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Record Producer Rick Rubin

Rubin worked with Johnny Cash for the last 10 years of Cash's life, collaborating on four critically acclaimed and Grammy award-winning albums (American Recordings, Unchained, American III: Solitary Man and American IV: The Man Comes Around.) At the time of Cash's death, they were collaborating on a box set that collects many unreleased tracks from those previous sessions, as well as a best-of CD. The five-CD collection is called Unearthed.

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Transcript

DATE February 16, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Rick Rubin discusses his 10 years of producing Johnny
Cash's music and his newly released box set "UnEarthed"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Before Johnny Cash died last September, he and his record producer, Rick
Rubin, had chosen the recordings for five-CD box set called "UnEarthed." It
was posthumously released late last year. We're going to listen to and talk
about some of the music with producer Rick Rubin.

Cash and Rubin seemed like an unlikely pair when they started working together
in 1993: Cash, the aging country music star; and Rubin, a producer best known
for his work with hiphop and heavy metal bands. But many people consider
their first collaboration, the 1994 CD "American Recordings," to be Cash's
finest work. It featured Cash, along with his guitar, playing some of his
favorite songs. For the albums they made together, Rubin not only encouraged
Cash to record his favorite songs. He convinced Cash to record songs that
might have seemed out of character for him, including music by Neil Young,
Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. This helped introduce Cash to younger
listeners. Four of the five CDs in the new box set feature previously
unreleased tracks from the Cash-Rubin collaboration. The fifth is a `best of'
collection drawn from the albums they made together.

Rick Rubin, welcome to FRESH AIR. Before we play something from the CD, just
tell us a little bit about how you and Johnny Cash--because I know he was
alive when the idea for this box set was formed--how you both decided that you
wanted to do this box of unreleased recordings.

Mr. RICK RUBIN (Record Producer): Well, over the last 10 years we had
recorded so many songs, only a few of which came out on album, that, just in
looking through the material, we decided there's so much great stuff it really
deserved to be heard. And we started listening to it and picking songs we
liked, and it just really seemed like a way to clear the decks more for the
future because we were planning on making a lot more albums together.

GROSS: So he was in on the selection of the songs on this?

Mr. RUBIN: Yes, he was.

GROSS: Well, there's five CDs. Let's start with something from the first CD,
and this is a song called "If I Give My Soul." It's a song written by Billy
Joe Shaver. Is this a song that Johnny Cash selected to record?

Mr. RUBIN: Yes, it was.

GROSS: Why did he want to choose it?

Mr. RUBIN: He said Billy Joe Shaver was one of his favorite songwriters, and
he just felt that the lyrics suited him, and he felt a connection with the
song.

GROSS: Did you connect with the song?

Mr. RUBIN: I liked it quite a bit.

GROSS: I like it, too, I guess is why I'm choosing it. It's a great song
about a broken man bargaining with God for the most important things a mortal
needs and wants. This recording starts with Johnny Cash saying, `Get off the
stage, Cash.' What's that about?

Mr. RUBIN: The recording was made at a time when Johnny was still touring,
and he came to the session just from being on tour. And the head space and
performance aspect of presenting a song to a large audience is very different
than getting an intimate, personal recording. And he had sung the song once
before, the one that's on the box, and it felt like it was being performed for
an audience, and it felt a little disconnected. So I requested him to--I said
that to him, that it sounded like he was singing to an audience and not making
it personal. And he said to himself, `Get offstage, Cash,' and then did the
version that we hear.

GROSS: Well, let's hear it. This is Johnny Cash, "If I Give My Soul," a song
by Billy Joe Shaver.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOHNNY CASH: Get offstage, Cash. OK?

(Singing) Down a dangerous road I have come to where I'm standin' with a heavy
heart and my hat clutched in my hand, such a foolish man. God ain't known no
greater sinner. I have come in search of Jesus, hopin' he will understand.
If I give my soul, will he clean these clothes I'm wearin'? If I give my
soul, will he put new boots on my feet? If I bow my head and beg God for his
forgiveness, will he breathe new life within me and bring her back to me? I
had a woman...

