny Cash, but not old enough to have listened to his music every day growing up. That said, my relatives had many of his records, so they played on our old fashioned turntable that was filled to the brim with old 45’s and 33’s of classics from the 1920’s to the 1970’s. Johnny Cash was among them and while I was too young to understand just how raw of a talent and singer he was, there was something about his voice that was mesmerizing. I learned from fans and music lovers during a recent trip to Nashville that it wasn’t just his music that drew people to him, but his powerful presence and strong personality.
I was fortunate enough to get to spend a few hours with Bill Miller, an old friend of Johnny Cash while in Nashville, who donated his collection of Cash-related rarities that he had been collecting for forty years. It was Bill and his wife Shannon, who opened the museum in May 2013. No typo there – the museum is actually that new, which is one of the things that makes it so special. Below, Bill stands below the warm entrance way with Cash on the wall, shortly after our interview on-site in January.
While Cash has been gone for awhile, his fans remain and yet there is very little out there that tells his story in a comprehensive way, except through his music. Nashville makes perfect sense and where Bill and Shannon felt the museum must be housed, and so they packed up their life in California to dedicate energy to a museum that celebrates his life.
While it may not be as expansive as Graceland, it is more intimate and I’d argue, more personal. There’s something about the magical curation of the space that makes you a bit emotional as you walk through it.
“A world class collection of items that tells the story of Cash’s life. I was blown away by how well it is put together. It’s first class and you will see, you can mark my words, this will become one of the major tourist attractions for Nashville” — Former VP Al Gore
I couldn’t agree more. I’m not much of a museum junkie and typically avoid them in most tourist destinations unless they’re special enough to warrant a visit. This one does and then some. I must admit that I was surprised by the Tennessee museum gems, such as Stax Museum, Studio B, Sun Studio and Country Music Hall of Fame to name a few.
The thing that makes the Johnny Cash Museum so unique however is that you feel the genuine and personal touch that Bill and Shannon have added in each and every room. It’s so well thought out that it doesn’t surprise you to learn that someone who knew him well was the main instigator of the design, the location and more importantly, the flow of his life, belongings included.
It was cool to see the outfits Cash wore on stage during his performances and off-stage, as well as a card he gave his wife (signed Johnny Cash btw, not just Johnny, as this was how he signed everything), various guitars he owned and/or played, personal photos and original records.
Imagine seeing an old Martin guitar with a folded dollar bill stuck through the strings. I learned through a little digging that Cash had used a dollar bill to create a percussive effect when he strummed the instrument before he brought a drummer on board.
You can view family photos, an old fashioned radio , yearbook references and artifacts, a Johnny’s Future Farmers of America card, tons of clothes, shoes and coats he wore and more. Meander through the museum with me.
Above 3 photo credits Jarrett Gaza
The Johnny Cash signature – this was a big deal for Johnny as it was the way he signed everything, including, as noted above, personal cards to friends, family and even his wife.
I loved the illusion and ambiance in this little room – there was something almost surreal about it.
His albums line a wall….a very long wall on your way from a more historical section of the museum to a solo room, that is more reflective in nature.
Some of his gear, awards, posters, personal items and clothes.
A personal signature and connection and oh so endearing — a heart he signed to his wife, Johnny Cash, of course.
Even if you’re not a Johnny Cash fan, old enough to remember his music or are but your music taste is not in his spectrum, there’s something truly rich and authentic about how Cash lived his life and how he played his music. More importantly, he had an influence on the music industry and other raw talent in his wake.
He was respected by many and those who didn’t, may not have understood him, at least not fully. This museum helps get you there. Below, is a room above the museum where I had a chance to interview Bill – it is an entire floor they rent out from time-to-time for events. The main living area on the second floor a mishmash of eclectic artistic here-and-now and old fashioned western design.
While Johnny Cash is the star of this post, the museum wouldn’t have made it into the public eye if it weren’t for the ongoing efforts of Bill and Shannon.
Below is a video clip that captures the wonderfully warm and engaging exchange I had with Bill above the museum on that cool and breezy January day in Nashville. I heart his heart, applaud his efforts and am grateful to have had the time that we had, to connect and dive deep into the life of legendary Johnny Cash.
There, in that room, there’s no doubt, I learned a ton about Johnny Cash, but I was also reminded what can transpire from the combination of pure inspiration, commitment, dedication and passion, all of which Bill has used to get this project to “go.” Cash inspired him over the course of his life and while he may not have been a perfect role model at times and made some mistakes along the way, I feel that it was his rawness and sense of purpose that motivated Bill to make the museum a reality. Well worth a stop when in Nashville!
Johnny Cash Museum
119 3rd Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37201