The Scottish roots of Johnny Cash

By Steven Brocklehurst
BBC Scotland News

  • Published
Johnny Cash and his wife June pose with their eighteen month-old son John in Glasgow in 1971Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Johnny Cash and his wife June pose with their eighteen month-old son John in Glasgow in 1971

There are many places of pilgrimage for fans of legendary musician Johnny Cash, among them Arkansas, where he was born, Nashville, Tennessee, the home of country music - and Fife.

In truth, the east coast of Scotland is not yet a hotspot for fans of the Man in Black but some people think it should be.

A small festival in Aberdour is now paying tribute to Cash's legacy and his Scottish links.

Cash himself claimed his ancestors were from the Kingdom of Fife and was proud of his Scottish roots, even if they had crossed the Atlantic way back in the 17th Century.

The all-American musician began his career in the 1950s, recording alongside Elvis Presley at the famous Sun Studios in Memphis.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Johnny Cash (right) with Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley at Sun Studios in 1956

He walked the line between outlaw and heavenly until he died in 2003, at the age of 71, after a late career flourish in which he had success with a series of acoustic albums.

But it was a chance meeting in the late 1970s that led the star to track down his Scottish roots.

He found himself sitting next to Major Michael Crichton-Stuart, hereditary keeper of Falkland Palace in Fife, on a flight from the US.

Cash mentioned that he had heard that his family originated in Scotland and Mayor Crichton-Stuart confirmed that the family name was still to be seen in the farms and streets of the Kingdom.

Cash's daughter Roseanne told a BBC documentary in 2010: "My father was so taken by this he had our ancestry done back to the 11th century."

Biographer Stephen Millar told the same programme it appeared Cash was descended from a man called William Cash who lived in Strathmiglo in the late 17th Century.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Johnny Cash discovered his Scottish roots when he was in his 40s

The singer's daughter Roseanne further claims that the Cash clan is descended from Ada, the sister of King Malcolm IV (1153-1165).

She says: "Whenever my dad went into the hospital in his last years of life, he always checked himself in under the name of Malcolm. He relished that connection with royalty, however far distant in the past."

In the 1980s, Cash travelled to Fife at least three times - most notably in 1981 when he recorded a Christmas special for US television with fellow singer Andy Williams.

When Leith-born singer-songwriter Dean Owens heard the story he thought something should be done to celebrate Cash's Fife roots.

"Being Scottish we like to claim people for our own," he says. "Finding out Johnny Cash is Scottish, I got quite excited about that."

Mr Owens said the Cashback festival at the Woodside Hotel in Aberdour was not a "tacky" tribute festival but instead a celebration of Cash's legacy.

Image caption,
Dean Owens came up with the idea of a Johnny Cash festival

Rebus author Ian Rankin will be one of those taking part, giving a talk on Saturday afternoon.

John McTaggart, who owns the Woodside Hotel, where the festival takes place, says more people should know about the connection.

He says everyone knows that Prestwick Airport was the only place in the UK where Elvis Presley ever set foot.

And Kirriemuir has a statue in honour of AC/DC's Bon Scott, who lived there until he moved to Australia when he was six.

"People love that musical heritage," he says. "So there should be some kind of monument."

Mr Owens says maybe a statue is not the right memorial.

"In some ways this is better because it is all about the music," he says.