GROSS: That's "If I Give My Soul" from the new Johnny Cash box set,
"UnEarthed." My guest is Rick Rubin, who produced the last series of Johnny
Cash's recordings, the "American Recordings" series. And, together, Cash and
Rubin put together this new box set of sessions that were unreleased from that
series of recordings.

Rick Rubin, what did Johnny Cash's music mean to you before you met him?

Mr. RUBIN: Well, I don't know if it was so much his music, per se, that drew
me to him. It was more his overall persona. And obviously I love his music,
but his attraction was greater than music. There's just something about him.
It's hard to explain, hard to explain.

GROSS: What did you think of that persona as being?

Mr. RUBIN: Rebellious, honest, divided.

GROSS: How divided?

Mr. RUBIN: Well, there was clearly a side of him that was spiritual and
religious, and there was another side that was dark and drug-using. And he
really lived an extreme life in different directions.

GROSS: I'll add another division to that, which is like stoic but really
sensitive?

Mr. RUBIN: True. That's true.

GROSS: So how did you end up meeting him?

Mr. RUBIN: I went to see him perform; I believe it was somewhere in Orange
County. And we met after the show, and the show was fantastic. It was the
first time I'd ever seen him perform live. And we met backstage after the
show and just talked about music.

GROSS: Did you meet him with the idea of proposing a series of recordings to
him?

Mr. RUBIN: I met him with the idea of potentially working together, but I
didn't know where it was going to go, and I didn't have any expectation of
what it could or should be. It just felt like the idea of connecting was a
good one.

GROSS: And can you talk a little bit about how that evolved into the
"American Recordings" series?

Mr. RUBIN: Well, we didn't have a plan, really, and that's normally the case
with the albums I make. We try to really find what it's supposed to be
through experimentation, and with Johnny we did that. We tried a lot of
different things before we settled on what that first album was, and some of
those experiments on the way are on the box set: playing with different
bands; playing different styles; and just trying to find what the sound for
the new Johnny Cash would be that resonated with who he was and who he always
was and sounded both revolutionary and new and natural and like that's the
way it was always supposed to be. So it was really a journey that we went on
to find what that sound was.

GROSS: What was the process like of going through songs and figuring out what
he should record?

Mr. RUBIN: He would send me songs that he liked, and I would send him songs
that I liked, and we would compare notes and discuss them and talk about why
we liked them. And sometimes I would send him, you know, a CD with three
songs; sometimes I'd send him 30 songs. And he would always call and say,
`Well, I like this. I don't like this. I love this. I can't wait to record
this. I don't really understand this.' Sometimes he'd ask, `What is it about
this one that you like?' And we'd talk them through, and ultimately he would
pick the ones that just resonated with him.

And there were cases where I would--if there were ones that I felt strongly
about, I might make a stronger case, although that rarely happened. "Hurt"
was one of those songs where I think if I would have just sent that song to
him in the context of a CD of 30 songs, I don't know that he would have picked
it. But when I did send it to him, I think I explained that I really felt
that that one had the potential to be really, really special.

GROSS: Now with "Hurt," in a way, you know, it's a song about somebody who's
a cutter, you know, who cuts themselves. And it's the kind of cutting where,
you know, maybe pain's better than feeling nothing, and it is a kind of
teen-age phenomenon. What did Johnny Cash feel, you know, at his age and with
all that he's gone through in his life--feeling a song that has such a kind of
teen-age point of view about pain?

Mr. RUBIN: It's interesting that you say that because most people who hear
the song assume that he wrote it when they hear him singing it. I don't think
that he saw it as a teen-age point of view. I think he saw it as a drug song
and ultimately an anti-drug song because it was so...

