This letter tells the story of Johnny Cash’s pivotal 1961 trip to Newfoundland

Luther Perkins, Cash’s lead guitarist at the time, wrote the letter to his wife

“Johnny Cash was looking for a new beginning. It was 1961 and his career was in a slump. Elvis Presley had crossed over to popular audiences; Cash had faltered.” That’s how Jonathan Holiff frames the state of affairs when the legendary country singer, then 29, and his entourage descended upon Newfoundland for a six-show tour and hunting trip. It was a journey that would in many ways shape the rest of Cash’s career: it cemented a relationship with Saul Holiff, his new manager, and it occasioned the hiring of June Carter.

Holiff made a movie commemorating his dad’s career in 2012, called My Father and the Man in Black. Now he’s working on a follow-up project, When Johnny Cash Got His Moose. He has had plenty of help from Newfoundlanders sharing their memories and photos. Per Holiff, one interview alleges Cash went “busting up the Big Dipper bar in Gander,” leading to an arrest by military police. Holiff’s investigation led him to Margie Perkins Beaver, the widow of Cash’s lead guitarist, Luther Perkins. For all these years, she’d hung on to a letter he wrote about the trip.

Click, hover or tap on the arrows to read the story behind this extraordinary letter.

This article appears in print in the February 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “Hunting and gathering.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.

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