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Johnny Cash’s music still alive with Tennessee Three

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Posted: Sunday, June 19, 2011 12:00 am

There never seems to be a shortage of Johnny Cash fans, and if you fall into that group, make plans now to be at Santa Ana Star Casino Thursday evening at 7.

No, you won't see Cash in the Bosque Event Center: He died Sept. 12, 2003.

But his music is still alive, as performed by the Tennessee Three, his longtime backup band.

And although the Tennessee Three's website notes the band that night will be performing in "Bernaleo," they'll probably be able to find the place.

In that band is Bob Wootton, who played with Cash for 30 years.

He doubled for Cash in some movies and often spent time fishing with the country music legend.

Wootton chuckled as he recalled one of his favorite stories, which only slightly involved Cash.

Wootton was at Cash's house and decided he'd go down to the boat dock and fish; Cash had other plans.

"There was a guy down there on John's boat dock. ‘How ya doin'?' I asked. He grunted and nodded. (Later), we got John's boat, went out on the lake a little while. When we were done, I said, ‘See you sometime.'

"In the house, John said, ‘How'd you and Bob get along?'"

It was then Wootton learned he'd spent almost a whole day fishing, but not talking, with Bob Dylan. It's one of his favorite stories about his days with Cash.

Wootton had been a lifelong fan of Cash's and played his songs religiously until he had perfected the "boom-chicka-boom style" known as Cash's unique sound, originating with the Tennessee Two in the mid-1950s.

At one of Cash's shows, a flight cancellation left only Cash and drummer W.S. Holland onstage, and Wootton was asked to fill in, stunning the audience, including Cash, with perfect renditions of every song.

A few days after that amazing performance, Cash asked him to join the tour as new lead guitarist.

The original lead guitarist, Luther Perkins, perished in a house fire in August 1968.

Wootton continued in the band, with only a brief respite, until Cash retired in 1997.From 2006 to 2007, he performed with original drummer Holland, plus his wife, Vicky, and daughter, Scarlett, as The Tennessee Three.

In 2006 the band released their first album since Cash's death, a loving tribute titled "The Sound Must Go On."

Wootton has fond memories of playing in New Mexico before; Ruidoso, Tucumcari and Albuquerque performances came to mind.

In "Bernaleo" for the first time, he said the band will play what people want to hear - old-time Johnny Cash, so expect to hear "Walk the Line," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Cocaine Blues," "Jackson," "Ghost Riders in the Sky," "Ring of Fire," and an audience-participation number, "Will the Circle Be Broken?"

"We'll play a lot of the old stuff - nobody ever requests the new stuff that he did," Wootton said.

"Kids with black hair and their earrings and tattoos - they like the old stuff."

Wootton said his wife and daughter write the new songs, so some new stuff will be heard.

"Vicky's got a song the last album ... she wrote it for John. He had a copy of it in his billfold or briefcase when he passed away; he never got around to recording it," he said.

"I was with John 30 years ... and when he passed away - I had just come in from Ohio - I turned the TV on and watched the news, saw it scrolled down there that he had died," he recalled.

Wootton was devastated by his buddy's death and quit playing for a while.

But he never gets tired of playing Cash's hits, but when he's in his car, what do you think he listens to?

"I listen to Rush Limbaugh and Hannity - people think they can save the world," he said, chuckling.

Although he's 69 years old, Wootton said he only feels like he's about 55.

"I had prostate trouble; I got that taken care of," Wooten said.

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