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. RUBIN: ...there was such despair in it. But he took the needle remark to
be a drug reference.

GROSS: Well, why don't we play the Nine Inch Nails version and the Johnny
Cash version back to back?

Mr. RUBIN: OK.

GROSS: And this is "Hurt."

(Soundbite of music)

NINE INCH NAILS: (Singing) I hurt myself today to see if I still feel. I
focus on the pain, the only thing that's real. The needle tears a hole, the
old familiar sting. Try to kill it all away, but I remember everything.

Mr. CASH: (Singing) I hurt myself today to see if I still feel. I focus on
the pain, the only thing that's real. The needle tears a hole, the old
familiar sting. Try to kill it all away, but I remember everything. What
have I become, my sweetest friend? Everyone I know goes away in the end. And
you could have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down. I will make
you hurt.

GROSS: That's Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt." And my guest is Rick Rubin.
He produced the final series of Johnny Cash's recordings, the "American
Recordings" series. And now he's produced a box set of Johnny Cash's records,
and four of the five CDs in the box feature previously unreleased songs. The
fifth CD is highlights of the released records.

When you started to produce your sessions with Johnny Cash, did you go back
and listen to his records, so that you could figure out what you wanted to do
differently, some of the production style that you wanted to change, you know,
some of the things you didn't want?

Mr. RUBIN: No. We really were starting at ground zero. And I didn't want it
to relate or not relate to the past. And, again, we didn't go in with any
preconceived ideas of what...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. RUBIN: ...it was supposed to be or not supposed to be. It really was
finding these beautiful moments and seeing where it went.

GROSS: My guest is Rick Rubin. He produced Johnny Cash's recordings during
the last 10 years of Cash's life. The new Cash box set, "UnEarthed," features
many previously unreleased recordings from their collaboration. We'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Rick Rubin. He was Johnny Cash's record producer from
1993 until Cash's death last year. The new five-CD box set, "UnEarthed,"
collects many previously unreleased tracks from their sessions together.

Now some of the takes that you've released over the years are recordings that
he actually made in your living room. Do I have that right?

Mr. RUBIN: Yes.

GROSS: Not even in your recording studio but in your living room.

Mr. RUBIN: That's correct. The whole first album was recorded in the living
room of my house.

GROSS: And when you recorded in the living room, did you do it with the idea
that this would be the final take, this would be what you would release?

Mr. RUBIN: Originally not. Originally they were demos. And then as we were
recording in studios and in different places and trying different things, when
we listened to all the different things we tried, the living room tapes were
kind of the most exciting to both of us. So we continued recording in the
living room.

GROSS: Why do you think that was so? Why do you think the living room tapes
were the most exciting?

Mr. RUBIN: I think it's because Johnny had made so many albums in the
recording studio that it reframed the experience of recording. And it really
was just he and I sitting on a couch and him playing these songs. And it had
a more personal and intimate and internal feeling about it. I spoke earlier
about the performance aspect of playing in front of people, and I suppose
being in a recording studio has those same kind of--there's a certain
expectation of getting on the mike in a recording studio that there's some
kind of permanence about it, where singing songs in the living room is really
casual. So I think catching his real, true casual personality was something
that we were able to do better in the living room environment than in a studio
environment. And then as time went on, I put a studio in my house, which has
very much of a living room environment.

GROSS: Now you have two versions of one song on this new box set, "I'm A
Drifter." It's a Dolly Parton song. And the arrangement and the musicians
are different on each of these versions. Can you talk about the two different
versions?

Mr. RUBIN: Yes. That was a song that--of all the songs when I started
looking for songs for Johnny before the first record, that was the very first
song that I found that I was excited about for him to record. And we recorded
it many times. We recorded it acoustically by himself in the living room. We
recorded it in the studio with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. We recorded
it in the studio with, I remember--yeah, I think on the second version it's
Flea playing bass. And I can't remember all the musicians now, but with
different groups of people. And they're very different from each other. And
it never got to the point of where I felt like we captured the magic
transcendent version of the song that fit on our studio album. But I thought
in the context of the box set, it was interesting to kind of see our
experimentation process. And I think both of them are very good and
respectable versions, but it gave some insight into the creative process and
what we were trying to do and how we were going about it. I think you get
that from hearing these two versions of this song.

