Lenny Kravitz penned "Johnny Cash" as a tribute to the Man in Black after Cash helped the singer through one of the darkest moments of his life. The country star gave Kravitz moral support when his mother passed away from breast cancer in 1995.
The story behind the song is that Kravitz was staying at producer Rick Rubin's house so he could be with his mom during her last days. Johnny and June Cash were also living there as the country star was working on his Unchained album with Rubin.
"One day I'd left the hospital to go home and shower but in that time my mom passed. I got the phone call at the house. I am standing at the bottom of the stairs, distraught, as Johnny and June were coming down the stairs," Kravitz recalled to The Sun. "I was crushed and confused and they grabbed me and said really sweet things about my mom and life. They spent a good 10 minutes with me, giving me this support."
"My mom had just passed, there was not a family person in sight, so God chooses this moment for me," he added. "The moment my mom dies, I am alone, but who comes and walks in the scene? Johnny Cash and June Carter. It was so surreal and bizarre."
"So basically, as the chorus kept writing itself, I am basically asking this person to comfort me in this deep way that I haven't felt since the day Johnny Cash held me," Kravitz concluded. "A very roundabout way of telling this story but that's what it came from."
The song's title came from the line "hold me like Johnny Cash," which came after Kravitz broke up with someone. He explained: "I'm saying how they make me a better person and I don't want this to end, just hold me like Johnny Cash."
Kravitz told the BBC the song was never something he planned to write. "I heard the melody, I heard the music, but I did not understand why I was getting the words 'Johnny Cash,'" he recalled. "It obviously is something that impacted me and has been sitting within my spirit."
The song's music video was directed by Mathieu Bitton. The French-born art designer and photographer tours the world with Lenny Kravitz, photographing his shows, making films and designing his artwork. The clip presents footage of Kravitz in the studio on his own and directing a string section on the song.