Cash backing: The Tennessee Three live at the Islington Academy, 19 March 2007

The Tennessee Three live at the Academy, Islington, 19 March 2007Forget tribute bands. There’s only one way to experience the spirit of Johnny Cash live now that he’s no longer with us – and that’s by going to see The Tennessee Three.

The name might not add up – there are five people on stage, two of which have drawn tonight’s close-to-sell-out crowd – but maths is the last thing on my mind as guitarist Bob Wootton and drummer WS ‘Fluke’ Holland lead the band through nearly 40 Cash classics at the Academy, Islington. I’d bought a ticket for a chance to just be in the same room as these guys – both of whom backed Johnny Cash in the original Tennessee Three line-ups (Holland since 1960; Wootton since 1968) – and pay my respects; I’m not prepared for such an authentic-sounding, searing performance, 10 years after they last played with Cash.

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Johnny Cash: I still miss someone

Johnny Cash mural on a wall in Nashville“I’m not a saviour, and I’m not a saint
The man with the answers I certainly ain’t
I wouldn’t tell you what’s right or what’s wrong
I’m just a singer of songs”

…so sings Johnny Cash on A Singer Of Songs, a track from 2004’s mammoth Unearthed set. Stately, humble and moving – especially in the wake of what had happened just a few months prior to its release – it’s one of my favourite Cash performances, guaranteed to round out any compilation of the man’s work with a satisfying and emotive punch.

It was three years ago today that J.R. Cash upped and left this world, aged 71. Though he led a rocky life, you’d be hard pressed to find anybody that isn’t willing to at least doff their cap to the guy. Say the name Johnny Cash and you think of strength and dignity. His appeal spans generations and genres, and it’s not difficult to see why. Put the mild-mannered John Cash in the right environment and he became the Man in Black, a rebel with a cause. Part religious family man, part rock ‘n’ roll outlaw, Cash, and his music, is everything to everybody – and there’s absolutely no compromise on any side.

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