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GUITAR SLUNG low over one shoulder, the husky troubador ambled up to the mike, his face weary and weathered as if he had crowded 100 years of living into only 40.

He stared out into the roaring audience, his craggy features contorted into a half-smile. Over the din, Johnny Cash broke into song.

THIS ARKANSAS farm boy has become something of a modern-day folk hero, who not only has won the hearts of America, but appears to be well on the way to capturing the imagination of the rest of the world.

All that was needed to announce the American singer at his first public concert for a primarily German audience was the familiar strains of his most popular composition, "I Walk the Line."

At the sound of that theme, Monday night's capacity crowd at the Jahrhunderthalle in Frankfurt-Hoechst went wild, registering approval of the former U.S. airman — once based in Germany — with foot-stamping, shouting and thunderous applause.

More than 2,500 persons attended the first show — about 35 per cent of them appeared to be Americans — while another capacity crowd strained at the ropes waiting for a second show starring America's Number One country star.

JOHNNY WAS noticeably changed in demeanor from his earlier visits to Germany when he performed primarily at U.S. Forces clubs. He is a much quieter, seemingly calmer man now. Before the performance, he told The Stars and Stripes: "A man can never stand tall until after he humbles himself."

About a fifth of his concert was devoted to gospel music. The rest of the performance was made up of his Number One hits, which are surprisingly numerous.

"My first love in music was gospel singing," he explained, "I do a little bit more of it now than I used to."

The Johnny Cash Show features his vivacious wife, June, her kin, The Carter Family (mother Maybelle, and sisters Anita and Helen), the Statler Brothers, plus Carl Perkins and The Tennessee Three.

Cash's story now is a familiar one to his legion of fans. His rise to the top in the late '50s came with his early country compositions "Hey Porter," "Guess Things Happen That Way" and "Give My Love to Rose."

Familiar, too, is his rapid descent from country music stardom, after an unhappy first marriage, and well-publicized bouts with the bottle and drugs that occasionally landed him in jail.

THEN AFTER the fall, came Cash's new lease on life, obtained through the kindness of a tough, Georgia lawman, the understanding of his new wife, June Carter, and a renewed religious faith.

His comeback was completed via national TV exposure and such popular record hits as "Ring of Fire," "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and the novelty tune, "A Boy Named Sue."

The album "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison," which he recorded during a performance for convicts there, was such a big seller in both the country and pop music fields that he repeated the formula with "At San Quentin." The result: the second LP outsold the first.

Now he considers convicts his favorite audience.

"I admit I love applause, and as a performer, I love to be appreciated," the singer said at a press conference before the Monday show, "So that's why I play a lot of prisons. They appreciate us so."

Cash, who says he found his way back from drug addiction "through the spirit of Jesus," was asked how he feels about the religious revival spreading among today's youth.

"I think the `Jesus People' are doing a great thing," he replied. "This spiritual revival is a great happening. They might not be looking at it right according to some people, but I don't believe that.

"Whatever they're looking for, they're gonna find," he added.

EVERY YEAR the balladeer seems to find new fields to conquer. Last year, he co-starred in his first feature film, "A Gunfight," opposite Kirk Douglas. His movie contract provided that a percentage of the profits go to an Apache tribe, many of whom appear in the film. (Cash is part Cherokee.)

"I think it's a pretty good Western," he noted. "It was something I enjoyed doing at the time ... but I doubt if I'll ever do another Western."

("A Gunfight" was rated below average in audience popularity by the Motion Picture Herald. Last month, in Belgrade, actor Douglas apologized to an audience, prior to its screening at a film festival there, because it wasn't up to his "usual standard.")

Cash recently completed his own production in Israel, a feature film dealing with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. "It's our concept of what Jesus was like."

He sings several songs and narrates in the film, and, he added "June sings a song."

The man who produced a 1969 documentary on Cash, "The Man, His World, His Music," Robert Elstrom, directs the new venture. Cash says Elstrom also appears — "mostly in pantomime" — as Christ.

The movie, being edited now, is expected to be ready for release next summer.

JOHNNY, who says he has never voted because "I care absolutely nothing about politics," is quite vocal about U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia.

"We have no business in Vietnam," says Cash, who has entertained U.S. troops there. "Our men should have been home long, long ago."

He denies that his comments are political in nature, and insists they are humanitarian: "I'm talking as a human being."

Accompanying the couple on this current tour also are three daughters by earlier marriages, and their 2-year-old son, John Carter Cash.

"He's probably one of the most traveled babies around," said Mrs. Cash. "I'd say he must have 300,000 air miles. This is his third trip to Europe."

Cash's final concert here was an 8 p.m. show at the Philipshalle in Duesseldorf Wednesday.

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