Country icon Johnny Cash was born in Arkansas in 1932. His birth name has been given as "John R." or as simply the initials "J.R." In Johnny Cash: The Biography, Michael Streissguth says the singer only became "John" when he signed up for the Air Force. The military wouldn't accept initials as a first name, so he picked a first name to put on the forms.
Cash started writing songs by age 12 and sang on local radio in his high school years. He started his first band in the 1950s, while he was in Germany serving as a Morse code operator in the Air Force. That band was called The Landsberg Barbarians.
After the army, Cash moved to Memphis, Tenn., and started training to be a radio announcer. It was there, in 1954, that he auditioned for record producer Sam Phillips at his famous Sun Records studio and his musical career took off. The two hits he's probably most associated with—"Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line"—were recorded for Sun.
Cash went on to mega-fame, for a time hosting his own TV variety show with his wife, June Carter Cash. June, sometimes known professionally as June Carter, was herself a country icon as part of The Carter Family music dynasty.
"Drive on" appears on Cash's 81st album, 1994's American Recordings. It's written from the perspective of a Vietnam vet who's reflecting on his experience there and coming to grips with the contrast between war and civilian life. "Drive on, it don't mean nothin'/My children love me, but they don't understand/And I got a woman who knows her man."
Interesting side note: Cash and Carter made guest appearances on the 1990s TV show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Cash first appeared playing abolitionist John Brown; later in the series, Cash and Carter play a gunslinger and a missionary, respectively, who, improbably, end up marrying. Cash also did a voice role on The Simpsons as Homer Simpson's spirit animal, the Space Coyote.
Cash died in September 2003 from complications of diabetes. His death came just four months after that of his wife.
Donovan—born Donovan Leitch in 1946—is a Scottish singer/songwriter/guitarist who was most popular in the mid-1960s. His style was folky, with psychedelic elements and pop, rock, and jazz influences mixed in. He's been compared—sometimes slightly disparagingly—with Bob Dylan. The two shared influences and were reportedly friendly with one another, sometimes performing one another's songs. The two are documented on film in the movie Don't Look Back.
Donovan learned guitar when he was 14. He dropped out of art school and left home as a teen, traveling and playing for money in the streets. He was discovered in a London club and signed to Pye Records. He recorded his first single, "Catch the Wind," when he was just 18. The song rose to number four on the U.K. charts and charted in the top 40 in the U.S. He recorded an album and became friends with the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones.
"Mellow Yellow" was one of Donovan's biggest hits, reaching the Number 2 position in the U.S. on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. Rumor had it that the song was about getting high by smoking banana skins. (Don't try it; it doesn't work.) And also about ladies' vibrators. Donovan himself has said "To be 'mellow' is to be cool, to be laid back, but it doesn't have to be with smoke. It can be through meditation." Some of Donovan's other big hits: "Atlantis," "Hurdy Gurdy Man," "Season of the Witch," and the number-one "Sunshine Superman."
Donovan has the distinction of being the first British rock star to be arrested for marijuana possession—long before his friends the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, whose drug use and occasional run-ins with the law have been well publicized. Donovan renounced drugs, though, after a trip to India with the Beatles to learn Transcendental Meditation under the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. During the trip, Donovan taught John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison the finger-picking guitar style. The Beatles used the style on several songs on their album The Beatles (better known as the White Album)—notably "Blackbird," "Dear Prudence," "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," and "Julia."
Donovan's son Donovan Leitch Jr. and his daughter Ione Skye are actors; Donovan junior is also a musician. Skye is probably best known for starring in the beloved 1989 film Say Anything opposite John Cusack.
Donovan's career was relatively quiet during the 1970s and '80s but experienced something of a resurgence in the 1990s, when the British group Happy Mondays recorded a song named after him. Donovan is still working and playing gigs. His most recent album is 2004's Beat café.
Wake up and win the coffee!
There were two headlines in our August issue that call back to rock song titles. If you think you've recognized one or both, email the information to email@example.com by midnight Pacific time on Sunday, Sept. 16. If you don't have a copy of the magazine handy, just look through the headlines in our mobile version or online. If you guess the answer, you'll be entered into our drawing for a three-pack sampler of Joey Kramer's Rockin' & Roastin' Organic Coffee. (Please note: Previous contest winners may not enter for three months following their win.)
Hints for August: The Pretenders; The Rolling Stones.