Justin Cash tried just about everything he could think of to make a living with the music he loved and knew well.
He had tried many different avenues — the guitarist and singer had been a studio musician, he had worked for a jingle-writing company, he had gigs playing with his band in the evenings and he had gone back to graduate school and graduated with a master’s degree with the thought to teach.
But none of it was working out the way he had hoped.
Cash, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Lewisville Texas Stake, was in the Dallas Texas Temple praying and pondering about his options when an answer came very clearly.
He needed to make an album.
“It seemed impossible,” said Cash, a guitarist and singer, in an interview with the Deseret News. Albums aren’t inexpensive to make — they can cost tens of thousands of dollars and years to put together.
So he put it off for a while, but then he got to work recording his original songs and sending out his music to companies with the hope they would pick it up.
One of the places Cash sent it to was Deseret Book’s division that handles third-party products for its stores that the company didn’t publish or produce.
Bob Ahlander, director of music for Deseret Book’s Shadow Mountain Records, goes to the company's monthly product meetings to see what has come in. Someone popped in Cash’s CD of blues music.
“I heard it and thought: ‘I like this guy. I really like him a lot,'” Ahlander said in a phone interview with the Deseret News.
He contacted Cash and worked out a deal for the singer to record it under the Shadow Mountain Records label.
Cash’s debut CD as a solo artist, titled “Beautiful World,” was recently released and includes 10 original songs, along with his longtime favorites “Over the Rainbow” and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
Playing the blues
“I like to call it ‘feel-good music,'” Cash said of his easy contemporary blues style.
Cash, who wears cowboy boots made in Justin, Texas, and calls the Dallas area home, started playing the guitar at 12, and later his father, a real estate agent with an adventurous streak, took lessons as well so the two could share some father-son time while he was teenager.
They lived in the Denver area at the time, and Skip Grabow was their first instructor.
“My dad’s impression (was) that if you’re going to learn to play music, you need to go back to the roots,” said Cash, who has two younger sisters.
They learned a song a week and started by learning the blues, Cash said. Then they played music from Bob Dylan, the Beatles and other musicians who were influential in history.
“Through soaking that up, I was able to absorb how to write a song, how to sing, how to play the guitar,” Cash said. “He did that through teaching me song after song after song.”
The lessons and the music also had a deeper meaning, he added.
It wasn’t always easy for them during the two years they took lessons.
“It was more of a demonstration of how much he loved me and that he wanted to do that,” Cash said, as his father’s large hands sometimes had a difficult time playing the guitar.
Cash majored in music at Brigham Young University and served a mission for the LDS Church to Spain.
He worked in Grabow’s studio in Denver during the summers between semesters, and one day a woman in her 20s walked in and wanted to learn to play the blues. She was a single Mormon returned missionary named Annie.
“I like to think that was the day God used his outside voice” instead of a quieter voice, Cash said.
Their first date was after her third weekly lesson. They ended up talking through the movie they went to see.
“It definitely worked from the very beginning,” Cash said of their relationship. They’ve been married for 10 years now and have three boys.
Annie, who majored in humanities and is naturally musically talented, sings with him on “God Only Made One of You.”
“If it wasn’t for her, I would have given up a long time ago,” Justin Cash said of the times he wanted to quit trying and find a consistent 9-to-5 job.
The songs on “Beautiful World” span Cash’s “dues-paying period” when money was tight, he was playing everywhere he and his band could find a gig and he was looking for other avenues to make money while being a musician.
And the CD he sent out took about four years to put together.
“The best ideas seem to come right away,” Cash said of ideas for the songs on “Beautiful World.” “You get an initial germ or an idea.”
Then filling in the blanks is where the grunt work comes in.
“The hardest part is actually rewriting and polishing it to make it the best it can be.”
And some songs are rewritten seven, eight, nine, 10 times or more, Cash said.
Cash looks to the 13th Article of Faith and says he just tries to be himself when he’s writing music. And his CD reflects that.
“It’s not really gospel or Christian, but just upbeat and positive,” Cash said of the album. One song, “No Sorrow in Jesus,” does have gospel roots.
Ahlander said that Cash’s contemporary sound is new for Shadow Mountain Music.
“His lyrics are positive and very inspirational in a general sense, but stylistically very contemporary,” Ahlander said. While Cash's lyrics aren’t necessarily about Mormon themes, they are clean and fit into the company’s brand.
“It was something we wanted to take a chance on,” Ahlander said. And now, they are working to introduce him to the Deseret Book audience and those who would like his music who might not be in that audience yet.
“It’s hard to not like him,” Ahlander said.
As for Cash, who was recently released as an early-morning seminary teacher, he said that working, learning and being yourself are three important traits for an aspiring musician.
“Every good thing that’s happened has come from the fact we have a CD now,” Cash said.