The Man Who Carried Cash: Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash, And The Making Of An American Icon

The Man Who Carried Cash: Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash, And The Making Of An American Icon
Julie Chadwick
Dundurn Press

The man behind The Man In Black was destined to have a difficult job. Johnny Cash, immensely talented, fiercely independent, and stubbornly hardheaded, was not an easy man to manage. Given to whims and an unwavering belief that he was right, Cash, for all his brilliance, was an inherently difficult artist. Julie Chadwick’s book, The Man Who Carried Cash, takes a look at the life and career of Saul Holiff, a Canadian businessman who managed Cash through the Sixties until his sudden departure from the Cash world in 1973.

Holiff was himself a troubled, restless spirit, and music was what saved him from an early grave. He took an interest in booking shows—often to the point of losing lots of money—and became quite good at his job. But he wanted more, and when he had a chance meeting with a young country singer named Johnny Cash, he saw a talent and a challenge. Cash wasn’t exactly receptive to Holiff’s offer, and though he was reticent about this man who wanted to manage him, he took a chance, and Holiff didn’t disappoint.

But the relationship was volatile, to say the least. Cash was a stickler for loyalty, and would often mistake challenges and concerns to his ideas and simple business practices as disloyalty. In one instance, Cash gets it in his head that Holiff was ripping him off by recouping his expenses for being on the road—which Cash insisted he do—and demanded that the manager pay for his own expenses. It was an unreasonable complaint and illustrated Cash’s misunderstanding of how touring works—and Cash fired Holiff, thinking that he had been stealing from him.

Cash would bring him back, because none of his replacements could handle him for long. Cash’s addictions didn’t help matters, and though Holiff was often on the receiving end of Cash’s abuse, he remained loyal. As Cash’s profile rose in the late Sixties, so too did Holiff’s duties, and his manager helped make Cash a household name, organizing prison shows, his variety show, television appearances, movie acting roles, and worldwide tours. Holiff through himself fully into his work, even as Cash didn’t quite appreciate the amount of time his hard-working, long-suffering manager. Resentments would come to a head in 1973, after Holiff interpreted an off-the-cuff comment from June Carter as an anti-Semitic dig, to which Holiff gave notice, this time leaving Cash’s employ and staying gone.

Holiff and Cash would have an uneasy, distant relationship after that, until the two eventually lost touch, save for an occasional letter every few years. Holiff’s career would be modest, while watching his former client go through deep valleys and late-career peaks, eventually seeing the man become the legend. There’s a certain sadness to the last chapters of The Man Who Carried Cash, of friendship lost and the pain of watching a friend suffer, but not having the inability to reach out and support them in their very public time of need. It didn’t help that money issues between the two would remain a barrier and a bugaboo, either.

The Man Who Carried Cash offers a very different and occasionally unflattering look at a country music legend, a side of the story not often seen: the human side.

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