Volatile Attractions Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash, and Managing a Music Legend

About the Exhibit


Volatile Attractions: Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash, and Managing a Music Legend is a digital exhibit featuring materials from the archives of Saul Holiff, the Canadian manager of one of the most iconic figures in American music history: Johnny Cash. Holiff, who started out as a concert promoter in the late 1950s in London, Ontario, managed Cash from 1961-1973, by turns the most tumultuous and remarkable years of the singer’s life, and resigned at the pinnacle of Cash’s success. The collection, held in Special Collections at the University of Victoria Libraries, contains photographs, letters, audio recordings, diaries, gold records, and ephemera that Holiff carefully accumulated during his career and preserved until the end of his life. 

Some of these materials have been cited in books and documentaries about Cash--including Johnny Cash: The Life (2013) by Robert Hilburn; Johnny Cash: The Biography (2006) by Michael Streissguth; The Man Called Cash (2004) by Steve Turner; and Half a Mile a Day (2000) by Al Greenfield--and the fact that Cash biographers have consistently sought access to Holiff's archives indicates how significant they are. But Holiff was also selective about what he shared when he agreed to be interviewed. Only recent projects such as the award-winning documentary My Father and the Man in Black (2013), written and directed by Holiff's son Jonathan, and the biography The Man Who Carried Cash: Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash, and the Making of an American Icon (2017) by Julie Chadwick, have begun to represent the scope of the archives.

Kinds of material:

This exhibit focuses primarily on Holiff’s management years and features photographs, contracts, ephemera, and correspondence that document his relationship with Cash. But the archives also include many items related to Holiff’s family, education, and personal beliefs on religion, politics, and death, as well as extensive materials related to the making of Jonathan Holiff’s documentary, My Father and the Man in Black. The exhibit draws on these letters, photographs, diaries, and interviews to represent the immense energy and care that Holiff dedicated to successfully managing Cash, as well as the professional disappointment and personal cost that accompanied that undertaking.

The project:

This website and the work behind it are the result of collaboration among several departments at the University of Victoria Libraries, notably Special Collections, the Digitization Centre, the Digital Scholarship Commons, and Metadata. The exhibit is a dynamic resource that will grow over time as we digitize additional material from our collections.

Project team:

Lisa Abram, Communications Officer

Heather Dean, Associate Director, Special Collections

John Frederick, Library Assistant, Special Collections and University Archives

Lisa Goddard,  Associate University Librarian, Digital Scholarship and Strategy

Josie Greenhill, Intern, Special Collections and University Archives

Lawrence Hong, Archives Assistant

J. Matthew Huculak, Digital Scholarship Librarian

Braydon Justice, Developer/Analyst, Digital Scholarship

Samantha MacFarlane, Digital Exhibit Designer

Kathy Mercer, Supervisor, Digitization Centre

Dean Seeman, Head, Metadata

Lara Wilson, Director of Special Collections and University Archivist

Technical background:

This site was built using Blacklight, an open source, Ruby on Rails, discovery and access engine for digital collections. The exhibit was created with the Spotlight for Blacklight plugin.

History of Logo design and font:

The logo for the site was is the logo that Saul Holiff used on his Volatile Attractions stationary.

Use and reproduction of digital materials:

The University of Victoria Special Collections provides digitized materials from their collections to support the teaching and research needs of the university community and partners. Users may reproduce (print or download) items in this collection for research, teaching, or private study. For all other uses, contact Special Collections at speccoll@uvic.ca or 250-721-8257.

Citation of digital materials:

UVic Libraries requests that materials reproduced from their digital collections are properly cited, regardless of use. Citation should include: title of the item; name of the collection / fonds it belongs to; “University of Victoria Special Collections"; “Volatile Attractions digital collection”; url for the page the item was found; date the item was viewed. For multi-page items, include the name of the whole resource (e.g. “Saul Holiff's Personal Scrapbook”), along with the page number, if available. You may find all of this information in the beige box beneath each image.


"Saul Holiff and Bill Haley, 1959." Holiff Family fonds. University of Victoria Special Collections. Volatile Attractions digital collection. https://exhibits.library.uvic.ca/spotlight/holiff/catalog/11-13321. 4 June 2018.


Questions or comments about the materials represented on this site can be sent to Special Collections at the University of Victoria Libraries, speccoll@uvic.ca.