"It's hard to believe that it's been a year," Kristofferson said recently from his home in Hawaii. "It's still painful that he's gone. I think about him a lot."
Kristofferson contributes to a new Country Music Television (search) special "Controversy: Johnny Cash vs. Music Row," which airs 8-9 p.m. (EDT) Saturday and again Sunday afternoon.
The show explores the uneasy relationship between the country music establishment and the singer, who died on Sept. 12, 2003.
Cash, one of the genre's biggest stars, had a hard time getting his music on country radio in his later years — despite critical acclaim and Grammy Awards.
After a lull in his career in the 1970s and '80s, he found success with a series of albums he recorded with noted rap/rock producer Rick Rubin (search). Backed by rock acts such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Cash reached a new, younger audience drawn by his stark songs and rebellious spirit.
"I'm sure it gave him satisfaction to be out there knocking out a room full of kids," Kristofferson said. "He was always a little bit more experimental than other people in country music. He was doing stuff that wasn't being done back when he was singing 'The Ballad of Ira Hayes,'" in 1964.
After winning a Grammy, Cash and Rubin put together a now infamous full-page music industry trade ad in 1998 that showed Cash flipping off the Nashville music establishment and country radio.
Cash was always a rebel, Kristofferson said.
"He was unlike anybody else," he said. "He was absolutely his own person. He went his own way and spoke his own words."