Fans can experience the essence of the original Man in Black’s legendary live sound when The Johnny Cash Roadshow rolls into St David’s Hall on January 20.
Featuring award-winning frontman Clive John alongside The Spirit Band, The Johnny Cash Roadshow is the only show endorsed by the Cash family and includes Ring of Fire, Hurt, I Walk the Line and many more career-spanning favourites.
Neil Collins recently spoke to Clive John, who has been successfully maintaining the Johnny Cash legend live on stage for over a decade.
What is your favourite Johnny Cash era?
My favourite era was late 60s through to mid-70s – although there was something great in every period of his career.
What is the structure of The Johnny Cash Roadshow?
A lot of the hits and favourite tracks are included in the evening and it’s always fun! Alongside Man in Black, I Walk the Line, Ring of Fire and A Boy Named Sue are some of the darker, more atmospheric songs from the later American Recordings making this year’s show an emotional rollercoaster of songs through Cash’s career.
Tell us about a typical day in the life of a tribute artist, especially one as extraordinarily charismatic as Johnny Cash. Are there preparations you make before every gig to get into his mind-set? I’m guessing you will have studied hundreds of hours of tape to replicate his every mannerism.
As I often say – my show is not an absolute copycat of Johnny Cash. I have created a celebration of him and have surrounded myself with a team of musicians, who have become my best friends and who share the same goal to create a show with the upmost respect for Johnny Cash but do it in our own unique way.
Of course, I have watched hours on end of Johnny Cash footage and feel I understand – to a certain extent – the way he was in his heart as well as just studying his mannerisms. As soon as I hit the dressing room and put on the black suit after soundcheck, I am in show mode.
How did The Johnny Cash Roadshow come about? Did you ever anticipate it becoming such a successful and enduring show?
After watching the film Walk the Line, I decided to put a basic band together and do an evening of just Johnny Cash songs. The excitement in the room that night was far too invigorating to not do it again. So, I did it again, and again, and again…
It naturally just evolved into a bigger and better show, and it still is 13 years on. We now tour all over the UK, Ireland and pretty much all European countries. I never dreamed it would turn out the way it has.
You were gifted with some original Johnny Cash harmonicas, and you now own a beautiful Clive Gibson guitar – one of only three in the world. You must be pinching yourself as such a big fan to be playing the music you love on such rare and special instruments live onstage?
Yep, I have to pinch myself nearly every night. Sometimes it feels like it can’t be real, but every day it keeps on happening so it must be.
Tell us about your experiences meeting members of the Cash family. They have often been glowing in their praise about the show.
I met Johnny Cash’s granddaughter, Caitlin Crowell at a show in Altrincham a good few years back and we had a good chat in the interval and after the show. The venue manager came down to the dressing room before the show and said there was a lady in her early thirties at the Box Office claiming to be Johnny Cash’s granddaughter and she wanted some complimentary tickets.
I thought it was someone pulling my leg but said yes anyway and sure enough it turned out to be true! My soundman brought her around to the dressing room area in the interval and first thing she said was “Oh my God, he’s just like me Grandpa” in her American accent. She emailed me several times after that night.
Can you remember where you were the day Johnny Cash sadly passed away in 2003?
I was playing a gig at Huntingdon Hall in Worcester. In those days I was just doing my own material and more Celtic/acoustic rock material, but Ring of Fire was on our setlist, so we dedicated it to Johnny.
What are the hardest traits of Johnny Cash’s performance to master? Are there any songs that are particularly difficult to nail live?
Johnny Cash combined singing and talking on a lot of songs, and this is more difficult to do properly than it sounds. I have heard other guys impersonating Johnny Cash and they usually over-emphasise the American-talking accent and end up sounding more like John Wayne!
I would say Hurt is one of the trickiest songs to nail live as it needs to be performed with complete, real emotion and fragility otherwise it just sounds wrong.
Johnny Cash has inspired countless artists, and in the latter part of his career he recorded cover versions of songs by several contemporary artists including U2, Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. This period of his career introduced Johnny Cash to a whole new generation of fans including a headline slot at Glastonbury 1994. Ring of Fire is still sung as a football chant at grounds like Anfield meaning his music has truly transcended into the popular consciousness. What made him so unique and universally acclaimed?
He lasted 50 years of recording and performing his music whilst he was alive. All this work and passion won’t ever disappear – not in our lifetime anyway. Johnny touched people’s souls; he wasn’t just another commercial act. You can’t pigeonhole him either. He spans a lot of music styles and age ranges. He was the real thing and always will be.
In a nutshell, what makes the Johnny Cash Roadshow unmissable?
Our enthusiasm, energy, love and musical accuracy for what we do. It is an evening of flowing songs and good humour. It’s never the same talking about it third hand – you need to come and find out for yourself!
- For ticket information visit www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk or call the Box Office on 029 2087 8444