The Johnny Cash Pilgrimage SA brings the 50-year career of ‘The Man In Black’ to life, courtesy a band of brothers raised on the music of the man who walked the line.
(This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/12/16).
When Johnny Cash’s “American Recordings” was released in 1994, it introduced a new generation of listeners to the music he first started recording in 1955 and, arguably, helped create the audiences that flocked to the 2005 biopic, “Walk The Line”.
Before that, though, there were the barren and difficult ’80s; Johnny Cash’s ongoing battle with the twin demons of drug addiction and religious guilt; the gospel and Irish folk music roots; the ’50s heyday including a “Million Dollar Quartet” with rock ‘n roll greats Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis; tours with country music’s darlings, The Carter Family; previously unheard-of country/pop crossover hits like “Ring Of Fire” (1961); the arrests and spells in jail; a spiritual epiphany in a cave; marriages and divorce; the legendary Folsom and San Quentin prison shows. So large-in-life was he, that U2’s Bono once said, “Every man knows he’s a sissy compared to Johnny Cash.” Now, a South African quintet based around our own line-walking rebels, The Brixton Moord En Roof Orkes, have embarked on a national “Pilgrimage” to share the songs of one of modern music most influential voices.
“Lots of people know Johnny Cash from the ‘Ring of Fire’, or the ‘Walk The Line’ film, or from the American Recording versions of ‘Hurt’ (Nine Inch Nails) or ‘One’ (U2), but the ‘Pilgrimage’ is also about the signature sound of Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Three,” says Drikus “Brixton” Barnard, co-founder of both the Johnny Cash Pilgrimage SA and the Brixton Moord En Roof Orkes. “These are songs about love and hardship; about hope and joy; about trains, prisoners and cowboys; about good women and bad women; and about bad deeds and the consequences of such actions. The show is not a history lesson, though – if you don’t know Johnny Cash, you won’t be bored. We always bring in that ‘Live at Folsom Prison’ sound, that Luther Perkins guitar. And songs like ‘Long-Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man’, or ‘One Too Many Mornings, the duet with Bob Dylan, or ‘Girl From The North Country’.”
The group call their show a “Pilgrimage” because they felt a previous tribute show – which received wide acclaim and featured cameos from local legends like Piet Botha and Paul Riekert – was more about interpretations, than being true to the music of Johnny Cash himself.
“We grew up on this music,” says Barnard, “My dad and uncles listened to it, and the band is all basically family, except our drummer. The music always stuck with us when we formed our own bands, and this is our way of honouring that – and also showing people some sides of Johnny Cash that weren’t in the rose-tinted picture of the film. I once asked my one uncle why they listened to Johnny Cash because it’s so sad, and he said, ‘It makes you understand there is always somebody out there in the world who is sadder than you’. It’s not just the words, though, when we started playing the ’50s and ’60s sound, we’ve had bands like The Pixies and the White Stripes in between, but we had to get back to the straightforward rockabilly sound. It’s a hell of a pleasure to do that, and to play that music every night.”
“A pilgrimage is a journey made to a place as a mark of respect,” the musicians say, noting that Cash “was there for the birth of rockabilly in the 1950s, sharing the stage with the likes of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and others; soldiered on for another five decades, the eternal rebel forever at odds with the corporate record industry and other authoritative figures and, as his famous song suggests, did indeed stand up for the unlucky, the reckless ones, the poor and the beaten down.”
“If Johnny Cash was still here and hear us, I know what he would have said: ‘Thank you for the tribute, but you boys should walk your own line’,” says Barnard. “So, Brixton Moord En Roof is recording a new album. We thought we’d just do three or four Cash shows, but it turns out there’s demand across the country. So we have to find a balance. When we get back to Brixton Moord En Roof, obviously we’ll have smaller audiences, but we were never about that, so it’s okay. Doing this show has changed my lookout on music and our first single is about a guy who’s sitting in the old Pretoria C-Max (prison), back when it was the only place where black and white walked together, where six guys in a row ended up hanging together.”
This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/12/16.
Hear “The Johnny Cash Pilgrimage SA” with Gert Barnard singing the songs of Johnny Cash, Pat Plank paying tribute to the unique guitar of Luther Perkins, Nadine Barnard singing the lines of June Carter Cash, Drikus “Brixton” Barnard on bass and Louis Graham on drums.
The Cape pilgrimage is:
- Wednesday 19 December at Dorpstraat Theatre (The Shed, Summerhill Farm, R44, Klapmuts St, Stellenbosch; doors 6pm, kitchen closes at 7.30pm; show 8.30pm; R100; 021-8899158)
- Thursday 20 December at Hangklip Hotel (Watsonia St, Pringle Bay; doors 7pm; show 9pm; R50; 079-1386869)
- Friday 21 December at Melkbosstrand Country Club (No.1, Robin Rd, Melkbosstrand; doors 7pm; show 8.30pm; R100; 021-5533408)
- Sunday 23 December at Barrydale Karoo Hotel (30 van Riebeeck St; R30; 028-5721226)
- Thursday 27 December in Stilbaai (Olyvenhout Olive Farm, Riverside turn- off, Stilbaai; doors 6pm; show 7.30pm; R100; pre-booked only 084-4054604)
- Friday 28 December in Knysna (Divanna Wine Bar, 23 Main St; Knysna; doors 9pm; show 10pm; R60 pre-bookings 076-3305065; R90 door)
- Saturday 29 December in George (Kalahari Theatre, Redefine Boulevard, York St, George; doors 6.30pm, show 8pm; 044-8745000)
- Monday 31 December at Nieu Bethesda (TBC, doors 7pm, 10pm; R80; 082-8652699)