Johnny Cash had one of the most distinctive singing voices in recorded music history. Gravelly, low and raw, Cash's voice wasn't that of a strong singer. Instead, his singing was much more about style and emotion. That's what makes his sound one of the hardest to copy. Nonetheless, Cash used some specific singing techniques anyone can use to train his voice to sound more like Cash.
Johnny Cash sang low. Practice your low notes first thing in the morning, when your voice is naturally lower. Soft, light and without tension in your throat or mouth, sing the word "me," lingering on the "m" sound. Notice where you feel vibrations (the chest, mouth area, and sinus area) and try to duplicate this every time you sing low notes. Take a break, then practice again later in the day. Soon, you'll be able to sing low notes any time.
Cash's voice often had a gravelly sound, especially at the beginning of notes. This is called "vocal fry." To learn to sing this way, imagine the voice of cartoon character Elmer Fudd. Sing the words "me maw" just like Fudd would, using as little air as possible. Now try singing scales on the word "mum," using the Elmer Fudd sound. With practice, you'll be able to add vocal fry to your singing.
Johnny Cash often "scooped" notes, meaning instead of singing them spot on, he started on a slightly lower note and quickly moved up to the note he was supposed to sing. For example, at the beginning of "Ring of Fire," Cash scoops the words "love," "burning" and "thing." When practicing this technique, begin by hitting the correct note without scooping. Next, sing an exaggerated scoop. As you practice, make the scoops cleaner and more subtle.
Joaquin Phoenix, who portrayed Johnny Cash in the film "Walk the Line," noted, "It wasn't really so much how he sang as how he acted the songs." In a 1993 interview, Johnny Cash said, "It goes back to that music teacher when I was 12 years old ... I was singing some popular country song of the day ... I didn't sing it like the artist had sung it on the radio. And she said, 'You're a song stylist.' ... And that's what music is all about -- emotion." One of the most important keys to sounding like Cash is to connect to the songs emotionally, letting your heart show.