Tommy Cash is sitting in his car, on the phone, having just pulled into his Hendersonville, TN driveway. From Indianapolis, I ask if he wants to go inside before we talk. Cash, the youngest brother of Johnny Cash says, “no, this is good.”
Who am I to argue with a Cash?
Tommy has crafted a pretty decent country music career. Yeah, he’s Johnny kid brother, a fact nobody could run away from. (Hell, Johnny may be – sorry Hank, Sr. – the biggest country music icon ever). Not that Tommy has wanted to run from his name. Rather, he’s embraced his heritage without seeming cloying or overly opportunistic.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, he charted three top 10 singles – the biggest being 1969’s “Six White Horses”, chronicling the deaths of the Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Now 69 years old, Tommy Cash still hits the road, and was ready to head to Greenwood for a benefit show at Jonathan Byrd’s Ballroom in late October.
Tommy knows he’s not Johnny. He knows his career and influence will forever dwarf the “Man in Black”. But Tommy Cash seems at peace with his place in life.
He’s got a new album (“Fade to Black”, which is a pretty damn good late-career record) that features guitar playing and singing from Marty Stuart and a duet with George Jones. He plays lots of golf in the winter in Florida. He’s raised three successful kids. He’s healthy. And for a little more than three years, has been paying homage to his big brother with his “Johnny Cash Tribute Show”.
“People say ‘oh my goodness, it must be hard standing in Johnny’s shadow’. I don’t look at it that way. I let other people worry about it,” Cash says, as we talk about the obvious. “I am an individual and very active. I do a lot of different things. I know my brother was one of the biggest stars in the history of music. Period. People all over the world loved Johnny Cash and still do. And I realize it, and am very cognizant of that.”
“But I really don’t worry about it,” Cash says “I just go and do my show and do the best I can and am very proud of what I do.”
His biggest successes came from late 1969, through 1973, when the youngest Cash accumulated 12 Top 40 country hits, and built his career no differently than dozens of current country music stars who have mid-chart hits and then jump on a bus to earn their real money, playing gigs.
“I have been to Europe 40 times since 1965 and have a good fan base there. I draw good crowds over there; they love the traditional country music. A year or so ago we did a tour of Scandinavia and Ireland. That was a great tour.”
The upcoming trip to Indianapolis won’t be his first.
“In the mid 1960s, it seemed like I got booked around Indianapolis a lot. I used to play a bar called the Sherman Bar, and there were two or three other places up there I worked. I’ve always enjoyed coming to Indianapolis.
“Back in the 1970s and 80s, when I was having hit records, I toured 250 days a year,” Cash remembers. “Now that I’ve gotten older, I don’t want to do that many dates, and probably couldn’t get booked that many anyway. I work about 75-80 dates a year and that’s really all I want to do. I have been touring for 44 years,”
“And I am not tired of it,” he says. “But don’t want to be gone from home that much even if I could.”
For his show in Greenwood, he’ll bring his longtime backing band “The Cash Crew”, for his “Johnny Cash Tribute Show”.
“We’ve been doing the show for three or four years,” Cash says. “It’s some country songs, some Johnny Cash songs, and stories that only I know about Johnny that I tell between songs. People really appreciate this show. It is my way of showing my love and respect and to honor him and his music. I sing some of my own songs in the show, and we get as close to the Johnny Cash sound as we want; we don’t want to copy or imitate him, but it is close,” Cash says. “People tell me they close their eyes and they can hear him.
“But my voice is a little higher than his.”
Cash sounds sincere when he speaks of his piece of the Cash name. He digests questions, and takes a couple beats before answering. And he occasionally, at the end of a sentence, will pause and start talking again, adding to the story. You can feel him, through the phone, thinking.
We talk about his new album.
“I am very proud of “Fade to Black” – It is my 22nd album. I am proud of the way the album turned out. I asked Marty to do a song on this album, and said ‘You pick it’. He said ‘I have always loved ‘Six White Horses’ and I’d love to have you record that again, and let me play lead guitar and sing on it’. And it turned out really good. George came in and sang on the opening track “Some Kind of a Woman” and my son Mark Cash sang on two songs.”
And isn’t the Cash family country music royalty? – the everyman regime that represents country music roots through sincerity, and sauced with more than a little of tough luck and hard living. Part of that heritage is Tommy Cash.
“As long as I can stay healthy and do a good show, I will continue. When the time comes I can’t do my best on stage, I will quit and do whatever I need to do for the rest of my life,” he says. “Maybe play golf. Maybe see some of the places I have played and not seen. I have been to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of places. I had very little time for sightseeing, because you do the show, go to the hotel, sleep, get up and go to the next town. As I get older I have a yearning to see some of the great sites of the world.
“I have had a wonderful career, and I am very grateful for the success I have had,” Cash says before ending his driveway phone call and heading inside his house.
“It’s nothing compared to Johnny, but I have really enjoyed my life.”
Hear Tommy Cash – “Fade to Black” (2:00)
Hear Tommy Cash – “Best of” (2:00)