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Johnny Cash

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Fifty years ago today, a young Bob Dylan released his self-titled debut album. In the ensuing years, Dylan has written music and lyrics for some of the most eloquent and acclaimed songs of our generation. A polarizing figure at times, Dylan has been both glorified and vilified in the media, all the while proving to be a constant moving target—often cryptic, sometimes playful, intensely private but always enigmatic. His life and work have been obsessively analyzed, dissected and pored over by critics and fans alike. Yet Dylan has refused to be labeled—neither protest singer nor folk singer—or pinned down to be understood. Despite the scrutiny, famous relationships (including one with folk singer Joan Baez), a mysterious motorcycle crash and his subsequent reclusion from the accident, and the constant touring, Dylan, the troubadour, has marched to his own beat.

Dylan Rock Explosion, a new exhibition at Cité de la Musique in Paris, tracks the pivotal path of Dylan’s development from 1961-1966. The show, which runs through July 15, features photographs and films—and related ephemera—that capture the young Dylan as he came to prominence and sparked a musical revolution. Featured in the exhibition is photographer Daniel Kramer, who documented the musician during the span of one year and one day from 1964-1965, a period in which Dylan shifted from acoustic to electric guitar.

Kramer had no idea who Bob Dylan was before he noticed him perform “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” on the Steve Allen television show in 1964. “I hadn’t heard or seen him,” the photographer told TIME. “I didn’t know his name, but I was riveted by the power of the song’s message of social outrage and to see Dylan reporting like a journalist through his music and lyrics.” Kramer says he was taken by the fact that the 23-year-old Dylan could get up alone with his one instrument and capture us through his music, lyrics and presentation. “Being a photographer my response was—that’s someone you want to photograph,” he says. Kramer found out who Dylan’s management was and contacted them, only to be told Dylan wasn’t available. It took Kramer six months to negotiate and secure a one hour portrait session in Woodstock with Dylan; that session ultimately ran to five hours. An invitation for Kramer to travel by car with Dylan to a performance at Town Hall Philadelphia immediately followed. Kramer then photographed Dylan during the next 367 days.

“It was my idea, my story and I did it totally on my own hook,” says Kramer of the first self-initiated session with Dylan. “I didn’t want any money. I just wanted the opportunity to do the story and then we see where we go. Interestingly, when I first started photographing Dylan, a lot of places were not interested in using his pictures because he was on the verge of becoming very, very important—but still just on the verge. Within six months the photographs started finding homes. Everyone eventually picked them up: Look, Saturday Post and, internationally, Paris Match.

The work was also responsible for introducing Kramer to W. Eugene Smith, which ultimately led to a lasting friendship. The legendary photographer helped bring attention to the work after becoming enamored with Kramer’s photographs. At the time, Smith was coincidentally looking for an essay to work on as an editor. Kramer’s images of Dylan would be that project. “He was like a midwife to the project,” Kramer says. A book—the first about Dylan—edited with Smith, written by Kramer and featuring 140 photographs from that period was published in 1967. Today, Kramer’s images have graced the covers of three Bob Dylan albums—Biograph, Bringing It All back Home and Highway 61 Revisited.

“I photographed a lot of wonderful and tremendously exciting subjects in my career, but Dylan remains one of the few at very the top of my list,” Kramer says. “I have always admired his courage as a performer who—as he wrote once in one of his books—steps out. He’s said incredible things and moved a lot of people. His lyrics and music have had an amazing influence on his time, and for a photographer, this is always great when you have an opportunity to document a part of that.”

Photographer Daniel Kramer is based in New York. His images have graced the covers of three Bob Dylan albums—Biograph, Bringing It All back Home, and Highway 61 Revisited. His work has also been published in LIFE, TIME, Fortune and other publications. In addition to documenting Bob Dylan, he photographed Norman Mailer extensively over a three-year period.

The exhibition Bob Dylan, Rock Explosion is on view at Cité De La Musique in Paris from March 6 – July 15. For more classic photos of Bob Dylan, see LIFE’s 96-page book, Forever Young: 50 Years of Song, on newsstands now.

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Johnny Cash didn’t live lightly.

From picking cotton to help his impoverished, Depression-wracked family; to his exhausting tour schedule; to struggling with a serious drug addiction; to his songs about guns, murder, revenge, punishment and repentance—Johnny Cash was a troubled man who sought redemption through his music.

