Born c. 1955 in Memphis, Tenn.; daughter of Johnny (a country singer) and Vivian (Liberto) Cash; married Rodney Crowell (a record producer and songwriter), 1979; children: Hannah, Caitlyn, Chelsea. Education: Attended Vanderbilt University and the Lee Strasberg Drama School. Addresses: Agent --Side One Management Agency, 1775 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
One of country music's "New Women," Rosanne Cash is an outspoken proponent of the progressive, rock-oriented country style. The eldest daughter of Johnny Cash has been performing since she was eighteen, recently forging a name for herself outside the shadow of her famous father. "On her last five albums," writes Steve Pond in Rolling Stone, "Cash has been carving out her own niche, singing a distinctive mixture of new rock songs, old ballads and the odd country tune; hers is a tougher, hipper version of the country- rock hybrid that Linda Ronstadt once pursued." Cash herself jokingly calls her sound "Punktry," an unlikely fusion of country and punk rock that challenges traditional boundaries in form, content, and even language. Still, Cash told Alanna Nash in Behind Closed Doors: Talking with the Legends of Country Music, she feels that her roots are firmly based in the country sound. "The music I'm doing is a natural progression of where country music is going," she said. "It's lyrically oriented, which is what country music has always been, it's logical music, it's simple ... maybe some of it does have a harder edge, but I consider myself a country artist."
"Nobody likes the kids of famous people," Cash told People magazine. "It's particularly hard if you go into the profession where the parent has been very successful. But if that's where your talent lies, it's dumb not to pursue it. Doctors' children become doctors. It shouldn't be all that strange that Johnny Cash's child likes to sing." Rosanne Cash was born in Memphis, the first child of Johnny Cash and his first wife, Vivian Liberto. Cash says little about her childhood, except to note in Stereo Review that her father "was bigger than life, ... because of his image and because he was not home a lot. 'Conquering hero' is a good term for it." Cash has admitted that her father's alcohol and drug problems--and his raging ambition--further distanced him from his family. She was twelve years old when her parents divorced.
A rebellious teen growing up in southern California, Cash began to experiment with drugs when she was fourteen. She has described her musical tastes at the time as "the same stuff most kids listened to" in California, including the Beatles. She was also influenced by the folk sound of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and two "old folkies," Tom Rush and Eric Andersen. At eighteen, right out of high school, she joined her father's entourage and began to travel and perform with him. This, she said in Stereo Review, was a mixed blessing. "It was a good learning ground," she admitted, "to watch him work, but I was so protected I couldn't get any objectivity about my work. I got to the point where I was doing a couple of songs, but it was still playing for his crowd and it was still cute for his daughter to be up there, you know--the crowds thought, 'Oh, how sweet,' no matter how bad you were. At some point, you have to fall on your face."
After three years on tour with her father, Cash did not fall on her face, but she did question her viability as a solo performer. Finally she quit the show and enrolled in Vanderbilt University, where she majored in English and drama. The following year she moved to Hollywood to study in Lee Strasberg's noted drama school, hoping to become an actress. Although she was too shy to study with Strasberg directly, she did take courses with his associates, describing the experience as "great ... like therapy." Cash left the drama school after six months because Ariola Records, a German company, offered her a recording contract. She travelled to Munich to cut the album, facing bitter disappointment when the German producers forced "stiff arrangements" on her. Still, one cut on the album attracted the attention of Rich Blackburn of Columbia Records, and he agreed to allow Cash and her fiance, producer/songwriter Rodney Crowell, to make an album that would fit their own creative standards.
The album, Right or Wrong, was deemed a critical success by both country and rock critics. "It had a no-nonsense feel to it," writes Noel Coppage in Stereo Review, "with Rosanne's warm, moist, round tones supported by strikingly clean and lyrical electric-guitar fills and breaks before arrangements that touched bases with Austin and Los Angeles but were captives of neither." Subsequent Cash albums have built on this rock-country fusion, utilizing rock rhythms and melodies but maintaining the country tradition of the highly personal ballads about heartbreak, infidelity, and reconciliation. As a husband and wife team, Cash and Crowell have produced most of Cash's albums and have contributed original songs to all of them. The songs that Cash writes are based on her own marriage as well as on her addiction to cocaine, a condition that forced her to seek hospital treatment in 1985. Reflecting on her chart-topping album Rhythm and Romance, which contained songs about the near-dissolution of her marriage, Cash told Alanna Nash: "I have to pick songs that I feel relate to me personally. I don't think I could ever just do a song for ulterior motives. It's a real emotional process with me." Coppage observes that such a daring exploration of personal feelings gives added force to Cash's music. The critic writes: "The result, I think, ... reflects the spirit of pushing on through growing pains. Any listener making any sort of attempt to live an examined life can hardly help identifying with the humanity [Cash] projects."
Daring humanity and progressive sound--these best describe the Rosanne Cash repertoire. It is Cash's independence from Nashville's dictates, however, that has helped to earn her a place among country music's "New Women." Cash told Alanna Nash: "There's a formula in Nashville about how you should make records, how you should relate to your audience, how much you should tour. The whole thing is a package deal. They might as well turn it into a handbook and give it to you as you enter the business. And I just don't buy it! I don't buy it at all! I think there's individual ways to approach life and success." The mother of three children (one adopted), Cash prefers not to tour. She lives quietly with her family in a spacious log home near Nashville, content to confine her creativity to songwriting, recording, and an occasional concert or television appearance. Cash told Esquire magazine: "Country music might have chosen me, rather than the other way around. I think I'm helping move country to the next logical step. You see, country-music listeners are much more sophisticated now. So much has happened since Hank Williams. They're more world-wise, more cosmopolitan, I guess. My music is that, I think--country, but world-wise."
by Anne Janette Johnson
Rosanne Cash's Career
Began performing as a backup singer for Johnny Cash's road show, c. 1973; solo performer, 1978--. Signed with Columbia Records, 1979.
- Selective Works
- Right or Wrong Columbia, 1980.
- Somewhere in the Stars Columbia.
- Seven Year Ache Columbia.
- Rhythm & Romance Columbia, 1985.
- King's Record Shop Columbia, 1987.
- Hits 1979-1989 Columbia, 1989.
- Nash, Alanna, Behind Closed Doors: Talking with the Legends of Country Music, Knopf, 1988.
- Esquire, July, 1981.
- Newsweek, August 12, 1985.
- People, September 6, 1982.
- Rolling Stone, February 25, 1988.
- Stereo Review, May, 1981.