Producer and American Recordings head Rick Rubin is compiling tracks for a Johnny Cash box set that will consist largely of unreleased material the two have recorded together over the last decade. Operating under the working title Unearthed, the set could include Cash's collaborations with a slew of artists including Carl Perkins, Tom Petty, Fiona Apple and Joe Strummer.
"There's loads of songs for each of the albums we recorded, a hundred or more," says Rubin, who has produced Cash's last four albums. "For some albums we recorded as many as seventy songs, and on some as few as thirty-five. On the second album we did, Unchained, with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers playing on almost all of it, we probably recorded a dozen songs that didn't make the album. It's an overwhelming amount of work."
Duets featuring Cash and Perkins on "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" and Cash and Strummer on Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" will likely serve as centerpieces for the set.
"[Joe] came over one day and he saw Johnny recording and he got really excited," says Rubin of Strummer, who died last December. "He was supposed to be in town for one week and he ended up staying for two. He came to the studio every day just to be around Johnny and watch him sing. I thought it would be nice to do a duet with Joe and Johnny together, a spur of the moment thing. It was between "Redemption Song" and "Three Little Birds," but Joe knew "Redemption Song" a little better."
One of the key elements of the Rubin/Cash collaborations has been the cover songs picked by the pair, and as Rubin compiles the discs he is rifling through versions of Cash singing songs by everyone from Stephen Foster to Cat Stevens to George Jones. "Hearing Johnny sing a song you've heard before always sheds new light on the song," says Rubin. "He has this kind of command. He has an innate ability to convey the feeling of the music and make the words very serious. You could have heard the song your whole life, but when you hear Johnny sing it, it takes on a whole new meaning."