GROSS: Yeah. And before we hear them, what is it about the song that made
you so committed to including it?

Mr. RUBIN: I don't know. I just felt a connection to it. And I'd heard the
Dolly Parton version, and I felt like it was a great song, but there was a
kind of a depth and power in the lyrics that the music didn't support so much.
The Dolly Parton version felt lighter to me. And lyrically it felt more
serious. And the goal was to kind of find that serious mood that the song
seemed to really be about.

GROSS: Well, let's hear both of these versions of "I'm A Drifter" back to
back. Both of these are on the new Johnny Cash box set "UnEarthed." So the
first version is--first, we'll play the version with Flea on bass, and then
we'll play the version with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

(Soundbite of "I'm A Drifter" with Flea on bass)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) I'm a drifter, lonesome drifter. Got no place to call my
own no more. I'm a wanderer, lonesome wanderer. Got no one to call my own no
more.

(Soundbite of "I'm A Drifter" with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Got no strings to tie me down, got no cause to hang
around. What difference does it make which way I go? Got an empty feeling
deep inside. Still, I need to stay alive. And who can tell what waits beyond
this road? I'm a drifter, a lonesome drifter. Got no one to call my own no
more. Got no strings to tie me down. Got no cause to hang around. What
difference does it make which way I go?

GROSS: Two versions of "I'm A Drifter" from the new Johnny Cash box set
"UnEarthed." We'll hear more music and talk more with Cash's producer Rick
Rubin in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "I'm A Drifter" with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) And who can tell what waits beyond this road? I'm a
drifter, a lonesome drifter.

(Announcements)

Mr. CASH: "Flesh and Blood."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Beside the singing mountain stream where the willows
grew...

GROSS: Coming up, recording in spite of his illness and the faith that
sustained him--we continue our conversation about Johnny Cash with record
producer Rick Rubin.

(Soundbite of "Flesh and Blood")

Mr. CASH: (Singing) ...made a string of buckeye beads. But flesh and blood
needs flesh and blood, and you're the one I need. Flesh and blood needs flesh
and blood, and you're the one I need. I leaned against the bark of birch, and
I breathed the honeydew, saw a northbound flock of geese against the sky of
baby blue. Beside the lily pads I carved a whistle from a reed. Mother
Nature's quite a lady, but you're the one I need. Flesh and blood needs flesh
and blood, and you're the one I need. A mockingbird sang just for me, and I
thanked him for the song. When the sun went slowly down the west, I had to
move along.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Today we're listening to music from Johnny Cash's posthumously released boxed
set "UnEarthed," featuring music he recorded during his 10-year collaboration
with producer Rick Rubin, including many previously unreleased tracks.

Before we continue our conversation with Rubin, let's listen back to a short
excerpt of the interview I recorded with Cash in 1997, just a few days before
he made his illness public. This is the part of the interview in which he
talked about working with Rubin. I had asked how Rubin first approached him.

(Soundbite of 1997 interview)

Mr. CASH: Well, my contract with Mercury/PolyGram Nashville was about to
expire, and I never had really been happy. The record company just didn't put
any promotion behind me. I think one album, maybe the last one I did, they
pressed 500 copies. And I was just disgusted with it, so I decided, `I'll
just do my thing. I'll do my tours and writing, and that's all I need.' So
that's what I was trying to do.

