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July 20

Why did Columbia let Johnny Cash Go?

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Johnny Cash spent over 2 decades working with Columbia Records. With numerous, timeless hits and top-grossing albums, the relationship between Cash and Columbia seemed to be flawless. But in 1986, Nashville was shocked at the news that Columbia and Cash will be heading their separate ways after 26 colourful years of partnership. Let’s take a look back on one of the biggest headlines in Nashville in 1986. 

Johnny Cash, from the ‘60s up until the ‘80s, made a name for himself as one of the greats in the industry. He released timeless hits like “Ring of Fire,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” Daddy Sang Bass,” A Boy Named Sue,” “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” and many more.

For a span of eight years, Cash managed to produce eight number one albums. With all the success that Cash has achieved, it would be a careless decision for a label to let him go right? But, Columbia had another thing in mind.

Corporate Conflict?

For 26 years, it was unthinkable that Cash and his longtime label Columbia Records would not butt heads back in 1986. Columbia Records’ head Rick Blackburn had to make a very tough decision at that time. When asked about the decision of cutting off Cash from the label’s roster, Blackburn said that the move was not because the label could not give Cash an increased marketplace value or Cash’s contract was up. Blackburn clarified that it was because Columbia could not match the new contract Mercury offered Cash.

“When you’re running a business, it’s about everything moving forward” Blackburn stated and it was definitely clear that pirating Cash was not the best way for Mercury.

In the same year, it was not just Cash who was cut out of the label’s roster. Columbia also had to part ways with the Jazz icon Miles Davis.

Cash’s Response

After getting cut from the roster, Cash signed with Mercury and had a promising 6-year run. In1991, Cash joined American Recordings where he reminded all of us that he was still there and solidified his legendary status.

In 1998, “Unchanged” won a Grammy for Cash for Best Country Album. Johnny Cash was also featured on a full-page ad in Billboard. 

Even having to go through times of rejection, Johnny Cash proved that he is still one of the best in the world of country music. Today, the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville is the house for all the things that the country music legend used in his previous performances. Consider visiting the museum next time you pay a visit to Music City.


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Johnny Cash


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