In 1956, he realized a longtime dream when he was invited to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. By 1957 Cash had racked up an impressive string of hits and was working more than 200 dates a year. The following year he switched to Columbia Records in search of more artistic freedom. He still had aspirations of making gospel records and felt he had a better chance of accomplishing this goal at another label.
Throughout the remainder of the 1950s and into the 1960s, Cash continued to produce remarkable records and charted consistently. "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," "I Got Stripes," "Ring of Fire," "Understand Your Man" and "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" all hit the upper registers of the record charts. Appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and other top-rated network programs followed. In the early 1960s, concept albums such as Bitter Tears and Ballads of the True West made him a favorite among the folk music crowd, culminating in an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival.
But all was not well. Cash was spinning out of control. His marriage was collapsing and divorce seemed inevitable. Too, his grueling tour schedule (which was now up to 300 shows a year) had taken its toll. Cash became dependent on narcotics to keep up the hectic pace. By the mid-1960s, Cash was a deeply addicted and it began to impact hiscareer.