To commemorate what would be the county-music master’s 80th birthday on Feb. 26, several celebrations, projects and events are scheduled throughout the year. Cash’s boyhood home in Dyess, Ark. is being restored. Columbia/Legacy will release a series of archived recordings, starting with a collection of his gospel and spiritual songs from 1970s and ’80s called Bootleg IV: The Soul of Truth, which will be available in April. A Johnny Cash Museum is scheduled to open this summer in Nashville.

And here on LightBox we have rare and unpublished photos of the Man in Black from the Sony Music Archive. Many of these images were taken by Don Hunstein, a prolific music photographer at Columbia records for 30 years, and date from the late ’50s to the early ’70s; they include pictures of Cash and his wife June right after she gave birth to their only son, John Carter Cash, in 1970, as well as the musician at home in California or fishing on his farm in San Antonio.

Johnny Cash was born to farmers in Kingsland, Ark. on Feb. 26, 1932. As the fourth of five children, he recalled in a 1969 TIME article that although his family was dirt poor, “I was never hungry a day in my life….at breakfast it was just fatback and biscuits—but that was plenty.” After high school, Cash worked at an auto plant in Pontiac, Mich. (where, as far as we know, he did not actually construct a car from stolen parts, as he later pretended to in his 1976 song “One Piece at a Time”). He joined the Air Force for a few years, and then in 1954 he married Vivian Liberto and the couple moved to Memphis.

Cash had always been musical—as a child he sang at the Dyess Central Baptist Church and he reportedly learned to play the guitar while in the Air Force —so when he moved to Memphis, he hooked up with two musicians, Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant, and auditioned for Sam Phillips at Sun Records. He recorded “Hey, Porter” and “Cry Cry Cry” for Phillips, the latter of which became his first hit, peaking at No. 14 on the Billboard’s Top 20 in 1955. He followed it up with “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line,” which shot up to No. 1 and stayed there for 43 weeks. It would sell over two million copies. (Cash’s stint at Sun Records was relatively shortlived; he switched to Columbia in 1958 because the Phillips wouldn’t let him record gospel music).

Cash then embarked the grueling journey that all newly-successful musicians must endure: days and weeks and months of endless touring. By 1957, he was giving more than 200 shows a year (by some accounts, he may have played closer to 300). His marriage was faltering. He drank too much. He became addicted to amphetamines. He accidentally started a forest fire in California. He was arrested for smuggling pills into the U.S. from Mexico. In 1966, his wife filed for divorce. And yet still he released hit song after hit song: “Ring of Fire,” “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” “I Got Stripes.” Johnny Cash was a troubled man, but not so troubled that he couldn’t turn his haunted words into song.

Cash toured with the Carter Family in the 1960s—and of course he would ultimately marry June Carter in 1968, after she helped him overcome his addiction and find his faith. The couple’s live recordings at Folsom Prison and San Quentin, in 1968 and 1969 respectively, are still two of the best concert albums ever released. They were married for 35 years, until her death in May 2003 from complications from heart surgery. Cash made it only four more months before joining her in September of the same year.

But this glossed over retelling of dates and events isn’t what’s important about Johnny Cash. The reason we remember him so fondly—and why we’re celebrating his birthday nine years after he passed—is the gift he had for music and the way he made us feel. Cash’s world-weary bass-baritone voice expressed a forlorn pain that, until we heard his songs, we didn’t even know we had. He gave a voice to the working man, the luckless, the outlaw, the convict—and to those of us who weren’t any of those things but who sometimes identified with them anyway.

“Well, we’re doing mighty fine, I do suppose / In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes,” Cash once sang, “But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back / Up front there ought ‘a be a man in black.”

Thank you for being that man, Johnny Cash. Happy birthday.

Claire Suddath is a staff writer at TIME Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @clairesuddath or on Facebook.

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The Johnny Cash Project is a global collective art project, and we would love for you to participate. Through this website, we invite you to share your vision of Johnny Cash, as he lives on in your mind's eye. Working with a single image as a template, and using a custom drawing tool, you'll create a unique and personal portrait of Johnny. Your work will then be combined with art from participants around the world, and integrated into a collective whole: a music video for "Ain't No Grave", rising from a sea of one-of-a-kind portraits.

www.thejohnnycashproject.com

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