Tennessee Three keeps the train a-comin’ 

Johnny Cash’s legendary backing band plays GLC Saturday


It must be weird, having your name attached to a legendary performer. Like Bob Wootton, lead guitarist of the Tennessee Three - forever known as the "legendary sound behind Johnny Cash."

But Wootton has he's relished in it by taking Cash's classic songs on the road, extending their life for a fan base that never had a chance to see the Man in Black.

"I'm glad to be remembered, you know?" Wootton says. "A lot of people of my caliber get lost in the shuffle... We've been very lucky that people still love Johnny Cash stuff and we love playing it for them."

He says Cash was a one-of-a-kind superstar and one of the last of his kind. They just don't make them like they used to.

"There are a lot of people that are stars that sell millions of records but for some reason they can't get over that hump to become a superstar, you know?" Wootton says.

Wootton first joined Cash on stage in 1968 when a flight cancellation left Cash and drummer W.S. Holland alone at a concert. By chance, Wootton - a lifelong fan who'd practiced his songs with an almost religious fervor, perfecting the boom-chicka-boom style Cash was known for - was asked to fill in, surprising the audience with his performance and impressing Cash. A few days later, the country star asked him to join the tour as his new lead guitarist.

Wootton, Holland and bassist Marshall Grant backed up Cash as the Tennessee Three until Grant was fired in 1980, when Cash renamed it The Great Eighties Eight. Wootton and Holland remained as the group's anchors until Cash retired in 1997. The group made its final appearance backing Cash in 1999.

"I miss him all the time, especially on stage," he says from a tour bus, somewhere outside Indianapolis.

"When your whole life is thinking about him, talking about him, it's not like you can just forget."

Cash, a legendary performer and songwriter, pulled Wootton from obscurity and took him on a whirlwind road trip that lasted 30 years. They saw the world together.

He played on two of Cash's classic albums, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison and Johnny Cash at San Quentin. His guitar work helped solidify the Man in Black as a legend and, in return, Cash offered Wootton a life very few men get to experience. He's met four U.S. presidents. He's met half of Hollywood. He's been fishing with Bob Dylan.

Cash died in 2003 and the Tennessee Three reformed to record and release a tribute album, The Sound Must Go On. The next year, they started touring the world, performing mainly from Cash's classic catalogue. The crowd wanted to hear the old stuff and, even now, few people request songs past "A Boy Named Sue" and are pleased as can be that the Tennessee Three is there to play it for them.

"It was a name that I had spent 30 years helping to build," Wootton says. "Everybody knew who the Tennessee Three were even though they couldn't remember our names. I keep doing it because I love it. I love what I do and I love the reaction of the people."


















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