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Regional & National

Fire destroys Johnny Cash's longtime home

April 10th, 2007 11:24 pm by KRISTIN M. HALL



HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. - A fire destroyed the lakeside home of the late country singer Johnny Cash on Tuesday as construction crews were preparing the home for its new owner, Bee Gees singer Barry Gibb.


The fire started around 2:40 p.m. EST in this suburb about 20 miles northeast of downtown Nashville. Fire trucks arrived within five minutes, but the house was already engulfed in flames, Hendersonville Fire Chief Jamie Steele said.


Just a few hours later, there was almost nothing left except brick chimneys.


The cause is unknown, but Steele said the flames spread quickly because construction workers had recently applied a flammable wood preservative to the exterior of the house. The preservative was also being applied inside the house.


No workers were injured, but one firefighter was slightly hurt while fighting the fire, Steele said.


Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash, lived at the home from the late 1960s until their deaths in 2003. Their 13,880-square-foot home was visited by everyone from U.S. presidents to ordinary fans.


"So many prominent things and prominent people in American history took place in that house - everyone from Billy Graham to Bob Dylan went into that house," said singer Marty Stuart, who lives next door and was married to Cash's daughter, Cindy, in the 1980s.


Stuart said the man who designed the house, Nashville builder Braxton Dixon, was "the closest thing this part of the country had to Frank Lloyd Wright."


The property was purchased by Gibb, a member of the Bee Gees, in January 2006. Gibb and his wife, Linda, had said they planned to restore the home on Old Hickory Lake and hoped to write songs there. They had not yet moved in to the home, which they bought for a reported $2.3 million.


Gibb's spokesman, Paul Bloch, said the singer and his family are "both saddened and devastated by the news."


When Cash moved there, the road was a quiet country lane that skirts Old Hickory Lake. Kris Kristofferson, then an aspiring songwriter, once landed a helicopter on Cash's lawn to pitch him a song. Roy Orbison was his next-door neighbor for a while.


In later years, Cash did a lot of recording in the home and in a studio on the property. The landmark video for his song "Hurt" was shot inside the house.


"It was a sanctuary and a fortress for him," Stuart said. "There was a lot of writing that took place there. The ‘Folsom Prison' prison record came from there, the ‘San Quentin' record, ‘The Holy Land,' the ‘Man in Black' book came from there.


"I can't give you the words I felt when I was walking through my orchard and watched it go down. My heart melted alongside it for a minute."


Richard Sterban of the Oak Ridge Boys lives on the same road as Cash. "Maybe it's the good Lord's way to make sure that it was only Johnny's house," Sterban said.


Dixon built the three-story house in 1967 for his own family, but Cash fell in love with it. Dixon was reluctant to sell, but Cash kept after him.


"It was a very, very unusual contemporary structure," said Cash's brother, Tommy Cash. "It was built with stone and wood and all kinds of unusual materials, from marble to old barn wood. I don't think there was a major blueprint. I think the builder was building it the way he wanted it to look."


The younger Cash said many holidays and family get-togethers were spent at the house. And while Johnny and June also owned a house in Jamaica and a second house in Tennessee, they considered this one to be their home.


"Johnny and June lived there the entire time they were married," Tommy Cash said. "It was the only house they lived in together until they both passed on."


Cash's musical career began in the 1950s and spanned from rock 'n' roll to folk to country. His hits included "Ring of Fire," "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line."


The Bee Gees are best known for their disco hits of the late 1970s, such as "Night Fever" and "Jive Talkin'."

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