Interview with Clive John of the Johnny Cash Roadshow
St David’s Hall
Saturday 26 January, 7.30pm
GET ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic San Quentin State Prison recordings as Johnny Cash Roadshow returns to St David’s Hall on Saturday 26 January!
The world’s best tribute to the legendary Man in Black is the only show to be endorsed by the Cash family, and now you can experience exactly what it was like within the San Francisco jail at that extraordinary gig.
Neil Collins chats to award-winning frontman Clive John who performs the songs off the amazing At San Quentin album, plus classics like Ring of Fire and I Walk the Line on instruments once owned by the man himself!
The new tour celebrates the forthcoming 50th anniversary of the iconic At San Quentin album, which was recorded live at the infamous Californian men’s prison on 24 February 1969. For many fans it’s his very best work. Is it your favourite Johnny Cash album and era?
Overall, I would say so it is Johnny Cash at the peak of his popularity and performance. Live at San Quentin didn’t sell triple platinum for no reason! My favourite era was late 60s through to mid-70s – although there was something great in every period of his career.
Over the last half century, the album has achieved Triple Platinum status amongst its many accolades and Johnny Cash won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Performance for an incredible version of A Boy Named Sue. Is it a personal highlight of the album for you?
In typical JC style he threw the song in at the last minute, and the band didn’t even know he was going to do it! If you listen closely to the record, there’s one or two wrong bass notes as they weren’t sure where the song was going. However, the energy and vibe of the recording is what it’s all about and this is what the San Quentin album is packed with.
Johnny Cash memorably recorded four seminal prison albums throughout the late 60s to the mid-70s. Where do the likes of Folsom Prison, På Österåker and A Concert Behind Prison Walls rank against At San Quentin.
The most famous next to San Quentin was Folsom Prison recorded in 1968, and was lead guitarist Luther Perkins’ last concert with Johnny before he died in a fire. This album rates just as high in my opinion as San Quentin, but I think Johnny was probably a little more on form in San Quentin. His voice sounded fresher as well.
The San Quentin concert was recorded by Granada Television for broadcast in the UK. Talk us through your experience watching it for the first time.
I was blown away! I watched it and listened to the album many, many times. It’s just as good to hear him talk in between the songs as it is to hear the actual tracks. For some reason whenever he spoke, you just had to listen.
What is the structure be of the concerts on the tour? Is it At San Quentin in its entirety and then greatest hits?
It is what I consider to be the strongest songs from the San Quentin show, which have never before been in Johnny Cash Roadshow. These include Big River, Wanted Man and many more. If we did just the San Quentin album as it is then the show would finish in about 45 minutes! So a lot of other hits and favourite tracks are also included in the evening also – as always it will be fun!
Who else will be joining you onstage?
The Spirit Band:
Emily Heighway as June Carter.
Martin Bentley – double bass, electric bass and backing vocals.
Nick Davis – Electric Guitar, backing vocals
Graham Cuttill – drums and backing vocals.
Steve Bland – trumpet, keyboards and backing vocals.
James Docherty – trumpet, acoustic guitar and backing vocals.
Cherrie Lee-Mewis & Louise Masters as the Carter Sisters.
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.
Yes 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 sound-check, I am in show mode.
Describe your earliest memories as a Johnny Cash obsessive.
It was all I could think about for a few years.
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 recently 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 most tricky songs to nail live as it needs to be performed with complete real emotion and fragility otherwise it just sounds wrong.
How far are you willing to go to inhabit the role? Have you ever felt inclined to adopt any of his lifestyle traits?
Well, I like a beer and a cigarette (no illegal drugs though!)
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 sang 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 pigeon-hole 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!
“His resemblance is uncanny” – Rosanne Cash (Johnny Cash’s first daughter)
“Absolutely authentic to the point where it felt as if it wasn't a tribute…Clive captures my Grandfather just as he was” Caitlin Crowell (Granddaughter of Johnny Cash)
“Clive sings moves and acts just like the Man in Black. The Johnny Cash legend will continue” Lasse Lindfors (Author and lifelong friend of Johnny Cash)
£23 | £25
Friends of St David's Hall | Under 16 | Students | Over 60 | Claimants | Disabled people (+1 one companion)
Plus an optional £1 postage fee.
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