"I don't know anyone who doesn't like Johnny Cash," says local country musician Slim Chance when asked what inspired him to organize a live tribute to the music legend, who turned 70 Feb. 26. Saturday's show, which Chance (aka CL contributor James Kelly) coordinated with the help of the Blacktop Rockets' Dave Weil, features performances of Cash classics by local acts such as Amy Pike and Johnny Knox, plus members of the Holy Smokes, the Pullman Porters, Truckadelic and Caroline & the Ramblers. Weil is putting together a house band to back the musicians, who will donate all proceeds from the show to benefit research for the Shy-Drager Syndrome, the disease that afflicts Cash.
With performers and organizers drawn from both country and western and rockabilly, the lineup echoes the multi-genre appeal of Cash. The Man in Black has explored, even personified, folk, gospel, rockabilly and pop, along with the country and western at the heart of his work. From his scrappy Sun Records recordings in the '50s through his '90s resurgence as an aging troubadour, Cash has attracted three generations of fans by remaining fiercely loyal to his instincts.
While retaining the respect of older generations and hardcore C&W types, Cash's resolutely individualistic image and his '90s albums for Rick Rubin's American Recordings -- featuring covers of Glenn Danzig, Soundgarden and Nick Cave -- brought him credibility with a younger, more alternative crowd. "It's hard to pinpoint why he bridges these musical genres except that he's Johnny Cash, and he does," says Weil. "Other people try and don't."
Columbia Records, which put out Cash's many eclectic '60s and '70s recordings, recently kicked off a 70th birthday commemoration with a series of peak-era Cash reissues, starting with the impressive 36-track The Essential Johnny Cash. Covering nearly a 40-year span, the double-disc package judiciously selects music from all phases of his career, and includes a booklet of birthday tributes from an eclectic assortment of fans including Paul McCartney, Henry Rollins, Ray Davies, Tom Waits and even Metallica's Kirk Hammett. A precursor to the upcoming re-releases, the three-disc 2000 compilation Love, God, Murder features songs chosen by Cash himself. It distills the major themes as specified in the title, but overlooks the flag-waving patriotism that remains at the heart of his work.
Not to miss the boat, Columbia's Legacy division also recently rushed out a pair of crusty '70s albums, America and Ragged Old Flag, to, er, cash in on the post-9-11 jingoistic fervor. And this month, five more previously out-of-print titles hit the shelves, featuring spiffed-up sound, bonus tunes, scholarly liner notes and personal reminiscences from Cash himself. These "country classics" include Ride This Train, one of the first concept recordings, which links the tunes with spoken vignettes; Hymns by Johnny Cash, his first all gospel work; Carryin' On, a 1967 collection of duets with future wife June Carter and 1965's Orange Blossom Special, the first Cash album to include material written by Bob Dylan, with whom he'd later collaborate. The range of material, from America's patriotic fare to Orange Blossom's covers of work by a '60s counter-culture icon, highlights Cash's unique ability to transcend political designations of right and left, maintaining his stature as a rebel even as he became an institution.
This weekend's show will encompass as much of Cash's enormous catalog and influence as possible. "We've got a list of essential music, basically the hits," says Chance, who organized similar events in the past to honor Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Elvis and Gram Parsons. "But we're also letting others select songs to perform, and my hope is that we'll encompass the spectrum."
Along with the religious tunes and hardcore C&W, Slim promises some of the specialized, more obscure selections that define Cash's oeuvre.
"The train songs, the Indian songs, the war, prison and cowboy songs," Slim says. " He covered so many areas. We want to sample bits and pieces rather than focus on just one."
The tribute for Johnny Cash is Sat., March 2, at Lenny's, 307 Memorial Drive. 10 p.m. $5. 404-577-7721.
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…
Yes, 14 is the correct answer. I'll pass your info along to the group's manager,…
That was January of 2007, and they are 21 now, so I'm guessing 14?