Arts and Entertainment

The last man standing

Tennessee Three lead guitarist, the last man standing Bob Wootton - Courtesy Photo
Tennessee Three lead guitarist, the last man standing Bob Wootton
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Of the legendary Tennessee Three, the famous band behind the country music icon Johnny Cash, only one member remains.

But that lone member still carries on the cadence in spades.

People say the songs played and sung by the last man standing, Tennessee Three lead guitarist Bob Wootton, sound almost exactly as they did coming from the legend himself. Some say he even looks like the Man in Black.

But when What’s Up caught up with Wootton by cell phone as he was driving across Montana on the first leg of the Tennessee Three’s first tour of 2008, he said it’s not him, it’s all in the music.

“I don’t try to sound like John, the music makes people think that I sound like him,” said Wootton, 65, addressing the Cash comparison. “I’m just playing what I played behind John. If you’ve been to a Johnny Cash show, you’ll know when you hear this sound ...”

Enter the opening freight-train riff to “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Wootton has been a fan of that sound ever since he first heard Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two over the kitchen radio at age 14. Some 10 years later he got the chance of a lifetime — standing in with the band behind the Man in Black at a show in Arkansas. Not long after that, he was playing lead licks for the record “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” and on his way to one of his very first gigs with the legend at San Quentin State Prison in California.

“I’ve always loved that sound, it was so different,” Wootton said. “I think that’s why we’re able to do what we do now ... because it is still so different.”

All these years and songs later, now a Rockabilly Hall of Famer, Wootton is still a huge fan of the signature “boom-chicka-boom.”

Even as Cash passed on in 2003 and the original Tennessee Three drummer W.S. Holland called it quits at age 73 at the start of this year, Wootton says, “The Sound Must Go On” — incidentally also the title of the Tennessee Three’s latest album, released in 2006.

The new Tennessee Three will be coming to Bremerton’s Admiral Theatre for a dinner show Feb. 9. Joining Wootton will be his wife Vicki and daughter Scarlet, who’s grown up in the music, Lisa Horngren on bass and Rodney Powell on drums.

They’ll be playing Cash and some Tennessee Three originals while sharing stories all along the way.

“People love the stories,” Wootton said. “Many times after the shows, I’ll get people coming up to me saying, ‘Man, I wish you had some time for more stories.’ Everybody that comes will have something.”

While the stories range from tales from the Cash tour bus, to stories behind the iconic songs and remembrances of the icon himself are a definite draw for the Tennessee Three show, Wootton said sometimes when the band’s playing just right, it all creates an eery air that the Man in Black is still around.

“There’s certain songs that I get to doing and I get to thinking about John and I just can’t hardly stand it,” he said, noting tunes like “Supper Time” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” “He put such feeling into those songs.”

There’s an obvious tinge of pain in Wootton’s voice, making clear how much he still misses the man who showed him how to put on a show, how to live against the grain and gather around the supper table together at the end of the day — much like the way people gather around his music.

The Tennessee Three, legendary backing band for the Man in Black, Johnny Cash, plays the Admiral Theatre at 8 p.m. Feb. 9., 515 Pacific Ave. in Bremerton. Dinner starts at 6:30. Tickets are $59 for main floor dinner show, $28 for the main floor show, $22 in the loge and $14 balcony. Info: www.admiraltheatre.org or call (360) 373-6743.

For more on the Tennessee Three, catch them on MySpace at www.myspace.com/tennesseethree or go to www.tennesseethree.com.

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