Who: Tennessee Three
When: Sunday, April 13
The infamous freight train rhythm of Johnny Cash and his crew will fill a popular local watering hole this weekend, as the Tennessee Three roll into Whistler for yet another stellar performance.
The Tennessee Three have been performing for over 30 years, during which time they played backup for the infamous Johnny Cash, traveling with him for the majority of his career.
When Cash first started out, only the Tennessee Two accompanied him: a bass player by the name of Marshall Grant, and Luther Perkins, who played the guitar. But in 1968, when Perkins passed away in a house fire, Bob Wootton took his place in the band.
When Cash started playing bigger venues, he needed a bigger sound, so he transformed the Tennessee Two into a trio — the Tennessee Three — adding a drummer.
He changed their sound again in the ’80s, by adding five more players.
“So he called us the Great 80s Eight, which I thought was dumb,” said Wootton. “I did not like that. I said, ‘why can’t we be the Tennessee Three and friends?’”
Their bass player also retired in the ’80s.
“For a while, every time you turned around, John had a new bass player, because Johnny Cash music has a certain feel to it that everybody can’t play,” Wootton explained. “It’s got a feel to it that feels like you’re on a train, you know?”
Over the years, Cash and the rest of the band became like family to Wootton.
“I was sometimes with him night and day,” he said. “I had three brothers and I saw them a couple times a year, but I saw Johnny Cash and the rest of the band two-hundred-and-something days a year.”
Now, the Tennessee Three is still a family affair, with Wootton playing lead guitar and singing, his wife and daughter, playing rhythm guitar and singing, and an upright bass player and drummer to help belt out some of Cash’s originals.
The whole crew is coming to Whistler to perform on Sunday night, and this certainly isn’t the first time they’ve come to the Sea to Sky region.
“We’ve been there several times — we love it up there,” said Wootton, adding that last time, they took the gondola up the mountain, which was a unique experience for them.
“It was fun, we’d never done anything like that.”
Each time they perform, the Tennessee Three draws an extremely diverse crowd.
“We’re the only band that can come in there and there’ll be a grey-haired grandmother sitting with a young kid with an earring in his nose,” Wootton said with a chuckle.
“…We have kids come to our shows that are six to eight years old that know Johnny Cash songs by heart. It’s amazing.”
Wootton says he is constantly amazed to meet children who weren’t born until after Cash died who know all the words to songs like Hurt, I’ve Been Everywhere, or Ragged Old Flag.
“It’s a great feeling, of course, but you also think, ‘how can that be?’”
Wootton says part of the secret to their success has been to maintain Cash’s unique sound.
“Even back in the ’50s, Johnny Cash was different than everybody else — his sound was different,” explained Wootton. “Everyone else had steel guitars and fiddles, and I’ve often wondered what kind of career would Johnny have had if he had started off trying to use the fiddle and the steel guitar, because they don’t fit his voice.”
While he has contemplated retirement a few times, Wootton can’t seem to leave the touring lifestyle behind.
“Well, I think about it, and then when I’m off for a couple of weeks, and I say, ‘no, no I want to go back on the road,’” he said. “Now, when I didn’t have my family with me, I wasn’t that eager to leave.”
For their upcoming performance in Whistler, Wootton says audience members can expect the full-meal deal, with some new material, and a vast range of Cash favourites to keep the crowd’s toes tapping.
“They love the old stuff, of course that’s right down my line because that’s what I like,” explained Wootton, “That’s why I fell in love with the music.”