The photo shoot was routine, like any other Frank Bez had done for Columbia Records. But on that fateful afternoon in 1963, when Johnny Cash gazed at the camera for what would become the cover of Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash, the crooner had no clue he was being immortalized in more ways than one.

It was a good year for Cash, one of his best in a very long time. Things were heating up with June Carter, the love of his life who later helped get him sober, and his career as a singer-songwriter was finally taking off.

“He was always a neat guy, but he had demons,” says Bez, adding that Cash took his craft and persona very seriously, even going so far as to spend days scouting photo locations and downing bottles of beer so he’d feel more comfortable in front of the camera. “I was happy to see his life turn around.”

Bez wasn’t thrilled with the black and white photos he took that day, and Columbia ultimately chose a color shot for the album, which seemed just as well. But fifty years later the photo has surfaced again, this time as part of the U.S. postal service’s Music Icons series.

“It completely blew me out of the water,” says Bez. “That was not one of my favorite photos of Johnny.” But from the moment Greg Breeding, the art director who worked on the stamp, laid eyes on it, he knew it was the one.

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