Men in Black: Providence Performers on Tonight’s Tribute

johnnyCashPosterProv_lowresAs Beth noted, tonight is the all-star Johnny Cash tribute show at RISD Auditorium.  Although the ‘Mericans do have a Daily Dose connection (ahem, some of us were tossing our panties on the ‘Mericans’ stage before Mr. Smith came along—although I’m still not sure Smurf underoos were the best choice), I’m also a big fan of Brown Bird, Wrong Reasons, and Ben Pilgrim. I’ve always enjoyed catching Mark Cutler in cozy spots around town, and I’ve heard nothing but praise for Coyote Kolb and Tallahassee.  I’ll also get to see new-to-me Last Good Tooth and Avi Jacob.  If I don’t wear an anchor, tonight’s show could blow me away.

Johnny Cash has influenced countless musicians far beyond the confines of country.  He also made wildly differing songs by Elvis, Gordon Lightfoot, Nine Inch Nails, Tom Jones, Bruce Springsteen, the Beatles, Sting, Depeche Mode and others all his own.  It’s perfect that versatile, tough-as-nails Cash will be covered tonight by a range of styles: folk, Afro-beat, roots, blues, garage, Americana, Gospel, rockabilly, country, and the indefinable.  This show is part of a multi-city tribute series, and proceeds from all four events will go to prison literacy programs, including Providence Books through Bars.

I emailed several Providence performers (thanks for being sports on such short notice!) about their involvement in this project and their favorite Jonny Cash songs. Responses after the jump.

$10 ($7 w/RISD student ID), 7:30pm, Thursday, Johnny Tribute, RISD Auditorium, 17 Canal Street, Providence. Facebook event page

Daily Dose: What made you want to be part of this show?
After crediting Joe Fletcher of Wrong Reasons for bringing the tribute to their attention, the singers/songwriters reflected a bit more.

Ben Pilgrim:
It’s a good cause that I think about a lot, but basically, Johnny Cash is so formative to the kind of music we all play–so to get to pay some kind of homage will be great. The thing I am most excited about is to play this show with all these really good friends of mine. We all spend a lot of time talking about music we love and debating and picking it apart, so I am just really excited about us all getting to be music nerds together and see how everyone approaches these songs.

Coyote Kolb:
Johnny Cash is an outlaw country icon, and it’s a pleasure to pay homage and give back through charity.

Joe Fletcher & the Wrong Reasons:
Well, the real organizer of the event, Jenn Harrington (of the Nave Gallery in Somerville, MA), contacted me about the idea of the Johnny Cash tribute/benefit series late last year.  In 2009, The Wrong Reasons had played at another benefit she organized in Somerville where all of the bands did songs by Frank Black.  That event was so much fun that I had been waiting for whatever she put together next.  We would have done it if it were a Whitney Houston tribute.  It was just a bonus that we got to play Johnny Cash songs.  I helped her find a venue and a pizza parlor and suggested a few Providence bands.  Other than that, Jenn did it all.

Mark Cutler:
Johnny Cash’s music has been part of my life since I was a kid. Me and my family would watch his TV show. I’ve admired him since day one and his music has affected mine as much and more (as anyone else’s). I was especially inspired by his prison concerts.
Years ago my old band The Schemers played at the ACI maximum security unit. One of the main reasons we did it is because Johnny Cash did it. We were there for most of the afternoon and got to talk with the inmates and the guards. They’re just folks like the rest of us except they got in trouble and got caught. I’ll never forget some of the exchanges such as when we walked onto the plywood platform and I said, “How ya doin’?” and someone in the back said, “How the f**k do you think we’re doin’?” We’re in prison!” I like to think that everyone laughed. We played and we all had a great time in a very sad place. As we were leaving and the guys were back in their cells, we exchanged goodbyes and we heard from one of the guys way back in the distance, “See you at Lupos!” Books through Bars makes so much sense to me. I’ve said it before but I want to help shine some light in a very dark place.

I (Brian Barthelmes) left professional football a few years ago for two main reasons: One being that I had not enough time for social action work, and two I had not enough time for music. This event represents the essence of what I wanted the work of my life to mean. I work now as a social worker with the homeless population, and I see daily the consequences of a poor corrections system that offers little to no assistance in rehabilitating one self back into society. It is organizations such as Books Through Bars that offer solutions to the problems that our systems have created. I believe that I speak for all of Tallahassee (the band) when I say we are looking to contribute to a better tomorrow in any way we can.

The ‘Mericans:
I’ve always listened to Johnny Cash–even as a little kid growing up during the ’70s in South Carolina. My dad drove a pickup truck and it seemed as if his stereo only played country music, which back then I don’t think I had much of an opinion about, but in time the songs I heard by greats like Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson definitely helped form my musical tastes, and even helped shape the music that I have wound up writing and performing.

Daily Dose: What’s your favorite Johnny Cash tune of all time?

Ben Pilgrim:
I don’t have one favorite of anything, but if I had to pick one song it would be “I Still Miss Someone.” Anyone can relate to that song. It has been with me for a very long time now.

Coyote Kolb: “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” Even though he didn’t write it.

Joe Fletcher & the Wrong Reasons:
There is no way I could begin to pick just one, but the best I could do is narrow it down to the records he made at Sun Studio from 1954 to 1958.  I just love the sound of these three people standing in a room together playing their hearts out.  None of them are studied musicians, but within those limitations they make a sound that I’ve never heard topped by any larger band in any fancy studio.

Mark Cutler:
There are too many Johnny Cash tunes but I’ll tell you, “Long Black Veil,” “Get Rhythm,” “Walk the Line” and his duet with Bob Dylan on “Girl from the North Country” are big on my playlist.

I cannot pick an all-time favorite Johnny Cash song. That is just a mean question. I can say however that Scott (of Tallahassee) has chosen for us the song “Give my Love to Rose.” Scott told me that he chose it because he believed it sounded as if it were told from the mouth of a social worker. It is a beautiful song that I can really relate to and it is probably my favorite song we will perform tonight.

The ‘Mericans:
This is a really tough choice. While I have always loved Johnny Cash, it was the Rick Rubin produced American Recordings albums that really drew me in deep. Records like this are rare–we’re talking about someone who was at the age where most musicians would’ve thrown in the towel. The 1980s were very unkind to the careers of artists like Johnny Cash, and for him to make this sort of comeback and make some of the most personal and moving recordings beginning in 1994 with the first American Recordings album is amazing. I love that whole record, with just him singing and playing guitar. Yes, it sounds stark, earthy, aged, worn and torn–but it is beautiful because of this. While I love many songs from every single point in his career, I’d have to say something from the first American Recordings record would be my favorite. I really don’t listen to music by the song–I listen to albums–so I don’t think I can pick just one of those songs.

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