Johnny Cash liked people.
That's not always the case with superstars. Just because people like someone doesn't mean someone likes people. But Cash liked people, and he took care to be kind when he could.
As a kid, he'd met one of his musical heroes, Charlie Louvin of The Louvin Brothers, and Louvin's simple kindness to him inspired him to be nice to people who were nice to him.
And so, in 1973, when a kid named Bill Miller attended a Cash concert in Denver, the Man In Black tossed Miller a harmonica and shook the kid's hand. That interaction was the first of thousands, and Miller went on to become a Cash preservationist, the caretaker of a breathtaking collection of Cash memorabilia and, in the new century, the owner and operator of The Johnny Cash Museum in downtown Nashville.
This month, Miller moved to Nashville from California, so he and his museum can share an area code.
"I'm happier than I've been in my entire life," Miller says. "I'm doing something I love to do, and sharing a collection that was hidden under beds and in closets. When I see Johnny's family members walk into the museum and they're mesmerized, that's worth everything to me."
Those family members are indeed mesmerized by Miller's collection of guitars, outfits, awards, photographs and such. Daughter Cindy Cash says, "Whatever anybody needs to know about my dad that they don't know already is in that museum."
Daughter Rosanne Cash visited recently and sent Miller an email with the opening, "It's wonderful." Brother Tommy Cash can't get over the portion of the museum devoted to the Cash family's childhood in Dyess, Ark.
This weekend, Cash's friends and family will convene at the museum for a Johnny Cash Birthday Celebration. (He would have been 82 on Feb. 26.) There'll be performances, but much of the weekend will involve casual conversations, as people who knew Cash best talk with people who want to come to know him better.
"Everybody mingles, and nobody hides," Miller says. "It's in keeping with the way Johnny was: He liked people. The family and his friends have taken on Johnny's attitude towards fans, which is, 'I owe them for all I have and who I am.' I never saw him blow anybody off. If he saw somebody standing there with that look, he'd approach or he'd stand and wait for them."
Cash's son, John Carter Cash, will be there, as will grandson Joe Cash, siblings Tommy and Joanne Cash and niece Lorrie Bennett. W.S. "Fluke" Holland -- who led Cash's band for many years -- and bass man David Roe also will be around, as will touring partner Johnny Western, photographer (and cue card man, and plenty of other things)Chance Martin, Melanie Safka (she sang "Brand New Key" on Cash's ABC television show), music historian Mark Stielper, musician Larry Bagby and other special guests.
Miller has hosted these birthday celebrations in California, but this is the first Nashville edition. The weekend is sold out, but the museum is open at 119 Third Ave. S., seven days a week, from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Miller plans to expand his museum, hoping to add 8,000 square feet of performance space and also to continue improving a museum store that features museum-quality artifacts. Miller still scours the world for vintage Johnny Cash programs, tickets and autographs.
The Cash museum is another music-related tourist attraction in a downtown that is heavy with such things. Miller figures that he's not in competition, he's in cahoots.
"The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum does a fantastic job, and we're certainly no threat to them," he says. "And the Music City Center ... the more, the merrier. I would love for more museums and venues to open. We want to work with everybody. Nobody's going to compete with Cash, and Cash isn't going to compete with anybody. We all coexist, beautifully."
Sounds like something Cash would say. He liked people.
IF YOU GO
- What: The Johnny Cash Museum
- Where: 119 Third Ave. S.
- When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m., seven days a week
- Admission: $15 general admission
- Details: 615-256-1777