“I find myself talking about him in the present tense,” noted Eilen Jewell after singing “Home of the Blues.” “He’s still so much a part of what we [musicians] do.”
Vintage clips shown throughout the three-and-a-half-hour tribute reinforced the large shadow cast by The Man in Black. From Sesame Street
to The Simpsons
, Johnny Cash remains a pervasive force in pop culture who truly has been everywhere, man.
“He was welcome at the White House and state prisons,” marveled Rock Hall president and CEO Greg Harris while introducing the event.
Video reminded the audience that Cash had shared the spotlight not only with outlaw country legends Waylon, Willie and Kris, but also with performers like Bob Dylan, Danny Kaye, Steve Martin, Joni Mitchell, the Monkees, Marie Osmond and literally hundreds of others.
And, from bluegrass mandolin and fiddle player Sam Bush to legendary punk band X and Mohican singer/songwriter Bill Miller, the slate of artists who took the stage to represent Cash’s musical legacy were nearly as diverse. Each, it seemed, had been personally touched by Cash in some way.
He’d given down-and-out Ira Dean a place to stay. He encouraged the Oak Ridge Boys not to give up on their musical dreams. And Cash’s simple storytelling sparked something in a seven-year-old Mike Ness who went on to record “Ring of Fire” with Social Distortion. Ness's aggressive, electrified cover of the famous tune was a standout, bringing the crowd to its feet.
With a career that spanned nearly 50 years, there was no shortage of memorable music. Other highlight performances of the night included Charlie Worsham’s rendition of the Harlan Howard-penned “Busted,” Nikki Lane singing “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” and Paul Cauthen’s version of “Big River.” Carl Perkins/Johnny Cash drummer W.S. Holland’s appearance added authenticity to a concert that would have benefited from the participation of one or two more of Johnny’s contemporaries.
John Carter Cash finished out the night much as it had begun—by talking about how his father is an enduring legend who, even in death, continues to meet and influence new people through his music. The ensemble played out the night with “Can the Circle Be Unbroken,” the hymn that became synonymous with the Carter family.
“There will never be a world without him,” a videotaped Roseanne Cash said of her father — that sentiments was echoed again and again throughout the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s American Music Masters Series concert honoring the late Johnny Cash. Last night's event drew a capacity crowd to the State Theatre. You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert