Lenny Kravitz: 'Johnny Cash held me when my mother died'

By Mark Savage
BBC Music reporter

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Lenny Kravitz (right) says he will never forget how Johnny Cash consoled him

Lenny Kravitz has always worn his influences with pride, including the classic rock of Led Zeppelin and the socially-conscious soul of Marvin Gaye.

So it's not entirely surprising to find a song dedicated to Johnny Cash on his latest album, Raise Vibration.

But the sumptuous, slide guitar-assisted ballad hides a deeply personal story of grief and compassion.

It begins as a fairly rote love song with Kravitz singing, "I need your love in every way," before it takes an unexpected turn in the chorus,

"Hold me like Johnny Cash / When I lost my mother," the star sings. "Whisper in my ear / Just like June had to."

"It's strange," admits Kravitz. "It's even a little strange to me. And I know what it's about."

'Humanity and love'

The musician explains how a chance circumstance meant Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash were the only people there when he found out his mother Roxie Roker had died in 1995.

Roker was a star in her own right - playing one half of television's first inter-racial couple in the long-running CBS series The Jeffersons.

She and Kravitz were exceptionally close, but he was on tour when she became gravely ill with breast cancer at the age of 66.

As soon as he could, the singer flew to California to be by her side. Because he had no home in Los Angeles at the time, he arranged to stay with record producer Rick Rubin, who was working with Johnny Cash on his album American Recordings II: Unchained.

"I got off a plane from Tokyo and I went straight to the hospital," Kravitz remembers. "My mother was alive, but she was slipping.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Kravitz took his mother to the MTV Movie Awards in 1993

"I thought she maybe had another couple of days in her [so] I went home to take a shower and get some food.

"I was going to go back to the hospital but as I was going from the hospital to the house of Rick, my mother passed.

"I got the phone call when I was in the house, and I'm standing there with the portable phone in my hand, just taking this in and Johnny and June are walking down the stairs.

"So Johnny said to me: 'Hi, you're back. How are you?'

"And I said: 'My mom just died'.

"I was a bit fazed and out of it. And the two of them just came up to me and surrounded me and held me. The two of them.

"We weren't lifelong friends. I didn't know them that long. We were flatmates. But they decided at that moment [to] treat me like they would treat someone in their family.

"It was a beautiful moment of humanity and love."

Kravitz says he never intended to write about the encounter - but the lyrics and melody for his song came to him in a dream.

"I heard the melody, I heard the music, but I did not understand why I was getting the words 'Johnny Cash,'" he recalls.

"It obviously is something that impacted me and has been sitting within my spirit.

"They were beautiful, real people - and I guess that might have been the last time that I was consoled in that way."

The song will be released on Raise Vibration, this Friday. Two days later, Kravitz will play at Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park, alongside Kylie Minogue, Carrie Underwood and Rita Ora.

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