I've been a huge fan of Johnny Cash, aka The Man in Black since I was a little boy growing up the eighties. I probably first saw him on an episode of Columbo playing a parachute tampering gospel singer inevitably foiled by Peter Falk. However, I also remember my dad, who was a little bit country himself, watching a concert of Johnny's supergroup The Highwayman on the BBC and he even popped up in Walnut Grove on Little House on the Prairie which was a favourite of my brother Ewan. Later, as a broody adolescent, I really started getting into the music and the myth of Johnny Cash. He was the perfect country icon for a grumpy nineties teenager. He constantly wore black, he swore, took amphetamines and he sang songs about death, murder and injustice. The only downside was he didn't annoy your parents because they loved his music too. Also, it was around about this time, with the help of producer Rick Rubin, Cash's American Recordings series of albums were deconstructing songs by the likes of Beck, Soundgarden, Bonny Prince Billy. Pretty amazing for a man who was there at the birth of Rock n' Roll in 1950's Memphis.
Now, unfortunately, Johnny Cash died way back in 2003 and before that had stopped touring due to a long-term battle with Shy-Drager-Syndrome. I Oh my God-he's just like my grandpa!never got to see him live but now with Clive John's Johnny Cash roadshow in town at the Perth Concert Hall, I was about to experience the next best thing. Previously a songwriter in his own right, Clive has been playing The Man in Black since 2005 and he has the honour of being the only Cash tribute to be endorsed by the Cash family after he met Johnny's granddaughter and she exclaimed: "Oh my God-he's just like my grandpa!"
The show started a little bit late due to a Ring of Fire alarm (ok it was just a regular fire alarm) but Clive and the band were soon making up for lost time with a rollicking rendition of Folsom Prison Blues. The band and Clive really looked the part, Johnny's legendary "Boom Chika Boom" rhythm guitar was totally on flek and Nick Davis pulled off a great rockabilly guitar solo. Next up was Cash's signature song Man in Black. This amazing story-telling song, penned by Johnny himself, is like an anthem for the oppressed, explaining Cash's sartorial preference for darker tones. It is summed up best by the closing line "til we start to make a move to make a few things right, You'll never see me wear a suit of white."
Up until this point, Clive had stuck to the Sun recordings which were fairly sparse. Usually just Cash, his guitar and the Tennessee two. However, when singer Amanda Stone (who will be singing Johnny's wife June Carter Cash's parts) took to the stage we started to get into the more elaborate Columbia recordings, not least their famous duet Jackson. Amanda perfectly captured that June-Carter Cash growl on the "We got married in a fever line" and her sass performance really brings out the best in Clive. His voice, deep and gravelly, and phrasing, spry and dexterous, are great, and the duet really captures the essence of June and Johnny.
I was generally impressed with the choice of material as there was a good balance between the Sun recordings, Columbia era and even a couple of eighties songs, most notably the Jimmy Webb penned Highwayman. I also liked the fact that we got a quick breather from Cash material with one of Owen's own compositions and an acapella version of Flowers on the Wall by Cash's support act the Statler Brothers and Forty Shades of Green (not a prequel to Fifty Shades of Grey as I initially thought) was a touching tribute to both Cash's and John's mothers.
However, I was a little bit disappointed by the lack of songs from the Rick Rubin produced American Recordings albums. We got a little bit of a taster with the haunting Hurt but I was secretly hoping that we might be treated to one of the other high profile recordings from these albums, perhaps The Man Comes Around. This was a small quibble though and was soon made up for with 3 cuts from the amazing Orange Blossom Special album: Long Black Veil, It Aint Me Babe and Orange Blossom Special itself. It Aint me Babe had those great Mariachi style trumpets played with great flair by Stephen Bland and James Docherty and Orange Blossom Special featured some ace blues harp playing by Clive (on two harmonicas originally owned by Cash himself).
The night was nearly over and we still hadn't heard Ring of Fire but Clive was just toying with us and he pulled it out of the bag for the encore. This sent the audience wild and they were soon up out of their seats dancing in the aisles as we were invited to sing along on an extended final chorus. The night was over too soon and the music had been itching to go home and fire up some more Johnny Cash on iTunes.
Colin's Cash Facts
Johnny Cash's given name was actually just J.R. Cash but when he entered the military he was required to have a first name so it is at this point he became "Johnny".
When Johnny Cash met Michael Jackson in the 1980's Jackson shouted out gleefully "Johnny Cash! Hotter than a pepper sprout".
Trent Reznor was so moved by Johnny Cash's sincere rendition of his Nine Inch Nails song Hurt that he declared "That song isn't mine anymore. It belongs to him."
Our reviewer Colin, likes to think he's a funky fella, we put him to the test by getting him to review the seminal second Average White Band LP.
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