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In late 1995 I got word that Rick Rubin liked my album, The Blue Moods Of Spain, released that September. I was 27 years old.
“Rick Rubin was in the store and bought thirty copies of your record to give to his friends,” I was told.
Some months later I got a phone call.
“This is Rick! Johnny Cash is in the studio right now recording your song, ‘Spiritual'. Can you join us?”
I come from a country music family.
My grandfather on my father’s side, Carl, was the scion of the Haden country-gospel music singing franchise. Carl, his wife Virginia, and his five kids appeared regularly on KWTO in Springfield, MO. My father started singing on the radio when he was three years old. His nickname was “Cowboy Charlie”.
My father used to tell me stories about his mom and dad’s friendship with the Carter Family. Whenever A.P., Maybelle, and Sara were in Springfield they’d visit the Hadens. My dad remembered Mother Maybelle bouncing him on her knee.
Rick wasn’t aware of any of this when he called me. I’m not sure if Johnny knew I was the songwriter. I was on tour and not able to go to the session. I never did meet Johnny.
I’m happy that a few years earlier my sisters got to talk with Johnny and June, Johnny’s wife and the daughter of Maybelle, when their band that dog. opened for Johnny at Carnegie Hall. My sisters told me June remembered seeing my dad in the old days.
Over twenty years later, just a couple of months ago, I received an email from the music supervisor working on a brand new Cash documentary film.
The filmmaker would like Cash’s version of your song “Spiritual” to appear in the film, he wrote. Here’s our offer. Agreed?
I would’ve let them use the song for free. It’s an honor to have my song included in the film, out of all the thousands of songs Johnny recorded over the years. The film, The Gift: The Journey Of Johnny Cash, is available for everyone to watch on YouTube Originals. It is such a moving, inspiring work of art.
The Gift didn’t have a proper opening in L.A. It showed for a week in a Beverly Hills cinema, to make it eligible for the Oscars. The music supervisor, Matt Lilley, and I bought tickets and watched it on the big screen. The use of “Spiritual” moved me to tears.
Afterwards, I felt like I should repay the favor by covering a Cash song.
I have several of his religious albums and I went through all of them. I was looking for a song that preferably hadn’t been covered before, and that had something I could try to make my own. “God Is Not Dead” is the last song from the religious concept album The Holy Land, released in 1969. Most of the album is Johnny and June holding a tape recorder while walking through Israel, along the path Jesus supposedly took on his march to Calvary, where he was crucified. Johnny is profound and his biblical knowledge is deep, as is June’s. It’s such a unique record.
“God Is Not Dead” seemed almost included on The Holy Land as an afterthought. The song appeared to be unfinished to me, compared to the others on the record. It was the only studio number that was just Johnny singing with acoustic guitar and no other instruments. When I finished recording I really noticed how pertinent the lyrics still are. Crisis in faith, religious hypocrisy, the future of our planet, and reason for hope - it’s everything humanity is experiencing now. I present it here in prayerful awe, respect, and eternal gratitude.
Founded in 1993 by Josh Haden, Spain is a band from Los Angeles, CA. They've released seven studio albums over the past 25
years, the first being 1995's Blue Moods Of Spain, available from Warner Bros., the most recent being 2018's [spain mandala brush], available from Dangerbird Records (North America) and Glitterhouse Records (Europe)....more