In March 1935, when Johnny Cash was three years old, the family settled in Dyess, Arkansas
, a New Deal
colony established to give poor families the opportunity to work land that they may later own.
From the age of five, Cash worked in cotton fields
with his family, singing with them as they worked. The Cash farm in Dyess experienced a flood, which led Cash later to write the song "Five Feet High and Rising".
His family's economic and personal struggles during the Great Depression
inspired many of his songs, especially those about other people facing similar difficulties. Consequently, Cash had sympathy for the poor and working class
throughout his life.
On Saturday May 12, 1944, Cash's older brother Jack, with whom he was close, was seriously injured in an accident at his job in a high school. He was pulled into an unguarded table saw
while cutting oak into fence posts, and was almost cut in two. He died from his injuries a week later.
Cash often spoke of the guilt he felt over this incident; according to Cash: The Autobiography
, his father was away that morning, but Johnny, his mother, and even Jack himself, all had premonitions or a sense of foreboding about that day. His mother urged Jack to skip work and go fishing with his brother, but he insisted on working as the family needed the money. On his deathbed, Jack said he had visions of Heaven and angels. Decades later, Cash spoke of looking forward to meeting his brother in Heaven.
Cash's early memories were dominated by gospel music
and radio. Taught guitar by his mother and a childhood friend, Cash began playing and writing songs at the age of 12. When young, Cash had a high-tenor
voice, before becoming a bass-baritone
after his voice changed
In high school, he sang on a local radio station. Decades later, he released an album of traditional gospel songs, called My Mother's Hymn Book