Rick Rubin recently looked back at his collaboration with Johnny Cash. He went on to reveal how the country icon thought was “he was done” before a late-stage revival that saw the Man In Black make some of his most successful records of his career. He also recalled Cash’s reaction to Rubin playing Nine Inch Nails song.
Rick Rubin opens up on Johnny Cash
Emblematic of Cash’s revival was ‘Hurt’, the Nine Inch Nails song that he made his own. But speaking to Lauren Larverne on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Rubin admitted that Hurt was a tough sell. When Cash heard the original, taken from Nine Inch Nails’ seminal 1994 album The Downward Spiral, he had his reservations. Rubin had to sketch out how it might sound with acoustic guitar before Cash could see the cover’s potential.
“I played him the song first and Johnny just looked at me like I was insane, because the Nine Inch Nails version of the song is very noisy, aggressive,” Rubin said. “Johnny was wary! [Laughs] And I think I did a demo where I had a guitar player play it, and I said the words the way I imagined him saying it, and then when he heard the lyrics, and he heard the format of what it could be, he said, ‘Let’s try it.’”
While Johnny Cash never made it onto the desert island with Rubin he spoke at length about their work together, which then, as now was radical and invigorating, presenting Cash as a melancholic troubadour who had seen it all. As Rubin says, that’s how Cash was.
“He wasn’t well enough to tour anymore,” Rubin said. “His partner was gone. And his choice was to die or to carry on, and he chose to carry on.”