It used to be that people who said they didn't like or didn't listen to country music would, if pressed, say that k.d. lang or Lyle Lovett were their favorite country artists. The fact that neither enjoyed much success with country radio probably only made them more appealing to non-country ears. They were the two favorite country acts of people who hated country music.
After Rick Rubin produced those sessions for Johnny Cash the Man in Black became the artist that non-country fans pointed to as the country act they liked. My guess is that very few of them actually listen to Cash, and even fewer listen to any of his pre-Rubin output.
Now I have enjoyed country music ever since living in Oklahoma in the late 1970's. I enjoy Lyle Lovett but don't consider him a country artist. I never cared for lang. But, other than "Walk The Line" and "Ring of Fire" I don't care much for John Cash. There I said it. Many country artists I think highly of regard Cash as a revered founder of the genre. That's fine. But I would much rather listen to Merle or The Possum if I want some old school country.