Photos by Matthew Hill and David Comden
Johnny Cash was a simple man. The country music legend and devout Christian would often say, “If I can’t take it to heaven, I don’t need it anyway.” Yet, as unmaterialistic as he was reported to be, he sure had a lot of stuff, some of which his daughter, Ventura County resident Cindy Cash, has agreed to exhibit at the third annual Johnny Cash Music Festival.
If ever there was a daddy’s girl, it’s Cindy. One of four daughters Johnny had with his first wife, Vivian Liberto, Cindy can’t help but gush when talking about her father. “I was probably the closest of all . . . the one the other sisters snarled at,” she says, laughing. “As a teenager, I could not wait to spend time with my dad. I yearned for a relationship with him.”
When, at 19 years old, Cindy was divorced and facing single parenthood, her dad promptly moved her to Nashville, where she remained until four years ago — and she has the accent to prove it. A true chip off the old block, Cindy always keeps a loaded Colt 45 nearby, and credits her dad with teaching her how to use it. She visits the shooting range on a regular basis and jokes that her sister Roseanne, who serves as chairperson for Mothers Against Guns, wouldn’t approve. “I did boy things with my dad,” she says. She recalls catching a tarantula outside her childhood home in Casitas Springs, and her father tenderly explaining that it had a family waiting for it, so they had to let it go.
Letting go has been a consistent theme in Cindy’s life for the past decade, beginning with the passing of her stepmother, June Carter-Cash, in 2003; her father just four months later; and her mother, Vivian, two years after that. Then, in 2009, her husband, Eddie Panetta, was killed in a motorcycle accident. June died the same week Cindy married Eddie but the newlywed was compelled to rush to her grieving father’s side, where she stayed until his last breath.
“He was devastated when June died. I couldn’t bear the thought of him being in that big house,” she says. By that time, Cash was 90 percent blind and diabetic. “He couldn’t walk, he felt trapped. He would beg me not to leave him.”
After his passing, many of his belongings were auctioned by attorneys to pay estate taxes in excess of $10 million.
Cindy and her sisters unknowingly allowed some of their personal mementos to get swept away in the shuffle.
She only recently came into possession of her mother’s Cash memorabilia. Vivian saved everything, and Cindy is still going through boxes of letters and other personal items, many things she and her sisters had no idea even existed, including her dad’s Boy Scout card. “It’s like a treasure trove, like Christmas every day.” While Johnny wasn’t a big shopper, Cindy says he joked that June had a black belt in shopping. “Their house was 13,000 square feet, and it was so packed with antiques, you couldn’t move around,” Cindy remembers. Johnny may not have been flashy but he was a collector from way back, with a keen interest in Roman coins. “As long as he had his fishing pole, a Colt pistol, his Roman coin collection and books, he was happy,” says Cindy.
Curators from the Museum of Ventura County handpicked approximately 30 items from Cindy’s collection to display at the Cash festival, and given Johnny Cash’s ties to Ventura — he had an office in the Zander Hall downtown in addition to the house in Casitas Springs — there are plans to make the items part of the permanent collection.
The Johnny Cash Music Festival will feature a number of American roots-driven bands along with a special performance by Kris Kristofferson, who was one of Cash’s dearest friends and a second father to Cindy. When she asked Kristoffersen to perform at the event, his wife, Lisa, said there was no place he would rather be on Father’s Day weekend than with Cindy.
The Johnny Cash Music Festival, June 18, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Live music by X, Kris Kristofferson, the Blasters, Lee Rocker, Levi Dexter, Hayden Thompson, Deke Dickerson and more. Kids area, Johnny Cash Museum, Pin-up Pageant and other attractions. For more information, visit www.roadshowrevival.com.
Cindy Cash (pictured) was on an airplane, turned a page in a magazine, and there was this ad for the Air Force featuring her dad as a young man in uniform. She had never seen the photo and promptly tore it out. “I loved it, and I still do.” It reads, ”Before he was the Man in Black, he was the Man in Blue.”
On set during filming of The Trail of Tears as Told by Johnny Cash: Fascinated by this part of American history, Cash fulfilled his desire to play out the story and honor the Native Americans who suffered through it.
Cindy fondly remembers how her dad would always include the date and his location on every correspondence. In this letter, he’s telling her that the only way they will get to spend some time together is if she meets him in Jamaica as he’s badly in need of rest. Cindy, a teenager at the time, did not want to leave her boyfriend. The boyfriend accompanied her and everyone was happy.
A copy of Johnny Cash’s autobiography, Man in Black, published in 1985, inscribed by Cash to his first wife, Vivian Liberto (Cindy’s mother). In the photograph, Cash is holding Cindy’s daughter on the set of the TV show Dallas.
Tickets from two Cash performances that Cindy has saved since childhood. She spent five consecutive years touring with her dad, and they often performed duets together.
The home in Casitas Springs where Johnny lived with Vivian and their four daughters. He bought his parents a trailer park to manage nearby.
A snapshot taken in Jamaica at a crocodile farm where a scene from Live and Let Die was filmed. Cash, an avid hunter, shot the croc. The skin still hangs in his house there, a piece of which became a hatband for Cindy that she later turned into a headband.
When Johnny and Vivian divorced, she put away four awards — this was one of them. It’s from Columbia Records to commemorate the success of the 1958 song “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” which sold in excess of 250,000 copies. The song was Cindy’s favorite as a little girl.
In the late ’90s, Cash’s health took a turn for the worse, and when word got out, President Bill Clinton wrote him and included the hand-written message “Hang in there, friend.” While Cash loathed political discussion, he loved history and greatly enjoyed conversing with U.S. presidents. Cindy has a photo of her with her dad and Jimmy Carter “in a dumpy hotel with Secret Service people.” Dad told her that once, he was in the oval office hanging out with Clinton and Al Gore — who he had a close relationship with — and after about two hours, the famously humble Cash said, “I bet you two have better things to do than talk with me.”
One of Cash’s personal guitars, a Martin D41 inlaid with abalone. Cash owned a couple of Fender guitars but Martin was hands down his favorite brand. Cindy heard him tell a band member that he had never picked up an electric guitar. When the musician offered him one to try, he declined.
A Star of David pendant Johnny picked up during one of his annual trips to Israel. Though he was a devout Christian — he spent nine years writing a historical novel about the apostle Paul — he was accepting of people of all faiths. Johnny was an ordained minister and had a very close relationship with the Rev. Billy Graham.
Memories of a full life lay upon one of Johnny Cash’s antique beds.(Photo by Matthew Hill, ©2011)
A letter written before Cash’s music career took off; he’s looking for work after his military service. (Photo by Matthew Hill, ©2011)
Cindy Cash holding a photo of her dad that was taken exclusively for family. (Photo by Matthew Hill, ©2011)