From the Stars and Stripes archives

Country star back at 'old stand'

Johnny Cash is interviewed at Frankfurt, Germany, in 1959.


By ERNIE WEATHERALL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 23, 1959

FRANKFURT — A former Air Force staff sergeant stationed in Germany has returned to Germany five years later as one of America's top country music stars.

He is Johnny Cash, who has three golden records, each for selling over a million copies. The singer is in Europe to make a few television appearances and line up a tour of military bases next year.

Cash enlisted in the Air Force after high school graduation and was stationed in Landsberg, Germany, for three years.

"I had a small country music band;" he explained. ."We used to play at the, base or in German gasthauses. But I was in a security unit and I couldn't get around much."

After leaving the service, Johnny used his GI Bill to attend a radio school in Memphis, Tenn. While at school he auditioned for a small record company. A month later he cut his first release and it was the beginning of his career as a recording star,

Lately, Cash has been writing his own songs which have been included in an album called "Songs of the Soil." Since he doesn't read or write music, Johnny composes with a tape recorder.

"After I get an idea for a song I cut a tape and listen to it," he explained. "When I finally get it the way I want I turn the tape over to a composer who takes the song and puts it into sheet music."

One song, "Five Feet High and Rising," was inspired by a 1937 flood in his home town of Dyess, Ark.

"I was 5 years old and my dad sent mother and me up to the hill country," he recalled. "I never saw the flood but my dad used to tell me about it."

Another song called "The Man on the Hill" was inspired by a plantation owner who lived in a big white house on the hill in Johnny's home town.

"All the sharecroppers used to refer to him as `the man on the hill,'" Cash said. "They depended on him for money to get seed, or to live on till the crop was in.

"They used to say, if the man on the hill treats us right we'll have a good year."

Johnny has come a long way from picking cotton on his father's small farm. Today he owns a music company, has a contract with Columbia Records, and has just completed two TV films. He will return to Hollywood, where he is now living, to star in a Western.

Just for old time's sake, Johnny will take over as guest disc jockey next Friday morning at 6:05 on AFN's Hillbilly Reveille. It was his favorite program when he was here in the service.

Johnny's kid brother, who also plays the guitar and sings, is in Europe. He is stationed at the 225th Station Hospital at Pirmasens.

For those in the service who want to be entertainers in the country and Western field, Johnny has this advice: "I think a singer should develop an individual style.

"He should sing the kind of songs he has a feeling for. Then when you know what you want — work your fingers off for it."

Johnny Cash is interviewed at Frankfurt, Germany, in 1959.