Columbia Records Drops Johnny Cash: “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”

On July 15 in 1986, Columbia Records dropped Johnny Cash from its label after a relationship that lasted more than two and a half decades. According to the Los Angeles Times, Rick Blackburn, head of Columbia-Epic-CBS Nashville, explained, “This is the hardest decision that I’ve ever had to make in my life.”

Cash had signed with Columbia in 1960, after the label convinced him to leave his first label, Sun Records. During the next few decades, Cash of course had a great career with Columbia, where he recorded many of his classic songs.

But by 1986, the industry had changed and Cash was no longer producing hits. Cash’s final album with Columbia was Rainbow (1985). The album included Cash’s cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and “Casey’s Last Ride,” which was written by Kris Kristofferson.

Cash did not stay unemployed for long, and he was soon signed by Mercury Records. And then in 1994 he released his first album with producer’s Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label, beginning a major comeback that included several albums before Cash passed away.

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down”

I don’t know what Cash said when he heard that Columbia was dropping him, but I like to imagine it was something like, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” the title of a traditional folk song that he later recorded with American Recordings.

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down” appeared on American V: A Hundred Highways (2006), which came out after Cash’s death. In the song, the singer recounts how one cannot escape God.

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down” has been recorded by a number of artists, with some using the different title of “Run On.”

As Cash and Rubin did with other songs, their version of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”/”Run On” sounds quite different from other versions.  For example, the Cash version differs significantly from this version of “Run On” from another artist who started with Sun Records, Elvis Presley.

The Blind Boys of Alabama recorded a version of “Run On” that appeared on Spirit Of The Century (2001).

But the version of the song that most people have probably heard is a song from Moby’s mega-selling album Play (1999).  Moby’s song incorporated sampled vocals by Bill Landford & The Landfordaires.

In the end, both Cash and Columbia Records managed to run on and do fine. Had Cash stayed with Columbia Records for the rest of his life, he might never have made the brilliant music he did with Rick Rubin at American Recordings.

And in 2007, Columbia got a new co-head: Rick Rubin.  Rubin then left Columbia in 2012 to revive his American Recordings label imprint.

What is your favorite version of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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