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

Disillusionment and Discord: Part Five

Cash ran into significant legal trouble during this period as well. On 27 June 1965, Cash, under the influence of drugs (by his own account and that of his nephew, who was with him at the time), started a fire that destroyed over 500 acres of the Los Padres National Forest, which earned him a $125,000 fine from the federal government. Then, in October 1965, Cash was arrested in El Paso, Texas for carrying drugs across the border from Mexico, which further damaged his reputation and made it even more difficult for Holiff to book dates, particularly since Cash had to secure legal permission to leave the country to go on tour. A letter from Woodrow Wilson Bean, Cash's attorney in El Paso, refers to an order signed by the United States Commissioner that grants Cash permission for Cash to travel to Canada from 1-10 November 1965.

Letter from Saul Holiff to Johnny Cash, 9 July 1965

In addition to the difficulty he faced booking new shows for Cash, the dates Holiff had already managed to book were at risk. He received a telegram from Texas A&M University (above), for instance, cancelling a Cash appearance that November, citing "unfavorable publicity on Johnny Cash originating from El Paso." 

As Holiff would put it in a letter to Cash a few months later, there were "many times that surgical repairs had to be brought into play, public relations-wise" in his job, and this was one of them.

Amid this turmoil, Holiff offered to resign as Cash's manager, the second time in their association that the two were on the verge of splitting up:

"If you are concerned about the manner in which I represent you, I would be agreeable to withdrawing from this area and concentrating on dates only, plus the usual prodding of Columbia and Hill & Range, press releases and distributing publicity and records, which I have been doing at my own expense for several weeks now."

Letter from Johnny Cash to Saul Holiff, 14 July 1965

But in his response, Cash insisted that he wanted to retain Holiff in his current role:

Yes, again I say, I want you to represent me. Columbia...H&R....Sun. [. . .] By the way, what do you mean by 'withdraw from this area.' Lets [sic] work together and keep phrases like that out of our conversation. Black is black. Day is day.

This letter is signed "J.R.," with a postscript in Cash's handwriting: "Your roads downhill. Wind at your back." It is a shorthand version of a common saying of Cash's (as seen here in his note of congratulations to Holiff and Barbara when they were married) that suggests they were on friendly terms once more. 

By the end of the year, however, Holiff was once again alluding to the dissolution of their relationship. In December, he wrote Cash with an outline of outstanding commissions and a list of Cash's upcoming shows: "As 1965 draws to a close, and our fifth year of association approaches, I believe it's time to sum up some things from the past and present and [. . .] make some projections for the future [. . .] [n]ow that it appears that we will be going our separate ways."

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< Disillusionment and Discord: Part Four Escalation and Confrontation (1965-1967) >