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Marshall Grant
(May 5, 1928 - Aug. 7, 2011)
Last remaining member of
Johnny Cash & Tennessee Two, dies at 83

Ref: ~ August 7, 2011 by Peter Cooper

Marshall Grant, Johnny Cash and Luther Perkins
Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Two.
Marshall Grant, an original member of Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Two band and the "boom" in Cash’s famed “boom- chicka-boom” sound, died Sunday morning at St. Bernard’s Medical Center in Jonesboro, Ark., after an aneurysm.

Mr. Grant, 83, was an integral part of most of Cash’s most famous recordings, including “Ring of Fire,” “I Walk The Line,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “Man in Black” and the entirety of Cash’s live albums recorded at Folsom and San Quentin prisons. He was a key component in Cash’s sound from 1954 to 1980 and one of Cash’s most trusted friends.

It was Mr. Grant who switched from guitar to bass so that Cash could stand front and center. It was Mr. Grant who served as road manager for a quarter-century, keeping Cash safe if not untroubled during Cash’s wild, pill-addled years in the 1960s and ’70s.

And it was Mr. Grant whose bass provided the underpinning and the pulse for Cash’s signature music. Without Mr. Grant, Johnny Cash would not have been recognizable as Johnny Cash, and American popular music would be different and almost certainly lesser.

“I was thinking yesterday that there would be no me without Marshall,” said Cash’s daughter, the singer, songwriter and author Rosanne Cash, on Sunday morning. “Had Dad not had Marshall, he wouldn’t have had the ‘Johnny Cash Sound,’ and he wouldn’t have become all that he was, in his fullness. And I wouldn’t have become a songwriter or a musician. There’s a whole lineage that wouldn’t have happened.”

Part of that lineage also involves Country Music Hall of Fame vocal group The Statler Brothers, whom Mr. Grant managed until their 2004 retirement. Mr. Grant also played bass on the Statlers’ 1965 debut smash, “Flowers On The Wall.”

But his legacy is most prominently entwined with Cash, which is why he and wife Etta drove from their Hernando, Miss., home to Jonesboro last week to participate in the Johnny Cash Festival, a fundraiser to help restore Cash’s boyhood home in nearby Dyess, Ark.

August 3, 2011 RehearsalMr. Grant spent Wednesday afternoon at rehearsals, hearing artists including Kris Kristofferson, George Jones and Rodney Crowell rehearse for the Thursday concert along with Rosanne Cash, Johnny Cash’s son John Carter Cash, daughter-in-law Laura Cash, brother Tommy Cash and many others. Mr. Grant was preparing to speak about Cash’s early recordings at the concert.

“He was excited and passionate about the day,” said John Carter Cash. “He was right in the thick of it, and he saw history coming full circle.”

After the Wednesday rehearsal, Mr. Grant grew weary at his hotel while spinning stories with Cash family members. He then collapsed and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he had emergency surgery to remove a blood clot. He died Sunday morning around 3:30.

Mr. Grant’s contributions to Cash’s sound were technically rudimentary but inarguably essential. He wasn’t trained on the bass, and had to affix adhesive tape to the instrument’s neck to let him know where the proper notes were when he, Cash and Luther Perkins began their collaboration. No one in the band was a deft musician in 1954, and it took all three of them to figure out how to tune the big upright bass Mr. Grant bought for $25 at a Memphis store. But their musical limitations allowed an elemental, flourish-free sound that was atypical and instantly identifiable. That sound came to be called “Boom Chicka Boom.”

“So many people think we took 10 years creating this style,” Mr. Grant said during a Cash tribute concert at the Ryman Auditorium in 2003. “I mean, it was there in the first eight bars (of music) we played, and we spent the next four years trying to get rid of it.”

They never did get rid of it.

“He and Luther were automobile mechanics when they met my dad,” said John Carter Cash. “None of the three were educated in music whatsoever, but that’s part of the magic of it: that innocence behind their sound.”

The Tennessee Two became an inaugural inductee of the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2007, along with Elvis Presley’s Blue Moon Boys and others. Mr. Grant stood onstage that November night at Schermerhorn Symphony Center and played bass while John Carter Cash strummed an acoustic guitar.

Mr. Grant exited Cash’s band in 1980, and subsequent lawsuits over wrongful termination and embezzlement of retirement funds were settled out of court. He and Cash remained friends through all of that, and he documented his experience with Cash in the 2006 memoir I Was There When It Happened: My Life With Johnny Cash.

“Marshall was a solid, solid rock,” Rosanne Cash said. “I cannot imagine what would have happened on those tours without him. He understood how complicated my dad was, that he was a great artist who had real demons. And Marshall was so consistent. Now, he may have blown up a couple of cherry bombs in a couple of toilets on the road, but he never went off the rails.”

What are a couple of toilets when weighed against a life spent altering country and rock ’n’ roll music forever?

“He’d call at least once a month, and we’d spend an hour on the phone and he’d just go over the stories,” Cash continued. “It was like he was trying to reconcile them. There were good ones and bad ones, and he carried them all.”

Mr. Grant’s funeral arrangements have been entrusted to Memorial Park Funeral Home, 5668 Poplar Ave. in Memphis. Survivor information and funeral specifics were unavailable at press time.


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