Johnny Cash’s band, the Tennessee Three still creating the sound of the Man in Black

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:: The Tennessee Three :: Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom :: January 26 :: 

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By Tiffany Childs

Johnny Cash’s music is as easily identifiable as Cash himself is famous, but he didn’t create that unique sound alone. Early in his career Cash made the significant decision that he was only going to work with one band and he stuck to that resolution until his retirement. The band, known as The Tennessee Three, has reinforced Johnny’s music over the past decades.

Although the bassist has changed throughout the years, two members of the band, W.S. Holland (drums) and Bob Wootton (guitar and vocals) were with Cash for most of his professional life.  The two are continuing the Cash legacy by touring and performing the same kind of music Cash loved to play, and it’s a unique situation for the musicians and the fans. This is not a Cash tribute or cover band, this is a band made up by the men who are as integral to the music as Cash was. The Marquee recently had the honor of talking with them about the long road they have traveled and where that road may lead now that Mr. Cash is no longer with us.

W.S. Holland has an extensive, and rather impressive, roster of people he has played with. Holland began his career playing with Carl Perkins before he joined Cash in 1960. Along the way he toured with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison, in addition to Perkins and Cash when they traveled as a package.

During that time he was also the drummer for the “Million Dollar Quartet” session — which featured Cash, Perkins, Presley and Lewis in an impromptu jam session at Sun Records. Other highlights include playing on the Statler Brothers’ Flowers on the Wall and Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline. But Holland’s main work has always been with Cash.

Cash reportedly told Holland when they first met, “I want you to work with me every show I play for as long as I’m in the business.” And that is exactly what happened. 

The other half of the long-standing duo, Bob Wootton, has a voice that is so eerily similar to Johnny Cash’s that even his own mother couldn’t tell the difference between the two. In fact, that’s the beginning of the story for Wootton. The guitarists’s mother heard Johnny Cash on the radio and called Wootton into the room because she thought it was him singing. After hearing that song, Wootton become a fan and promptly learned all of Cash’s songs.

Wootton’s studying paid off in 1968 when Cash’s regular guitarist missed a flight, and therefore a show. June Carter requested that Wootton play with Cash, and Wootton’s years of practicing allowed him to join the band seamlessly. From that night forward Wootton has been a member of The Tennessee Three and some even argue that he helped keep the momentum of Johnny Cash going when he became a part of the band.

Wootton had often served as lead guitarist for Cash, but he was also the vocal accompaniment.  His similarity to Cash’s singing style continues to this day, creating an uncanny feeling that you are listening to the Man in Black himself.

And that is the heart of the appeal of The Tennessee Three. “You can expect to see the same thing you would’ve seen at a Johnny Cash show in the past because we’ve been with him all these years. And we are very fortunate that Bob’s voice is so similar,” Holland said.

Wootton, Holland and Cash were all “in it for the fun” when they began playing together. Holland insisted, “No one thought they would make it, we didn’t think any of us would. So when Johnny did, nothing really changed.” Wootton and Holland never felt like they were working for someone, but like they were just part of a family. That closeness provides their ability to continue playing shows that attract eager fans wanting to hear the sound of Johnny Cash.

Through it all, they supported and never worried about not being in the limelight or sharing the attention that Cash was showered with. “No one will ever be in the limelight the way John was. We’ve always been the backup band and that’s all we want to be,” Holland said.

The Tennessee Three remain true to their roots, performing original songs as well as new ones from the recently released album, The Sound Must Go On. They also reportedly throw in a gospel song or two, just as Cash did in his day.

Although the album was recorded as a bit of a tribute, that wasn’t the only meaning behind The Sound Must Go On. As Holland said, “This isn’t a tribute, necessarily. Some people see it that way and that’s fine, but we are just doing what we’ve always done, playing music.”

 

:: The Tennessee Three ::

:: Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom ::

:: January 26 ::

 

Spectate if you Gravitate:

• Johnny Cash

• Merle Haggard

• Waylon Jennings

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