Johnny Cash Didn’t Want to Record ’Hurt,’ Rick Rubin Recalls How Cash Reacted to NIN’s Original Song

According to famous producer Rick Rubin, Johnny Cash was “wary” of potentially covering Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt.” While visiting BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Rubin remembered talking to Cash and trying to persuade him to collaborate and do something together. He explained (transcript via Music Radar):

“He didn’t know who I was, but he wanted to understand why I would want to work with him because why would anyone want to work with him? In his mind, he was done.

“I didn’t convince him. We just say and talked for a while, and I said, ‘Well, let’s just sit down and play me songs you love, and we’ll figure out what to do.’

“He sat in my living room and he just started playing me these songs, most of which I had never heard, old country songs, or old folk songs, and it was magnificent.”

Johnny Cash - Hurt

The collaboration with Rick Rubin would give birth to Cash’s “American” albums. The fourth one in the series would include the legendary Nine Inch Nails piece “Hurt.” Of course, the original was Trent Reznor’s own masterpiece that had a completely different twist to what we know today. Remembering how Johnny Cash reacted to hearing the song, the producer said:

“I played him the song first and Johnny just looked at me like I was insane because the Nine Inch Nails version of the song is very noisy, aggressive. Johnny was wary! [Laughs]”

Nine Inch Nails - Hurt (VEVO Presents)

“And I think I did a demo where I had a guitar player play it, and I said the words the way I imagined him saying it, and then when he heard the lyrics, and he heard the format of what it could be, he said, ‘Let’s try it.'”

Cash’s version ended up being a huge success. And not only that — Trent Reznor himself praised it, claiming that he feels that the song was no longer his. It simply belonged to Cash now. When asked how “Hurt” was even considered in the first place, Rubin replied:

“I thought of the image of Johnny Cash as the mythical man in black, and any song he sang had to suit this mythical man in black. And one of the ones that seemed to have resonated with people after we did it was the Nine Inch Nails song ‘Hurt.‘”

“And if you listen to the words, it’s like looking back over a life of regret and remorse.”

Photo: Dillan Stradlin (JC1970), Jason Mogavero (RickRubinSept09)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.

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