Producer and engineer Sylvia Massy has described working with Johnny Cash on Unchained, the second album in his American Recordings series produced by Rick Rubin as “magic”.
Unchained saw guest appearances from Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were brought in as Cash’s backup band.
The album was engineered by Massy over a six month period at various studios including Sound City and Ocean Way.
“You think of Johnny Cash as the Man in Black and he’s a legend, but he was a real guy. He was very humble, and he was kind of embarrassed about how badly he played the guitar,” recalled Massy speaking to AMI for the April issue of the magazine.
“Rick would bring in songs. He’d say, Ok, Here’s the song, it was written by Chris Cornell and Soundgarden, but we’re going to try it with Johnny. You wouldn’t think that it would work, but it worked great,” continued Massy.
“That song was Rusty Cage and Johnny sang it like a country song and the Heartbreakers played it with a twang, and it was wonderful. Rick then brought in a Beck song and again, I didn’t even know it was a Beck song until we’d finished recording it because it seemed just like such a natural song for Johnny to sing.
“That song was Rowboat. But then there were also the classic, traditional, old-timey country songs that they did together and June Carter Cash sang on some songs and Carl Perkins came in and sang on some songs, so every day was something special. On Rowboat, Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood came in and played. It was just a magical time.”