It’s a Sunday afternoon in downtown Nashville.
Honky tonks, tourist traps and bright city lights illuminate Broadway. Music flows from the venues as easily as the whiskey. Folks stroll the hallowed street for a taste of Music City and its traditions.
Nestled on Third Avenue South, the Johnny Cash museum and gift shop is open for business.
A lady hands her purchase to the clerk, Joe, to be rung up. Little does she know, the clerk has a strong connection to the museum and its legacy.
He’s not your average Joe. He’s Joe Cash.
Grandson of the famous Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, 17-year-old Joe comes from a long line of family steeped in a rich musical heritage. With blond hair, blue eyes and a quick smile, Joe exudes likability.
Sitting down to interview Joe is an experience in itself. With his witty remarks, anecdotes and animated personality, he practically interviews himself.
Born in Carthage, Tenn., Joe has lived in the Nashville area his entire life. As college looms, he has no plans of leaving his deep-seeded roots and love for this city. This fall, Joe will begin his journey as a Belmont Bruin.
“I wanted to stay in Nashville. I wanted to be close to my family. I know this town way too well to leave it just because of college,” he said.
As his personality suggests, Joe’s interests are wide-ranging from music, to theater, to sailing, to snowboarding, to reading, to writing, to hanging out with friends and even tap-dancing. Described by his friends as unique and energetic, Joe’s personality draws people to him.
“He’s one of the most honest and humble people I know. When I’m with him and we’re alone, he’s crazy and all over the place. But when we’re out in public he switches to being the most mature person ever,” said longtime friend Forrest Cashion.
Joe has also made an impression on his teachers. Andrew Alexander, the theater director at his high school, cast him as Tom in last fall’s production of the Great Gatsby and the lead in the upcoming spring musical, 42nd Street.
“He’s fun to be around. He’s always having a good time and makes the people around him have a good time too,” said Alexander, who teaches at Franklin Road Academy.
Due to Joe’s varied interests, he cannot give an answer when asked what he plans to major in this fall at Belmont.
“I have no idea, like at all—I wish I did ‘cause I get asked that question so much. It’s not like what’s your favorite color, or what sport do you like to play, and why is the sky blue, it’s always where are you going to college? What do you want to major in? What do you want to do with your life?” said Joe.
Among his many interests, Joe said that music is a “big, big, big” part of his life. He even keeps a list on hand at all times of his favorite artists.
“I love David Bowie. David Bowie is one killer dude. I love Cat Stevens. If it wasn’t for Cat Stevens, I wouldn’t be alive. Genesis, I love Genesis. Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin. Of course, yes, I love YES,” said Joe.
Joe’s love for music and classic progressive rock has led him to compose his own works. Having more than 300 recorded videos of himself performing on his computer, he plays several instruments ranging from guitar, to mandolin, to bass, to piano and saxophone.
While Joe strays away from modern country music, he remains loyal to his classic country roots.
“I’ve loved Johnny Cash’s music since, you know, the beginning. I love ‘I Hung My Head’ from his American IV album,” said Joe.
Having such famous grandparents, Joe is always asked the question, “do you remember them?”
“I just can’t remember a whole lot of stuff,” said Joe. “ I remember the little things, like the color of the ceiling in their bedroom, the color of one of their bathrooms, little tiny sand painting-looking things. He had this window that looked out on the lake. I remember granddad’s office, I remember that really well. I remember sitting in there and just talking with him.”
Another question Joe frequently answers is whether he’s watched Walk the Line, a popular movie encompassing Johnny Cash’s life.
“Plenty of times. I liked it. I really like Joaquin’s part,” he said of lead Joaquin Phoenix as Cash. “There’s some small stuff, you know, that’s just not right. But there’s some true things in there. The whole thing with him driving the tractor into the lake, that happened, but he actually drove it off a cliff into the lake and jumped off the tractor right beforehand. There is Johnny’s tractor in the bottom of Old Hickory Lake.”
Sometimes, coming from such a musical legacy has been difficult for him since he marches to the beat of his own drum and is determined to create his own image.
“One of the biggest things is, I am not seen as my own musician. I’m seen as the grandson, and that’s probably what I’m going to live with the rest of my life. If I play music or if I’m singing, people are like, ‘it’s genetics,’ they don’t think I work hard. I don’t want to be seen just as an image, a glancing image, of what I could be,” said Joe.
Even though Joe could take advantage of his famous name, he dislikes the special treatment that sometimes comes with it.
“I tell people I got the job at the Johnny Cash museum, and they’re like ‘Oh, I wonder how you got that?’ When I wear a nametag people treat me differently. When I don’t wear a nametag, I’m just Joe. And I like that.”
With an eye on his future, Joe is excited about beginning his college career at Belmont this fall and exploring the music and theater departments.
“I like Belmont. I went on a tour and Belmont was just like, ‘yeah, that’s where I want to go,’” said Joe.
He is looking forward to creating his own way.
“I feel like I’m a generation far enough where I can make my own image,” said Joe. “On the high school final page, it asks us what we want to be in 10 years. And I said, I want to be known for myself and not who I’m related to.”