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Why Johnny Cash Was Banned From the Grand Ole Opry

The Grand Ole Opry is much more than a radio show – it’s a tradition. Ever since its debut in 1925, this radio program has represented country music and its many fans and artists.

But did you know that in its early years, the function of the Grand Ole Opry radio program was to sell insurance, and it actually had a completely different name?

The program was originally called WSM Barn Dance, and was hosted by radio personality George D. Hay. This program featured local musicians, typically from the folk and country genres. The radio show that preceded it was a classical and opera music program. While on-air, George Hay joked that the audience had been listening to “grand opera”, but from now on, he would be presenting “the grand ole opry”.

Suddenly, the Grand Ole Opry was born, and it grew into an iconic program for musicians and music lovers alike. The biggest country music stars would take its stage, including names like Hank Williams and Dolly Parton. Of course, some of the musicians that graced the stage of the Grand Ole Opry were a little more controversial – musicians like Johnny Cash.

The rise of Johnny Cash

On July 7, 1956, Johnny became an essential part of the show. In his Grand Ole Opry debut, he performed some of his most famous songs of the time, such as “Get Rhythm” and “So doggone Lonesome.” Of course, he also performed his most popular song, “I Walk The Line.” This performance took Cash’s career to new heights, and of course, he became one of the most influential artists on The Grand Ole Opry.

Interestingly, Jim Denny, the Opry manager, was hesitant about including Cash on the show due to his out-of-country look. Cash used to dress in black, sporting sideburns and long hair. Johnny argued that his record was currently among the top 10 records in terms of popularity, so he was confident that audiences wanted to hear him. Denny ended up accepting Cash as a guest, albeit reluctantly.

Cash became one of the biggest parts of the show, and audiences couldn’t wait to hear him at each performance. Many major television shows became interested in him, and he was asked to perform on shows like Ozari Jubilee and Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. He managed to sign a contract with Columbia Records, which prompted him to move to Nashville and record two hugely successful records. Everything seemed to be going great for Johnny, but things were about to take a turn for the worse at this critical time in his career.

The beginning of the end

Johnny Cash made his first mistake in 1957, when he was on tour with various artists from The Grand Ole Opry.

The group was traveling in two separate limos, making a late drive to Jacksonville for an upcoming show. They had to make an emergency stop because on of the limo drivers was falling asleep at the wheel. The other limo driver offered him a trick of the trade – a pill that would keep him alert and energized.

Johnny was curious about its effect and decided to try one. According to Johnny himself, after taking that pill, he began to feel totally fresh. When he arrived in Jacksonville, he decided to take another one of these pills and managed to feel full of energy despite not having slept at all.

In fact, he still didn’t sleep until the next night, when he finally felt exhausted. But by this point, he was excited with his new discovery. With those pills, he could get the strength he needed to be able to go on stage every night and continue traveling on the road. After discovering how easy it was for him to get his hands on these drugs, he started discovering more powerful alternatives and soon used those, too. Sadly, this began his addiction to drugs and pills.

The path of self-destruction

Johnny eventually discovered new limits to his stamina, and felt he was able to perform better than ever before. This gave him a false sense of security every time he went on stage. There were no more nerves or butterflies in his stomach, but confidence and courage to carry out each performance.

Johnny became convinced that these pills had been a gift from God since they allowed him to be a better singer and helped his professional career. He could perform his songs with great precision and energy that overflowed from the stage.

Then, Cash began mixing amphetamines with alcohol. This combination changed his pleasant and fun personality to an aggressive and erratic one. He said that his wife and daughters were terrified every time he came home.

His behavior became violent and unpredictable. His addictions also caused him to suffer from chronic laryngitis. This disease prompted Cash to cancel some concerts and recording sessions for new songs. In fact, it ended up ruining one of the greatest concerts of his career. He was supposed to appear at Carnegie Hall in New York, but he could barely whisper into the microphone due to his illness.

Johnny Cash Gets Banned from the Grand Ole Opry

In 1965, Cash came to the Ryman Auditorium for a Grand Ole Opry performance. Cash had spent the few weeks prior taking pills non-stop. He was almost voiceless and had lost a great deal of weight from his dangerous lifestyle.

While the band was trying to play a tune, Cash was trying to pull his microphone off of its stand, but became frustrated when he was having difficulties removing it. Due to the drugs and their effects, his brief moment of frustration quickly turned into aggression and external anger.

The first thing he did was smash the microphone stand against the ground, then dragged it around the edge of the stage, bursting dozens of light bulbs. As he did this, the glass shards exploded everywhere, including both the stage and onto the members of the audience.

The song ended abruptly, and Cash left the stage. When he did, he ran into the director of The Grand Ole Opry, who told him that his contract with the show was to end immediately.

Cash left the auditorium through the back door of the building, got into his vehicle, and sped off. Shortly after, he crashed his car into a tree and woke up in a hospital emergency room with a broken jaw and nose.

Fortunately, this was a big enough lesson to him that he made an effort to rehabilitate himself. He managed to leave his addiction behind, and recorded his famous comeback album “At Folsom Prison.” After correcting his behavior and his lifestyle, The Grand Ole Opry accepted him again in 1968. This time, he would continue to perform for many more years without any incidents.

Having a great deal of fame can be a destructive path, especially when you make the wrong decisions. This had to be discovered by Johnny Cash the hard way. Cash nearly lost his life and a promising career to his addictions.

How do you feel about Johnny Cash’s roller coaster of a career? Did you prefer his music before he got clean, or after he redeemed himself? Let us know your opinion in the comments. And don’t forget to click the like button, subscribe to Facts Verse and click the notification bell to stay up to date on our newest content.

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