WAC brings in The Man in Black 

Longhorn Saloon hosts A Tribute to Johnny Cash

By Cindy Filipenko

Who: Black Bart and The Mad Cowboys

Where: Longhorn Saloon

When: Saturday, Nov. 18, 8 p.m.

Gary Kehoe has been covering Johnny Cash tunes his entire career, but in the last few years, being Johnny Cash has become his career.

“I started doing a Grand Ol’ Opry show around 1980. I covered a lot of the guys, including Hank Snow and Johnny as well, playing a lot of my own stuff,” Kehoe explained. “A couple of years after Johnny died, he got to be so popular that all I did was him.”

Interest in the country legend hit a fever pitch in 2005 with the release of the biopic, Walk the Line with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.

Kehoe and his band, Black Bart and The Mad Cowboys, have been consistently touring Western Canada with A Tribute to Johnny Cash since then. On Saturday, Kehoe and his cowboys bring the show to The Longhorn Saloon as part of Whistler Arts Council’s annual Performance Series.

Although the popularity of the show has cut into his songwriting, Kehoe’s not complaining. In fact, he’s looking at taking the show further a field.

“I went on a trip to Africa and Asia last year and looked into some of the possibilities to take the show there,” said the Langley-based musician.

While nothing is firmed up yet, Japan seems a good bet.

“Japan is a major country music outlet, and so is Europe for that matter,” noted Kehoe.

The international appeal of country music has been well documented, but what is it specifically about Cash that appeals to so many people? Kehoe thinks there area number of factors, most notably the shear volume of music Cash created.

“He was featured on more than 500 albums. He recorded 1,500 songs and wrote at least a 1,000,” Kehoe said. “In the last 10 to 15 years of his career he did a lot of covers of rock stars and that made a big difference to younger people. He was playing music they recognized. Then they went back and listened to his earlier stuff.”

The other thing people are attracted to is the mystery behind the man.

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison and the San Quentin album are great. His jailhouse material is his most appealing and really gave him his mystique. A lot of people think he had a criminal past, but he never spent a day in prison except to perform.”

Saturday’s audience will be well-mixed and probably, given the typical cabaret audience that comes to see A Tribute to Johnny Cash, lean towards a younger demographic.

Asked what people can expect, Kehoe points out that Cash had 14 number one songs and “you can’t play anywhere without playing most of them.”

Interspersed between hits like Ring of Fire, Walk the Line and Folsom Prison Blues, Kehoe will be performing some of The Man in Black’s lesser-known material and sharing anecdotes from Cash’s life and veering into comedy.

“That’s where Black Bart creeps in,” he laughs. “I’ve rewritten some of the lyrics to Johnny’s songs that people seem to like. I took Walk the Line and reworked it to be about Ralph Klein. And then there’s Matsqui Prison Blues about a certain other premier.”

Tickets are $15 and available at the Whistler Arts Council or at the door. Show time on Saturday, Nov. 18 is 8 p.m., doors open at 7 p.m. No minors, as the Longhorn is a licensed venue.

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