But I got hungry to be back in the studio, to be creative and put something
down, you know, for the fans to hear. And about that time that I got to
feeling that way, Lou Robin, my manager, came to me and talked to me about a
man called Rick Rubin that he had been talking to that wanted me to sign with
his record company. It was American Recordings. I said, `I like the name.
Maybe it'll be OK.' So I said, `I'd like to meet the guy. I'd like for him
to tell me what he can do with me that they're not doing now.'

So he came to my concert in Orange County, California--I believe this was,
like, '83 when he first came--and listened to the show. And then afterwards,
I went into the dressing room and sat and talked to him. And, you know, he
had his hair--I don't think it's ever been cut. And very--he dresses like a
hobo, usually; clean, but--(laughs). He was a kind of guy I really felt
comfortable with, actually. I think I was more comfortable with him than I
would have been with a producer with a suit on.

But I said, `What are you going to do with me that nobody else has been able
to do to sell records with me?' And he said, `Well, I don't know that we will
sell records.' He said, `I would like you to go with me and sit in my living
room with a guitar and two microphones and just sing to your heart's content
everything you ever wanted to record.' I said, `That sounds good to me.'

So I did that. And day after day, three weeks, I sang for him. And when I
finally stopped, he had been saying--like, the last day or so, he'd been
saying, `Now I think we should put this one in the album.' So without him
saying, `I want to record you and release an album,' he started saying, `Let's
put this one in the album.' So the album--this big question, you know--began
to take form, take shape.

And Rick and I would weed out the songs. There were songs that didn't feel
good to us that we would say, `Let's don't consider that one.' And then we'd
focus on the ones that we did like, that felt right and sounded right. And if
I didn't like the performance on that song, I would keep trying it and do take
after take until it felt comfortable with me and felt that it was coming out
of me and my guitar and my voice as one, that it was right from my soul.
That's how I felt about, you know, all those things in that first album, and I
got really excited about it.

But then we went into the studio and tried to record some with different
musicians, and it didn't sound good; it didn't work. So we put together the
album with just the guitar and myself.

GROSS: Johnny Cash recorded in 1997.

Before we get back to our interview with Rick Rubin, let's listen to one of
the spirituals from the new Johnny Cash boxed set "UnEarthed." This box
features many previously unreleased takes from the sessions Cash and Rubin did
together.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Once my soul was astray from the heavenly way. I was
wretched and as vile as could be. But my savior and love gave me peace from
above when he reached down his hand for me. When my savior reached down for
me. When he reached down his hand for me. I was lost and undone without
God or his Son when he reached down his hand for me.

GROSS: One of the CDs on this new box set is just spirituals, spirituals and
hymns solo. It's just Johnny Cash and his guitar. And I just particularly
love this CD. They're so beautiful, and there's so much feeling on this. And
I don't know if you had listened to a lot of these kinds of songs before, so
I'm interested in what the process was like for you of just hearing Johnny
Cash sing spiritual after spiritual.

Mr. RUBIN: I thought it was beautiful, and it was interesting how it came
about. Johnny had found--the title of that album is called "My Mother's Hymn
Book," and Johnny had found his mother's hymn book, the actual one that she
sang him songs from since the time he was born. And these are songs that he'd
been singing since he was four years old, and they really helped form who he
was as a person and as a singer, so he felt more connected to these songs, I
think, than any songs he ever recorded before, and very second nature for him
to play them. And he was real excited about the idea and would just go
through the hymn book and just pick the ones that really touched him and that
he remembered and had the best feelings for. And in the book that comes with
the box set, he talks about each of the songs and what his connection to them
were and why he chose them.

GROSS: While you were recording these songs, did it give you insights into
Johnny Cash's relationship with religion and spirituality?

Mr. RUBIN: He's probably the most committed spiritual person I've ever met.
He really lived his life according to his connection with God, really. And he
felt like his singing was really--he could take a song and make it a
devotional song even when it wasn't originally written that way. An example
of that--and I can't remember if it's on the box set or not. Let me take a
look. It's not. But a song that was on the last studio album was the Roberta
Flack song.

