Thursday 17 June 2010

Tommy Cash Pays Tribute To His Brother

Tommy Cash, the youngest sibling of late entertainer Johnny Cash, and his backing band, The Cash Crew, will take the stage tomorrow at Moncton's Capitol Theatre.

Click to Enlarge
Tommy Cash started out managing his brother Johnny Cash's music publishing company in 1964, before launching his own recording career the following year.

"It's been a long time since I played any shows in New Brunswick," the 70-year-old singer said last week during a telephone interview from his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. "(I played there) back in the '70s and maybe in the '80s. It's been a long time, so I'm looking forward to (going) back to that part of (Canada)!"

The youngest of seven children and eight years younger than Johnny, Tommy Cash somewhat followed in his older brother's footsteps by becoming a singer in the 1960s despite being advised not to.

"He told me to stay out of his business. He said, "It's rugged and it's tough and it'll kill you! Travelling, and being up and being gone all the time..." but I didn't listen!"

"I came to Nashville in 1964, after I got out of the U.S. Army, to manage Johnny's music publishing company. I worked at that for two or three years and then eventually went out on my own and started touring with Hank Williams, Jr. and Connie Smith. I then had a few hit records of my own."

Tommy Cash's recording career began in 1965 with the 45-rpm singles "I Guess I'll Live" and "I Didn't Walk The Line." His first LP was Here Comes Tommy Cash. His only album for the United Artist record label, it was released to the public in 1968.

His next half-dozen albums, including 1970's Six White Horses, were recorded for Epic. The title track of Six White Horses, would become his most successful song. It reached No. 1 on Canadian country music charts and No. 4 in the United States.

Throughout the years, the older Cash assisted his brother by including him as a guest on The Johnny Cash Show and in various TV specials. The two also recorded songs together as late as the 1990s.

Although Tommy Cash continued to record and perform, the music industry took somewhat of a backseat in the 1980's as his priorities shifted towards real estate.

"I got a real estate licence in 1984 to help the family with their real estate needs: brothers and sisters and parents and so forth. I liked it so much that I just stayed in it! I still do a lot of real estate, too."

But his involvement in real estate never made him retire from recording and touring, it just made him less available for such activities. Over the last decade, Tommy Cash has been reducing his real estate workload and refocusing on music, as he did in the 1960s and 1970s. He's away on tours for as many as 120 days each year.

"I'm taking more bookings than I did in the '80s and '90s. I still enjoy it and I'm still in good health. So, as long as I feel that I can do a good show and as long as I'm feeling well enough to travel, then I'll continue to do it. When the time comes when I need to retire from all of this, I will."

His most recent album, Fade To Black: Memories of Johnny, which includes duets with George Jones and Marty Stuart, was released in 2008. It was his first album for the Christian record label InLight Records. Like Cash, InLight Records is based in Hendersonville. "The label contacted me. I signed a contract with them to do three albums and (Fade To Black: Memories of Johnny) is the first one. I haven't done the second or third one, yet, but we're negotiating as to whether I should stay with this label or go with another label.

"At my age, you know, people are not jumping up and down and knocking at your door to sign you to a record contract!

"Even though myself or someone else in my position might be singing as well as they ever did and performing as well as they ever did, or better because of experience, the record labels are not interested. They're interested in the young people with money to promote themselves.

"In other words, they're wanting the young people on their labels, not the older people. If you (go) to the labels with a big production package and lots of money, they may put an album out on you or they might put a single out on you but they're certainly not knocking on your door to get you to sign with a major label. It's sad in a way that the record labels are that way but they're only interested in making money. "They're not interested in promoting an older artist's career."

Tommy Cash has performed in 37 different countries and, as one would expect, has had many different types of experiences while on the road, even some negative ones when entering Canada.

"The only time we've ever had a problem at the Canadian border is that I had a bus driver who did not tell me that he had a pistol in his tote bag! That held us up a few hours!

"We explained to the Canadian authorities that I didn't know that he had a pistol and that he shouldn't have tried bringing it into the country. They confiscated it, of course, and let us go on our way. That was a time that was quite scary!"

Unlike his brother, Tommy Cash has yet to be the subject of a biopic but he was included in Walk The Line (2005).

"I was a 10-year-old in the movie. When (Johnny Cash) puts a little boy on his shoulders and says "Where's Tommy?", that's me. Also, I was in another scene where I was dancing in the background as a 10-year-old."

Although the film's producers didn't ask him for his permission for such inclusions, Tommy Cash was flattered that he was incorporated into the story.

"I think if they would have done more with the family (then) all of us would have been in the movie, all seven of us...but the movie was about Johnny and June (Carter-Cash). It wasn't about the family, it was about Johnny and June."

Tommy Cash gives the film a passing grade but dislikes some of the creative liberties it took with some of his family members.

"(The film's producers) showed us a rough-cut of the movie six months before it was released to the public. I was surprised about a few things. For an example, they portrayed my dad as a mean-spirited, hard-boiled, hard-to-get-along-with person and he wasn't that way at all! Especially the last 30-40 years he lived, he was very mellow. I didn't understand why they did that and I asked them to change it but they didn't. When the movie came out, (the portrayal of the senior Cash) was actually stronger because there were scenes in the rough-cut of the movie that were not in the (final cut) of the movie and vice versa!"

Regardless of the manner his father was portrayed, other members of his family, in his opinion, were right on target.

"Reese Witherspoon as June Carter-Cash was outstanding! She had June's personality down-pat. She was wonderful!

"I suppose that's why she won an Oscar for that performance!"

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. E-mail: © Bernard C. Cormier 2010