Now that Johnny Cash’s final recordings have been released as American VI: Ain’t No Grave, fans are calling upon Sony to rerelease the Man in Black’s 1964 LP Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, a protest album that dealt with the tribulations facing Native Americans at the time, Reuters reports. Cash was reportedly one-quarter Cherokee. While Bitter Tears is sold on iTunes and CD copies remain available on e-tailers, Cash fans led by author Antonino D’Ambrosio are calling on Sony, whose Columbia Records originally released Bitter Tears with little fanfare, to revisit the album.
“Nobody did concept albums back then,” Cash’s son John Carter Cash said of Bitter Tears, adding it was one of his father’s favorite albums. “And this album solidifies my father’s role as a humanitarian and a spokesman for the underdog. It’s such an important historical record, and I’d love to see it get a proper rerelease.” Columbia Records permitted Cash to record the album after he scored the hit “Ring of Fire,” but the label did virtually nothing to promote it because of its subject matter, and the press largely ignored it when it was released.
At the heart of Bitter Tears is “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” which tells the true story of a Native American soldier who helped raise the American flag at Iwo Jima and returned home a war hero but suffered from alcoholism that ultimately killed him at the age of 32. Ira Hayes’ story was also the subject of the film Flags of our Fathers. The song, and five of the eight songs on Bitter Tears, was penned by folk singer Peter LaFarge, himself a Native American descendant.
“I’ve met Johnny Cash buffs who have never heard of this album. While it is technically available, it’s pretty buried,” D’Ambrosio, who authored the book A Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash and the Making of Bitter Tears, told Reuters. So far, Sony has no announced no plans to rerelease the album.