When John Carter Cash approached noted Nashville-based photographer/director David McClister about producing a new music video, McClister suggested that Cash find a song that meant the most to him.
That part was easy, Cash, 50, said, because he had written something called "Dragon Song" as a 21-year-old while riding a motorcycle herding cattle in Australia.
"It's a real coming-of-age tale for me," he said. "It was two weeks of isolation in the wilderness in Australia. Two weeks later, I fell flat on my face, and the song still had its strength and meant a lot to me."
While the song took on new meaning to him over the years, it always touched him deeply, both for the cathartic powers it held for him when he wrote it and for its evolving meaning over the years.
It's a song about "facing the darkness of the masculine nature. It's about honoring women, though it doesn't honor women in the song. It's about wanting to change and be better," he said. "It's about being willing to change and coming to a different place."
He told McClister about the song, who surprised him by suggesting that instead of making a music video, they make a short film. And that it should be a Western, and that it didn't need to be based on the song necessarily.
Always up for a creative challenge, Cash spent a week developing the script and almost immediately settled on the idea of paying homage to iconic directors Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone and their particular styles.
"Lots of natural light. Grand vistas and beautiful cinematography. We even paid tribute to Leone by not having the lips match the words on screen sometimes. There is also a "trippy" dream sequence that has one of the actors travel in time from 1875 to a 1991 Nashville bar where a 21-year-old Cash is playing "Dragon Song."
"Dragon Song" is on Cash's newest album "We Believe in Magic," and Cash said he had no problem completely reinventing his original idea.
"I love to create. It's who I am and what I do. I'm a producer, but I do my own music. I've written children's books, and my one published novel is a fantasy with talking animals, so it is in my nature. I don't do it to be a rebel, I just love to create. If there are no rules, then creativity can expand."
That is just one of the things he learned from his father, who was famous for promoting artists he liked, especially musicians, no matter what genre they performed or what other people thought.
"Dad stood up for the underdog and broke rules and boundaries," Cash said. "Dad loved people and was very open-hearted."
The film and an interview with Cash by "More Than the Music" host Stacy Newman will air Tuesday, July 16, on the Heartland Network. Newman did the interview via Zoom this time, but has visited Cash in the Cash Cabin Studio outside of Nashville in the past.
Where To Watch
The “More Than the Music” episode with John Carter Cash will air at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, June 16, on the Heartland network (WOOT 6.1, 165 and 465 on EPBFI in Chattanooga; WDGA 43.1, 216 on Optilink, 13 on Charter in Dalton; WTNB 27.1, 5 on Charter and 210 on Comcast in Cleveland; 275 on Spring City Cable; 31 and 1031 on Trenton Telephone; 20 and 1020 on Chickamauga Telephone). The special “Dragon Song” short film will air immediately following that at 8:30 p.m.
They will be livestreamed at 8 and 8:30 p.m. Eastern on watchheartlandtv.com and Roku.
"Johnny built it for June when they were married, and it is magical out there," Newman said.
Cash said especially now with the world social distancing, he spends all of his time on the farm tending to chores before heading to the cabin to create. He is a musician, author, producer and writer who said one of his most recent projects was producing a genre-bending album for his wife, Ana Cristina Cash, and that his latest project will be a straight-up rock 'n' roll album.
"I wake up, put my shoes on, take care of the animals, meditate, get grounded and see what happens next."
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.
John Carter Cash credits
He co-produced with his mother June Carter Cash her CD, “Press On,” which won a Grammy in 1999.
Worked with Rick Rubin as associate producer on his father Johnny Cash’s Grammy-winning records “American III: Solitary Man” and “American IV: The Man Comes Around,” the latter winning three CMA awards.
He also produced his mother’s record “Wildwood Flower,” which won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk album in 2003. His 2004 production “Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family” received three Grammy nominations.
Other credits include producing songs for Dr. Ralph Stanley, Elvis Costello, Jamey Johnson, Chris Cornell, George Jones, Dailey and Vincent, Mavis Staples, Brooks & Dunn, Lynda Carter, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Sheryl Crow, John Randaland Jessi Alexander, Josh Turner, Kris Kristofferson, Normanand Nancy Blake, Jewel, Tim O’ Brien, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Wylie and the Wild West, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Earland Randy Scruggs, Rosanne Cash, John Cowan, Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Tony Rice, and John Prine.