Hillman Book Project: Gig Notes Section

1968: What A Year!
Johnny Cash considered 1968 a major breakthrough year
as he indicated in the series of year-end reflections 
that we've featured further down this page: 1968

It was a pretty fair year for Sue-On and myself as well. 
We had been married for two years, had worked hard
at developing a stage act and 
were putting ourselves through university 
by performing almost every night in local pubs, dance halls, arenas, etc. 
Our December 2nd gig performing for 
Johnny Cash and his whole troupe had been the highlight of the year.

Brandon Sun ~ November 28, 1968

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 dignitaries.

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 there. 

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
Johnny Cash's Letter To Himself
December 31, 1968
For many years, Dad would write himself a letter on December 31,
summarizing the year’s events and looking to the next.
These letters functioned like a personal inventory of sorts.
In the one Dad wrote to himself at the end of 1968,
he recounts one of the most important years of his life.
It was important in so many ways:
1968 was the year of the Folsom Prison concert and
the year he married my mother, among many other significant occurrences.

Excerpt from John Carter Cash – House of Cash:
The Legacies of My Father, Johnny Cash



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