The Johnny Cash Roadshow – a tribute to the late American country star – will be visiting Consett and South Shields next week. As well as featuring all the best-known hits of Johnny Cash, the show includes narration and visuals, taking the audience on a musical voyage through the life and career of the Man in Black.
Described as “an outstanding celebration of the iconic legend”, and endorsed by the Cash family, the Johnny Cash Roadshow sees English singer, songwriter and musician Clive John stepping up to perform as the Man in Black. Consett Magazine recently caught up with Clive for a chat:
How did you first discover Johnny Cash and why did he make such an impression on you?
I discovered him through my mum. My mum’s Irish and she brought me up on country music: a little bit of Elvis, but Johnny Cash was always at the forefront of it and I just liked the songs.
I forgot about him really until later on when I became a professional musician. I was a solo artist for years performing my own songs and a friend of mine reintroduced me to Johnny Cash when I was about 28. He said I should learn some of the songs because they’d suit my voice. I loved it; those sorts of songs really suited me. They weren’t just in your face commercial songs. I learned them, but my friend very sadly passed away about a year after that through a brain tumour and that gave me more of a desire to learn more Johnny Cash songs because my friend was the bloke who reintroduced me to him.
What inspired the Johnny Cash Roadshow?
Back in the day, when I was making a living out of music, I began dropping the odd Johnny Cash song into the set and everybody said, “Wow, you sound more like Johnny Cash than Johnny Cash does!” So I thought I needed to make more of that and capitalise on it. So I did the first version of the Johnny Cash Roadshow, which I called The Man in Black. That was back in 2005, just after the (Johnny Cash) movie came out. There was a lot of excitement around Johnny Cash and it just gave me the enthusiasm to build it up.
I’ve got a brass section now and I’ve got the Carter Sisters (Louise Masters and Amanda Stone) on certain shows. I do shows all over the world now – I’ve been all over the UK, all over Europe, and we’ve got a show coming up soon in California as well.
How did you get the endorsement of the Cash family?
We were doing a show in Altringham. The manager of the venue came down to the dressing room before the show and said there was a lady in her early thirties at the box office who’d like complimentary seats. He said this lady, who had a deep southern accent, claimed she was Johnny Cash’s granddaughter. I thought it was probably someone pulling my leg, but I said yes anyway and sure enough (it really was her) and I met her during the interval. She said, “Oh my Gawd, you’re just like my grandpa!”
She’s emailed me lots of times since and we had a photograph taken. I was over the moon; I was honoured that somebody from the Cash family liked the show. Her mother is Rosanne, Johnny’s eldest.
Johnny Cash had a very long career. Will you be focusing more on any particular period from it?
I try to get it all in. I especially try to give people an essence of what it would have been like to go to a Johnny Cash show in the late 60s/early 70s because that’s when he was at his prime, but we do all the obvious ones – I Walk the Line and Folsom Prison Blues – and we go all the way up to the last songs such as Hurt. All the decades are in there. We try to do something from every decade from the 50s through to the end.
Do you have a favourite Johnny Cash Song?
I get asked this question all the time and it’s so hard to answer. I like all his songs; I really do. I enjoy Sunday Morning Coming Down – that’s a song written by Kris Kristofferson, which Johnny Cash did a version of in the 1970s. I enjoy Highway Man, which he did in the 80s. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be Sunday Morning Coming Down or A Thing Called Love.
What do you think of the American Recordings albums Johnny Cash did with Rick Rubin towards the end of his career?
Rick Rubin definitely saved Johnny’s career. If it wasn’t for Rick Rubin, I think Johnny Cash would have just been remembered for the artist that he once was and just fizzled out like many others from that era. But Rick Rubin reinvented him by giving him that sound. The actual sound was already there, but all Rubin did was take off all the bells and the whistles. He just took it all the way back to the basics, which was pretty much just Johnny Cash and the guitar. By choosing the songs he did, Rick made Johnny cool again, and that was what everyone saw – this old cool guy sounding so genuine.
Those cover versions Johnny Cash did with Rick Rubin – he was doing Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, Soundgarden covers. Do you have a particular favourite out of those?
It’s really difficult because I like all of them; I honestly do. When the Man Comes Around is probably one of my favourites; that was one of his own songs. I like his version of Solitary Man, which was a Neil Diamond cover. I like his version of One by U2. He also did a version of We’ll Meet Again, which was a really old wartime song, a Vera Lynn song, I think. He did a really nice version of that.
You also write and perform your own music. How does your own stuff compare to what you do with the Johnny Cash Roadshow?
I haven’t found much time to record my own things because we’re just so busy with the Johnny Cash Roadshow. We do between 130 and 160 shows every year, which puts us on the road for about 240 days, and when I get home I’m so knackered that I just don’t want to be recording more music. So it’s a vicious circle. Even though I’ve had great success with the Johnny Cash show, it’s really knocked my own song writing on the head, but that’s OK, I’m happy with that.
The last album I recorded was called The Spirit and we used to play some of that in the show. It used to fit in very much with the Johnny Cash stuff. It isn’t out-and-out sound-alike Johnny Cash, but it fits with that sort of era.
Thanks very much Clive. We look forward to welcoming you to Consett.
The Johnny Cash Roadshow will be performing at the Empire Theatre, Consett, on 9th February, and at the Customs House, South Shields, on February 12th.
Tickets for the Consett show start from £20 and can be booked online at www.leisureworks.net or by phoning 01207 218 171. The show begins at 7.30 pm.