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Son rises with new Cash family book and CD projects

John Carter Cash is the son of Johnny and June Carter Cash. John Carter Cash is the son of Johnny and June Carter Cash. (John Russell/associated press)

HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. -- John Carter Cash knows all about the pressure of following in famous footsteps.

Not only was his father the music legend Johnny Cash, his mom was June Carter Cash, a beloved member of the pioneering Carter Family.

His half-sisters, Rosanne Cash and Carlene Carter, are successful recording artists. His ex-brothers-in-law are Rodney Crowell, Marty Stuart, and Nick Lowe.

"Everywhere I've gone people say, 'Why don't you sound like your dad?' " he reflected recently. Then, as if pondering the question yet again, he answered himself: "Well, God didn't make me that way."

At 37, he finds himself in the delicate position of trying to preserve the family legacy while maintaining his own identity as a producer, husband, and father.

He recently released a book about his mother, "Anchored in Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash," and a companion tribute album he produced that includes Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, and Brad Paisley.

As the only child of Johnny and June Carter Cash, he saw the book as a chance to pass on to his three children an "honest interpretation of who my mother was," and, in some ways, to deal with her death.

He writes frankly of his father's drug abuse and reveals for the first time that his mother also was addicted to painkillers in her later years. "She simply stopped speaking in full sentences and went off into her own world. Her mind was not the same," he wrote.

"That was one of the things that made it so hard to write the book, because I knew if I was going to do it I had to go there. I had to tell the truth," he said. "But I wanted the point of the book to be one of redemption, lasting family values, love in the face of suffering , and continuing to press on."

He's experienced significant loss himself . His mother, his father, and his half-sister, Rosey Nix Adams, all died within six months of each other in 2003. This spring, the lakeside home where he grew up was destroyed by fire, a blow he described as being similar to a death in its suddenness.

A couple of years ago, John Carter Cash served as executive producer of the Cash biopic "Walk the Line," a film that upset some of the family because of the way certain events and people were portrayed. With the book, he wanted to be honest without being offensive.

"Of course I was concerned, and there were things I took out of it -- 'he said, she said' -- those kinds of things," Carter Cash said.

Like much of his family, he was dogged by personal problems, including substance abuse and a broken marriage. As a musician, people expected so much of him.

He began to find his niche when his father and then his mother hit a creative surge in their later years. He worked with famed rock producer Rick Rubin on some of his father's "American Recordings" albums. He co produced his mother's acclaimed 1999 album "Press On" and produced her Grammy-winning 2003 project "Wildwood Flower." His 2005 production "The Unbroken Circle: the Musical Heritage of the Carter Family" was a Grammy nominee.

He's produced recordings for George Jones, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, John Prine, Billy Joe Shaver, and many others. He does much of his work in a cabin/studio in the woods next to his house.

Carter Cash seems satisfied with his place in the family legacy, as though he'd found the peace that often eludes the offspring of celebrities. "The children of entertainers have a common thread," he explained. "We usually suffer a lot. We're spoiled, we suffer, and then maybe we figure out who we are and what our purpose is."