Disillusionment and Discord: Part Three

Yet, in spite of the seeming routineness of these matters, Holiff and Cash's exchanges in these letters reveal the tumultuous nature of their relationship. A salient example concerns stationary that Holiff commissioned for Cash right after becoming his manager, which he felt was crucial as a way of cultivating prestige and, as he wrote to Barbara, "pitching Johnny to more significant places than in the past."

Cash even wrote to Barbara thanking her for helping design the stationary. In the same letter in which he expresses that he feels his "career is ZOOMING," he tells her that, "[i]f ever I feel that success in anything is slow in coming, all I have to do is look at this stationary, and, behold!! TOP BILLING!," adding, "I can see how this stationary can help much more than might be imagined. Most "country-western" music "citizens" will be flabbergasted, everyone else in show business will be very impressed, and "outsiders" will gasp. To boil it down, whoever Saul writes, it will be like a post-hypnotic suggestion that they get up in the middle of the night and answer the letter from "the master," the one on the unforgetable [sic], Millienott[?] paper."

But in a letter from 10 August 1962, Cash took Holiff to task for what he perceived to be an exorbitant cost, calling it "sickening and ridiculous," and proclaiming that "[t]he stationary is beautiful, but I'll use notebook paper before I'll pay for any more." (It probably did not help that Cash's former manager, Stew Carnall, had filed a lawsuit on 7 August 1962 for compensation of services rendered, a suit that would was only the beginning of Cash's financial and legal troubles over the years to come.)

Their correspondence also attests to disagreements over financial matters such as settling outstanding bills, rehashing old expenses, and general business practices. In one letter, Cash questions whether something had been deducted from his gross earnings already, reprimands Holiff for paying a $900 bill for a billboard without consulting him first, insisting that Columbia should have covered the cost, and tells Holiff that he wants to review all of his contracts personally.

Another contentious issue seems to have been Holiff's management of George Jones. In July, Holiff instructed Betty Siegfried, Cash's secretary, to send out publicity materials for Jones, and Cash subsequently wrote to Holiff that he should not be handling business for Jones through Cash's Ventura office.

In his reply, Holiff writes "After reading your letter my only conclusion is that in my absence I've been TRIED,
JUDGED and FOUND GUILTY, WITHOUT a HEARING." The tenor of his letter is both defensive and conciliatory. He basically dares Cash to fire him (insisting that Cash is essentially accusing him of stealing, he writes, "If this is proved to be the case, I should be dismissed" and asserts that he "would be sorely tempted to prosecute such a person"), but concludes by reiterating that "I have said it before, and I repeat again, that, no matter where I am, and no matter what I am doing, my first loyalty has been, and will continue to be, to you." 

Such letters attest to the difficulties Holiff faced in managing Cash during these years. Although Cash released his first major hit in years, "Ring of Fire," in 1963 to enormous success, Holiff and Cash's relationship became increasingly troubled over the next several years as Cash's addiction problem continued to escalate. He missed shows and recording sessions with increasing frequency, became embroiled in lengthy and difficult divorce proceedings, and was arrested multiple times--all crises that Holiff was forced to handle.

In July 1963, Holiff wrote to Barbara that Cash had asked him to resign as his manager and keep working only as his booking agent: "What I've always considered was inevitable happens to have finally happened. Johnny has suddenly and rather abruptly advised me that he would like to discontinue our present arrangement" but "has indicated that he would like me to go on booking him." His surprise at the decision reveals another example of Cash's unpredictability:

"The suddeness [sic] of his decision has of course upset me considerably, especially since it comes at a time when everything is shaping up so well." According to Holiff, they had completed a successful tour in June, and, among other things, he had recently negotiated a beneficial new contract for Cash with the music publishing company Hill & Range. He concludes that "it's impossible to apply logic or reason to the whole thing" because "I honestly believed that no matter how emotional and irrational Johnny was, he was at least loyal." Ultimately, he tells her, "I don't believe that he ever completely trusted me, as exemplified by the situation last year and several instances this year." While he does not specify what incident he is referring to, the allusion does suggest the ongoing tension between them and the frequency of their disagreements.

Items in this collection are available for research, teaching, or private study under this Creative Commons license agreement. For all other uses, please see our About page to contact us.