GROSS: Oh, "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face"?

Mr. RUBIN: "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Actually, she didn't write
it, but she made it famous. And when we did that song with Johnny, the goal
of it was to perform it as if he were singing the song to God, and to take
this love song and make it into a spiritual song. And he loved that, and,
again, it came really natural to him. It seemed like his devotion for life
came from his devotion for God.

GROSS: Had you been exposed to that kind of devotion before?

Mr. RUBIN: Probably not. Probably not. And he had such an honest and pure
way about it that--I remember, we had a dinner party at my house one night
with Johnny and June and some musicians and some film directors. And before
dinner, Johnny had everyone hold hands, and he said a prayer, and he read from
the Bible. And I know some of the people at the table had never experienced
that before, and some of the people at the table were even atheists, but his
belief in what he believed was so strong that what you believed didn't matter
so much, because you were in the presence of someone who really believed, and
that felt good, and that made you believe, really, in him more than anything
else. It was really beautiful.

GROSS: It's hard to choose one song from this CD, but why don't we hear "I
Shall Not Be Moved." I think a lot of people know this as a spiritual that
was also used as a civil rights song. It was one of the anthems of the civil
rights movement. I'm not sure I ever heard it sung this way before. What
about you?

Mr. RUBIN: I don't think I have, either.

GROSS: And what did the song mean to him? Did he talk about it at all?

Mr. RUBIN: He asked my opinion and was not concerned, but didn't want to
create confusion and wanted to make sure that people understood that when he
sang the song, he was singing it as a devotional song. And when we talked
about it, we kind of came to the conclusion that regardless of how people took
it, either way, the message was a good one, and he was fine with it.

GROSS: OK, this is Johnny Cash as featured on the new box set "UnEarthed."

(Soundbite of "I Shall Not Be Moved")

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Glory, hallelujah. I shall not be moved. Anchored in
Jehovah, I shall not be moved. Just like a tree that's planted by the waters,
I shall not be moved. In his love abiding, I shall not be moved. And in him
confiding, I shall not be moved. Just like the tree that's planted by the
water, I shall not be moved.

GROSS: That's Johnny Cash from the new box set "UnEarthed." We'll talk more
with producer Rick Rubin after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Rick Rubin. He was Johnny Cash's record producer from
1993 until Cash's death last year. The new five-CD box set "UnEarthed"
collects many previously unreleased tracks from their sessions together.

When did Johnny Cash start getting sick within the period of time you were
working with him? I mean, how deep were you into the recordings when it was
clear that something was going wrong?

Mr. RUBIN: During the recording of the second album, which was called
"Unchained," was when it became apparent that he was not well.

GROSS: How did it look? What were the first things that made that clear?

Mr. RUBIN: We'd be in the studio working, and he would get dizzy, or he would
be unable to sing and have to lay down for a while. And some days, he wasn't
able to sing, and he would just not be himself, not be himself at all.

GROSS: And then he went to the doctor to find out what was wrong?

Mr. RUBIN: Yes, and he was misdiagnosed at that time for having a disease
called Shy-Drager syndrome, which was really a death sentence, because if
you have Shy-Drager syndrome, the life expectancy is 18 months. And he was
medicated for Shy-Drager syndrome. And then after two years, when he hadn't
passed away yet, they decided, `Well, I guess it's not Shy-Drager syndrome,'
'cause he would have been dead.

GROSS: So when the doctors figured out by process of deduction that it wasn't
Shy-Drager syndrome, was Johnny Cash very relieved?

Mr. RUBIN: I think so. I think he was. I think he was confused, and I think
he felt much better, mainly because they took him off of the drugs for
Shy-Drager, which were killing him.

GROSS: What were some of the most difficult parts for him of being sick and
vulnerable, somebody had been so strong and seemingly stoic, just judging from
the records, you know?

