Interview: “Cash on Cash” Coming to Mountaintop

By Bradley Towle

HUNTER – Robert Burke Warren knew there had to be more to Johnny Cash’s story than had been told. The brooding “Man in Black” persona had loomed large in American mythology for decades and has persisted alongside the legendary singer’s increased popularity in the twenty years since his death in September 2003. The popular and award-winning 2005 “Walk the Line” focused heavily on Cash’s struggles with addiction and other demons before finding redemption. The film was widely praised, although A.O. Scott, film critic for The New York Times, thought Joaquin Phoenix’s performance seemed “stuck in the kind of off-the-rack psychological straightjacket in which Hollywood likes to confine its troubled geniuses.” It was precisely this ongoing portrayal of Cash that Warren decided to challenge with his 2022 book, “Cash on Cash.” Through Warren’s friendship with Cash’s daughter Rosanne, he knew the late star to have been a doting grandfather. Interviews and television appearances offered glimpses of Cash’s great sense of humor and his passionate insight into the world of music. “I knew there had to be more to the story,” says Warren. With so much focus on Cash’s demons, Warren wanted to focus on the aspects of his life that had been overlooked and, to Warren, were simply more fascinating. To do so, Warren decided to let Johnny Cash speak for himself by pouring through roughly fifty years’ worth of interviews. As one journalist had noted, “Cash spoke in prose,” offering Warren not only Cash’s own words to tell his story but “perfectly formed sentences and paragraphs.”  Warren gave himself one mandate while researching for the book: use no source available on the internet. That meant he found himself deep in the archives, surrounded by rarely viewed materials —the dream of many a researcher. Ultimately, Warren utilized thirty sources for his final edit. 

Since 2022, Robert Burke Warren has been promoting the book with a stage performance called Cash on Cash. Warren will be at The Doctorow Center for the Arts in Hunter Saturday, April 1st, at 7:00 p.m. telling stories and “illustrating Cash’s life in song.” Warren noted that without fail, someone approaches him after each show to say they learned something new about the late singer. 

Warren recalled a 2018 Cash tribute he put together (prior to the book’s completion) at the Colony Café in Woodstock. As he looked around at the packed theater, he couldn’t help but notice the crowd’s diversity and that Cash’s broad appeal seemed to know no particular demographic or type. Warren cited Cash’s authenticity as the reason. With all of the noise and falsehoods perpetuated by our internet culture, Cash’s powerful voice continues to ring true. “The only other performer that seems even close in the broad scope of Cash’s appeal is Dolly Parton,” says Warren. Despite the similarities, Johnny Cash’s voice, legacy, and popularity are unique, with an appeal not limited to only the United States, as Cash’s years of intense worldwide touring have given him a well-established global fanbase. “The road,” says Warren, “was his bread and butter.” Warren himself will be on the road throughout 2023 with stops in Saratoga Springs, Chicago, and Johnny Cash’s boyhood home in the former Dyess Community of Arkansas. Tickets for Robert Burke Warren’s performance in Hunter are available at

“Cash on Cash” is available through The Chicago Review Press at