Ask Sarasota, Florida, resident Mike Horan what his favorite Johnny Cash song is, and he'll hesitate for a second before declaring, "'Sunday Morning Coming Down.' It's the greatest thing he's ever done." Then Horan will laugh and shake his head, saying, "It's a tough choice. Ask me again in a few minutes, and I might name something else."
In 1967, Horan's father came home with a brand-new copy of Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison. "Before that, I was listening to the Monkees," Horan says. "I'm 47 years old now, but I can still recall how stunned I was. I remember taking it to school for show-and-tell."
Yet 38 years ago, who could've foretold that this employee of the Sarasota County public school system would be producing Cash Bash 2005, a four-day Johnny Cash salute, in Memphis? Horan chuckles excitedly then says that he couldn't imagine doing anything else.
"I coordinate events for different technology conferences, and this is somewhat similar," he explains. "A lot of John's friends and fellow musicians decided to help, and Randy Noles, who penned a [Cash] book called Orange Blossom Boys, joined me and all of the pieces came together."
The downtown Radisson Hotel is hosting the weekend-long event, along with Sun Studio, Studio on the Square, and the New Daisy Theatre. Although most fans identify Cash as a country artist based in Middle Tennessee, Horan says that Memphis was more receptive to the concept than Nashville. "I called up [Sun Studio manager] John Schorr, and he was more than willing to help," Horan says.
While Cash Bash 2005 will celebrate the Man in Black's entire career, the party is centered around the 50th anniversary of Cash's first recordings, "Cry, Cry, Cry" and "Hey! Porter," cut at Sun in the summer of '55.
"It was a date with destiny," Horan claims. "Originally, John wanted to be a gospel singer, but [producer] Sam Phillips said that he couldn't sell it. He said, 'If you do a rockabilly thing, I can market it.' From the very beginning, Cash's music had a very distinctive sound - a boom-chicka-boom fronted by his gravelly voice.
"That sound came about because of his band's inability to play their instruments," Horan continues. "Luther Perkins wasn't a renowned guitarist. He muffled his playing a bit, because he didn't want to stand out. And Marshall Grant just slapped the bass. He's told me that within eight beats, they had that distinctive sound - and then they spent two years trying to get rid of it!"
Although Grant - the only surviving member of Cash's first band, the Tennessee Two - no longer performs, other musical alumni are expected to play at Cash Bash 2005: Drummer W.S. "Fluke" Holland - who joined up with the legend in 1961 - and guitarist Bob Wootton, who began playing with Cash seven years later, after Luther Perkins' death, are scheduled to take the stage at the New Daisy on Friday night. On Saturday night, Cash's brother, Tommy Cash, will perform a 90-minute tribute concert at the New Daisy. And during a Sunday brunch at the Radisson, Earl Ball, Cash's longtime pianist, will play for fans.
Attendees will also get a chance to screen Cash-related films Dear Mr. Cash and The Special, and, Horan hopes, a trailer for the upcoming, Memphis-filmed biopic Walk the Line. At Sun Studio, they'll be able to view a collection of Cash-centric rarities - including a guitar inscribed with the first four lines of "I Walk the Line" and a hand-penned copy of the last song Cash wrote - which belong to Bill Miller, author of An American Man. At the Radisson, they'll be able to see an exhibit of Alan Messer's photographs of Cash, onstage and off, and check out copies of Sony Legacy's upcoming Johnny Cash: Legend, a coffee-table-sized limited-edition box set which will retail for $300. They'll also be able to board Cash's bus, the J.C. Unit One, for tours.
"John had specific wishes concerning his estate. He wasn't interested in his home becoming a Graceland," Horan says, "so we see this anniversary as the key celebration of his legacy. That said, we'd like to see the party continue with future events honoring the spirit of his music, which was always about taking a risk." n
Cash Bash 2005, July 14th-17th; $30 passes available via CashBash2005.com, or attendees can register in person at the Radisson Hotel. All proceeds will go to Johnny and June Carter Cash's favorite charity, S.O.S. Children's Villages U.S.A. For a complete schedule of events, go to CashBash2005.com.