Mr. RUBIN: Yeah, he was. I think stopping touring was a really big blow to
him, because he had been on tour for the last 40 years doing, you know, 200
shows a year. And I think he felt like he, in some way, lost his purpose,
because he was an artist, and the thing that drove him was connecting with
people and entertaining people and inspiring people. And he felt like one of
the main venues for doing that was taken away from him, and I think that was a
very, very difficult transition. And probably the reason that he chose to
record so much was because that was the part of his career that he could
continue on and continue being an artist and continue being creative and
continue communicating. And that's one of the reasons that we have the box
that we have. If he was still touring, I don't know that we would have been
able to record so much.

GROSS: What was your recording schedule like after he got sick?

Mr. RUBIN: We would record as often as he wanted to record. We set up a
kind of a home studio at his home, and we had the studio at my house, and we
would work in both of them all the time and as often as he would want us to
get together, or sometimes, he would record stuff on his own and send me
tapes, and then I would work on them. Sometimes, I'd work on tracks and send
them to him, and he'd sing them. And we had just kind of an ongoing--we were
always working.

GROSS: Did you live close together?

Mr. RUBIN: No, he lived in Nashville, and I live in Los Angeles.

GROSS: Oh, so one of you was always flying back and forth?

Mr. RUBIN: Yes. Although we did some--as I said, I would record some tracks
at my house and send them to him. He would sing them and send them back, or
he would cut an acoustic track and send it to me, and then we would add
whatever was going to be added to it here. And sometimes we worked long
distance as well.

GROSS: Now you explained that he was misdiagnosed as having Shy-Drager
syndrome. What he actually had was autonomic...

GROSS and Mr. RUBIN: (In unison) ...neuropathy.

GROSS: Would you describe what that is?

Mr. RUBIN: I think that--I don't know that that is anything. I think that's
a little bit of a medical catch phrase when they don't really know what it is.
That means you're getting old, and things are changing.

GROSS: Toward...

Mr. RUBIN: I will say, one of his qualities was that he would never really
talk about if he was in pain or if he wasn't doing well, so we never really
knew other than when it got so bad that he would say, `I can't sing anymore
now. I have to lay down for a little while,' or, you know, `I think that's
all I can do for today.' He wasn't someone who complained or really shared
what was going on physically with him. And even before all of this, he was
really in pain from the first day that I met him. He had a jaw problem that
gave him excruciating pain 24 hours a day probably for the last 20 years. So
he was used to living in pain and being in pain, and he didn't really complain
about it. The only time he would even discuss it was when it was so
overwhelming that it got in the way of what he was trying to do.

GROSS: Is that why, when you see him toward the end, his mouth is a little
twisted to one side?

Mr. RUBIN: Yeah, he had a surgery to deal with the pain that he had in his
jaw, and they cut some of the nerves in his jaw and actually drilled through
his jaw, and he lost some of the feeling in his face, and it was a failed
surgery, and he still had as much pain in addition to now losing some movement
in his face.

GROSS: Was he self-conscious about how his voice changed toward the end when
he was sicker and weaker, and you can really hear it in his voice?

Mr. RUBIN: He was. He was concerned. And some days, he would really
question it. And then other days, he would sing really well, and he'd hear it
and think that he was proud of it. And other days, he would hear himself and
feel like, `This isn't good enough,' and he would beat himself up about it.
But we would sing things over and over until he was satisfied, until he loved
them.

GROSS: I thought I'd play another track that's on the new box set
"UnEarthed," and this is one of the previously unreleased tracks. And you can
hear that age and sickness in his voice. His voice is very weak. It's still
a beautiful recording. And this is a Stephen Foster song called "Hard Times."
Can you talk about why he chose to record this song?

Mr. RUBIN: I think he liked the idea of spanning time musically. And the
fact that we were doing new songs like "Hurt" and an old song like a Stephen
Foster song from the late 1800s, he liked the idea of kind of the history of
music and participating in it from all different aspects and from all
different periods.

