“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”
With those words, the band launched into “Folsom Prison Blues,” a song that has come to epitomize the Man in Black. The lead singer later pointed out, “I’m Harold Ford, but I feel the spirit of Johnny Cash.” Judging from the response, I would say that many in the capacity crowd at the Fort Salem Theater were feeling the same way. Harold’s appearance and sound may be about as close as you’ll get to the real McCoy. This was almost like a hometown gig for him, hailing from nearby Greenwich – the same town that brought us Hal Ketcham.
The Cash Band was in fine form as well – bringing back the sounds of the Tennessee Three, right up to Johnny’s last years. Lead guitarist Sten Isachsen recreated Luther Perkins’ classic sound. Mitch Throop provided his energetic slap rhythm on stand-up bass, with Peter Maine driving the beat on drums while Les Wheeler did his part on rhythm guitar and harmonica.
Many of the classic songs were well-represented, such as “Orange Blossom Special,” “Big
River,” “Jackson” and “Cry, Cry, Cry.” But this was by no means a greatest hits extravaganza. About half-way through the first set, “Johnny” was joined onstage by Laura Lucy, bringing her own unique style and sound of June Carter Cash. Kicking things off was “It Ain’t Me Babe.” Their expressions and swagger were fun to watch, and it brought back memories of when I saw the King and Queen of Country Music at the Starlite Theater back in the ’90s.
Laura proceeded to do a solo of her own – joined by Sten on mandolin for June’s final recording, “Wildwood Flower.” One of my personal favorites, “Daddy Sang Bass,” was to follow and then, “Time’s a Wastin'” – most notably remembered from the 2005 film, “Walk the Line.” Things really got interesting when some of the later material was introduced, with songs such as “I Hung My Head” and “Ain’t No Grave” – the latter being a posthumous release from Cash’s final recording session – which eerily reverberated through the small theater.
Harold and the band roared through the second part of the show in fine fashion, with many more Cash nuggets… “Ring Of Fire,” “Walk the Line,” “Hey Porter” and “Long Black Veil” to name a few. Seeing as how this show was actually a make-up date from the recent Hurricane Irene rain-out at the Washington County Fair, “Five Feet High and Rising” seemed to set the appropriate theme. Coming back for an encore, they pulled out the signature “Man In Black” and then a reprise of “Folsom Prison Blues,” which brought the crowd to their feet.
Yes, the spirit of Johnny Cash is alive and well.
Review and photographs by Al Goldberg