The Minneapolis-based Troupe America production of the Johnny Cash tribute “Ring of Fire” comes to Talladega’s Ritz Theatre with just one performance, Saturday, Nov. 9.
“This show takes you on a joyful journey through the story of Johnny Cash’s life, his stories, and of course, his music, through the decades,” said George Culver, executive director for The Ritz Theatre and Antique Talladega.
Cash himself is not portrayed in the production, but these outstanding musicians and singers portray his music and the legend of Johnny Cash, Culver said.
More than 30 of the songs that were part of Cash’s legacy are part of the performance, and the list includes those that are across the board in style, from his classic country sound to gospel, folk, rock and blues and in-between, Culver said.
Hit classics among the show’s play list include “I Walk the Line,” “I’ve Been Everywhere,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” and the humorous 1960s favorite, “A Boy Named Sue.”
“A Boy Named Sue” began as a poem written by Shel Silverstein. Cash was at the height of his popularity when he recorded the song live at California's San Quentin State Feb. 24, 1969. The song became Cash's biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and his only top 10 single there.
“A Boy Named Sue” became one of Cash’s 19 Grammy Award winners, which include singles as well as albums and performances. Other Grammy Award winners for Cash include “Folsom Prison Blues,” “If I Were a Carpenter,” “Ring of Fire” and “I Walk the Line.”
Cash was further lauded through the years by The Country Music Association with nine honors, including Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year three times, Male Vocalist of the Year, Single of the Year and in 2003, for Music Video of the Year with “Hurt.”
Cash was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980, and into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame as its 115th inductee, the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977 and also the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
The honors are indicative of Cash’s broad appeal across the board in music styles and audiences, Culver said.
The Troupe America production relays Cash’s faith, his family, his passions and redemption, Culver said.
“Everyone who came to love ‘the man in black’ will greatly appreciate this outstanding performance,” he said.
A cast of five actors perform for the show.
Cash was born in 1932 in Kingsland, Ark., where his early musical influences came via the radio in the form of gospel.
He started playing the guitar by the time he was 12, and at that time, had a high tenor voice, not the deep baritone he later became known for as an adult.
During his high school years, Cash performed live on a local radio station.
After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Cash was discharged as a staff sergeant in 1954 and returned to Texas where he completed some of his Air Force training.
It was while in the service in Landsberg, Germany when Cash put together his first band, called The Landsberg Barbarians.
Cash married his first wife, Vivian Liberto in 1954 in San Antonio; the couple had four daughters and divorced in 1966.
Cash then married fellow performer and touring performer June Carter in 1968. The couple met backstage at The Grand Ole’ Opry 13 years earlier.
The Cashes remained married until their deaths, June Carter Cash died in 2003 and Cash died four months later, in September 2003.
While living in Memphis in the mid-1950s, Cash visited the Sun Records Studio and auditioned for Sam Phillips, performing mostly gospel music. In early 1955, Cash made his first recordings at Sun, including “Hey Porter” and “Cry! Cry! Cry!”
These recordings were successful with country audiences and in 1956, Elvis Presley happened in at the studio one day when Cash was on hand along with Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.
An unplanned jam session began and tapes were recorded of the encounter and were later released in the album “Million Dollar Quartet.”
Cash’s next recording of “Folsom Prison Blues” made the country Top Five and “I Walk the Line” became the number one country song.
In 1957, Cash became the first Sun artist to produce an LP album.
Through the early 1960s, Cash performed with The Carter Family, which included June and her sisters, Anita and Helen.
Even though Cash’s image evolved into that of an outlaw through the years, he actually never served a prison sentence. He did find himself in jail seven times, charged with misdemeanor offenses.
But Cash did have a compassion for those in prison and began performing concerts for prisons as early as the late 1950s. He also became an advocate for prison reform, even meeting with President Richard Nixon about the topic in 1972.
Cash had his own television program from 1969 until 1971, which included performances from music greats such as Neil Young, Louis Armstrong, Kenny Rogers, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan.
Cash first met with Dylan in the mid-1960s and later, while they were neighbors in Woodstock, N.Y., they two became closer.
The black-wearing persona Cash created was a reflection of his feelings for the poor and the hungry, “prisoners who had long paid for their crimes” and other social issues Cash supported, Cash told others.
Through the years, the performer also said he wore the color to reflect mourning for the military personnel lost in the Vietnam War as well.
Cash’s career surged again in the 1990s, and in 1997, with the accompaniment of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, he recorded the album “Unchained” which earned the Best Country Album Grammy that year.
Cash was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease Shy-Drager Syndrome in 1997, and the diagnosis was later changed to autonomic neuropathy, which was associated with diabetes.
He completed 60 more songs during the last four months of his life and performed some shows before his death.
His last public performance came July 5, 2003 at the Carter Family Fold outside Bristol, Tenn. He is buried next to June Carter Cash in Hendersonville, Tenn.
Tickets for “Ring of Fire” are $23 and for groups of seven or more, there is a $2 per ticket discount.
You may call The Ritz Theatre at 256-315-0000 for ticket reservations.