GROSS: This is "Hard Times" sung by Johnny Cash and included on the new CD
"UnEarthed."

(Soundbite of "Hard Times")

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many
tears while we all suffer sorrow with the poor. There's a song that will
linger forever in our ears. Oh, hard times, come again no more. It's a song,
a sigh of the weary. Hard times, hard times, come again no more. Many days
you have lingered around my cabin door. Oh, hard times, come again no more.
While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay, there are frail forms
fainting at the door. But though their voices now are silent, their pleading
looks still say, `Oh, hard times, come again no more.' It's a song, a sigh of
the weary.

GROSS: That's Johnny Cash from the new box set "UnEarthed." It features many
previously unreleased recordings from the 10-year collaboration between Cash
and producer Rick Rubin. We'll talk more with Rick Rubin after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Rick Rubin, who was Johnny Cash's record producer from
1993 until Cash's death last year. The new five-CD box set "UnEarthed"
collects many previously unreleased tracks from their sessions together.

We've been talking about Johnny Cash's illness. How did he take it when his
wife, June Carter Cash, died just a few months before he did? I mean, a lot
of people just assumed that it was hard for him to hang on after that.

Mr. RUBIN: I think that's true, and it really affected him deeply. I spoke
to him the day she passed; he was in the hospital. And he said that he had
suffered so much pain in his life, but nothing really prepared him for this,
and nothing felt as bad as this. He was really suffering, and on that call he
told me he wanted to work every day starting as soon as he could because he
didn't feel like he could go on living if he didn't have something to focus on
because if he sat around and thought about June, he would die.

GROSS: Feeling that way, do you think that that affected the choices of the
songs that he wanted to sing, the kind of lyrics that were making sense to him
then?

Mr. RUBIN: Some yes and some no. Those songs that have been recorded since
then haven't been heard yet, and there'll be another studio album, which will
be made from the recordings. Since the last album, since the fourth studio
album, we've recorded about 60 songs, and the best of those will be the next
studio album.

GROSS: Oh, I'm really glad to hear that there's another one.

Mr. RUBIN: Yeah.

GROSS: That's great. Did you go to Johnny Cash's funeral?

Mr. RUBIN: I did.

GROSS: Was there music at the funeral?

Mr. RUBIN: There was. There were--several people performed, and the song
"Singer of Songs," which is on the box, was played at the funeral with sort of
a slide show of some images of Johnny.

GROSS: Hm. It must be extraordinary for you to know that you produced this
extraordinary body of work from an older musician at a time when, you know,
you're supposed to be, like, over the hill; the best work is supposed to be
behind you. And this is work that not only changed Johnny Cash's image and,
you know, got him, you know, Grammy Awards and everything, but it's just such
valuable music to have. I mean, I'm so glad we have it.

Mr. RUBIN: I agree. And I feel like it's really an issue with our society
that we really discard good things before their time just because they get old
or look a little ragged. And I don't think age in any way took away from
Johnny's greatness. And in many ways, as he got older and even as his voice
may have gotten weaker, it somehow was able to convey emotion in an even
deeper way. And, you know, we can't discount the wisdom; he had so much
wisdom from both the wild life he led--he really led 10 lives during the
course of his lifetime and was so interested in so many things and was,
really, a researcher and studied and read all the time and was so smart. And
he had so much to offer. And the idea that someone like him could be put out
to pasture, it's really a shame. And...

GROSS: Well--go ahead.

Mr. RUBIN: I was saying, just a terrible mistake.

GROSS: Rick Rubin, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. RUBIN: My pleasure. Thank you.

GROSS: Rick Rubin was Johnny Cash's record producer during the last 10 years
of Cash's life. The new five-CD box set "UnEarthed" features many previously
unreleased tracks from their collaboration. The fifth CD is a `best of'
collection drawn from the four albums Cash and Rubin made together.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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