Johnny's career was
really starting to take off again when he made his third Brandon appearance
on December 2, 1968. He was recovering from his dark years of drug
addiction, thanks to June Carter, and he was just starting to put out a
string of cross-over hits. There was even talk of a network TV show.
Around this time the Brandon Kinsmen service club and promoters had asked
us to perform at an after-show reception for the Tommy Hunter Show. This
was a success, so when the Cash show came to town we were asked to perform
a similar show for his entire troupe, as well as for invited guests and
Johnny and June were staying
at the grand old Prince Edward Hotel and the party was to be in the hotel's
main ballroom. This was quite a thrill for us, although it promised to
be a somewhat intimidating experience. We were excited to meet and play
for the Carter Family, Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers, etc. Johnny
and his fellow Memphis Sun Records artists had been my major musical influences.
I was looking forward to another
meeting with Luther Perkins, who had given me one of my first guitar lessons
about 10 years before. A gala country show had just ended in the old Brandon
arena and the headliners had retreated to their dressing rooms. But Luther
and the rest of the band stayed in the stage area to pack up. This was
in the days before roadies and big tour buses.
Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three in the
Brandon Arena ~ Late 1950s
Copyrighted Cash Photos taken
by Bill Hillman
I saw Luther alone at the side
of the stage and boldly made my way over to him to ask naively if I could
try out his Fender guitar. He said "Yup" and this led to my first real
guitar lesson. Luther wasn't a really great accomplished guitarist in the
regular sense . . . he probably didn't know many more chords than I at
that time. . . but the lessons I learned in that short time about interaction
with fans and the importance of creating your own style were invaluable.
His "boom-chick" style of damped guitar and simple memorable riffs are
probably some of the most imitated by guitarists -- a sound that had contributed
greatly to Johnny's success.
Luther, along with bassist, Marshall
Grant, had been with Johnny from the start back in Memphis and gave the
Tennessee Two (later Tennessee Three when drummer W. S. "Fluke" Holland
was added) their distinctive "boom-chicka-boom" sound. I was shocked to
learn that Luther had died in a house fire a few months before and had
been replaced by young Bob Wootton, who did a quite amazing effort at imitating
Luther's palm-muting guitar style. He knew the intros, breaks and extros
to all of John R's hits.
The event was even more memorable
because Johnny and June had been recently married back in March.
Johnny had actually proposed to her onstage at a show in London, Ontario.
We performed for the crowd made
up of the Johnny Cash show performers and specially invited Brandonites.
The guests partied and danced . . . and everyone waited expectantly for
the two stars to join the party. What a thrill seeing the Carters, the
Statlers, Carl Perkins, partying to our music on the dance floor. . . .
but there was no Johnny and June.
Johnny finally appeared with
June reluctantly in tow. They did some impromptu songs on our stage and
after a few thank you remarks June dragged him back toward their room.
With June's help he was on the wagon after his many years of self-destructive
road life -- she kept him from temptation that night.
Wedding Day 1968: Johnny and June with Tennessee Three and Wives
Sue-On and I quickly took our
break and rushed out to the hallway where we caught up with the famous
duo and spent a grand time chatting with them. We learned that although
Johnny appeared to be looking forward to joining the crowd, June would
have no part of it, considering the long battle they had just gone through
to break him of his addictions and to get his career back on track.
We returned to the stage, the
show went on, the party was fun. . . but Johnny's short appearance,
although understandable, was still a bit of a disappointment to everyone
Into the 21st Century
In more recent times we'd seen
Bob Wootton and his new Tennessee Three band a number of times. Bob did
a fine job on Johnny's vocals and was accompanied by his wife and daughters.
They did a memorable job of carrying on the Cash legacy. The first time
Bob's reincarnated Tennessee Three group appeared in Brandon there was
the added bonus of seeing the legendary WS "Fluke" Holland on drums. Holland
had gotten his start with Carl Perkins playing "Blue Suede Shoes," etc.,
was in on the famous Million Dollar Quartet session at Memphis' Sun Studio,
and had been part of Johnny's Tennessee Three band until the singer's death.
They were great guys to chat with. We were fortunate to be able to video
tape one of their performances, which sadly was one of their last since
failing health forced Bob to retire from music and he passed away in 2014.
Photo by Bill Stadnyk
Bill Hillman with Bob Wootton and WS Holland
of the Tennessee Three