44: Johnny Cash Is Dead and His House Burned Down

44: Johnny Cash Is Dead and His House Burned Down

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

Johnny Cash Is Dead and His House Burned Down

Story by Larry Gatlin

Song written by Larry Gatlin and John Cash

Recorded by Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers

One time we were all backstage at a show somewhere, me and Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Roger Miller and a bunch of people. And it got quiet back there for a minute — if you can believe that — and all a sudden John burst out with one of his mystical sayings. He would do that every now and then. He said, “Boys, if you get a good idea for a song, well, just go ahead and write it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hit or not. Just do the best you can and everything else will take care of itself.”

A while back, I was in Austin, Texas. I was in the car with my son, Joshua Cash Gatlin. Josh was driving us to a restaurant with my wife, Janice, and his fiancée, who is now his wife. And he said, “Daddy, country music’s different. What’s the deal? It just doesn’t sound like it did when you and Uncle Rudy and Uncle Steve were making music. What’s wrong with it?”

I said, “There’s nothing wrong with it son. It’s just different. They’re doing it their way. We did it our way. Johnny Cash did it his way.” I said, “We need to root for them and cheer for them. Those kids are living out their dreams and getting to do what’s in their heart. You’ve got to realize the world will never be the same. Nashville will never be the same. Country music will never be the same. After all, Johnny Cash is dead and his house burned down.”

We got to the restaurant and I turned that placemat over and borrowed a pen from the waitress and started writing the song. I wrote the idea and part of the song and went home and wrote the rest of it. It wasn’t until a week later that I woke up at two o’clock in the morning and realized I had stolen one of John’s old melodies.

I got up the next day and called John Carter Cash and explained to him what I had done. I called Lou Robin, who helps with John’s publishing and the estate, and told Lou what I had done and said I didn’t do it on purpose. I told him it was just as if J.R. himself were singing it in my ear. So I said, “I’ll split the royalties and split the credit. He’s the one that wrote it and it’s about him. It’s a tribute to him.”

And it’s also just a little gentle nudge to the country music people of today. It’s got the line in it: “I got nothing against the young country stars, but I could use more fiddles and steel guitars.” In other words: Do it your way. Do what you feel in your heart, but let’s not forget upon whose broad and tall shoulders we all stand: the Johnny Cashes, the Marty Robins, and the Patsy Clines.

Johnny Cash is Dead (and His House Burned Down)

Well, Johnny Cash is dead and his house burned down, down, down.

There’s a whole lotta weepin’ and wailin’ in Nashville town, Nashville town.

Well the man in black ain’t comin’ back and Waylon ain’t a gonna come around.

Johnny Cash is dead and his house burned down.

Chet Atkins & Marty Robbins ain’t here to play, sing and play.

Miss Patsy Cline was one of a kind lord knows, oh by the way,

I got nothin’ against the young country stars, but I could use more fiddles and steel guitars,

Johnny Cash is dead and his house burned.

Who’s gonna strap on that black guitar, walk out and sing about the way things are,

Like the man in black singin’ “Folsom Prison Blues”? Lord have mercy, what are we gonna do?

Johnny Cash is dead and his house burned down.

Well, Johnny Cash is dead and his house burned down, down, down.

There’s a whole lotta weepin’ and wailin’ in Nashville town, Nashville town.

Well the man in black ain’t comin’ back and Waylon ain’t a gonna come around.

Johnny Cash is dead and his house burned down.

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