The Mighty Cash Cats Bring New Light and Life to Johnny Cash
They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. I don’t know the origin of the phrase, but it’s not true. Poorly done imitations can be disastrous for all involved.
That being the case, I approached the Johnny Cash tribute band, The Mighty Cash Cats, with caution and not a small amount of hesitation.
What I found with, some relief, was Michael Jay and his excellent band, The Mighty Cash Cats, are not ‘imitating’ Johnny Cash at all. Rather, beyond giving an informed tribute to the legendary Father of Country Music, they educate and illuminate Johnny Cash’s career, as they entertain with stripped down, Sun-Studio friendly, rockabilly-laced arrangements of familiar and unfamiliar songs associated with Cash’s during long storied career.
According to Jay during a conversation at a recent performance for the centennial celebration of West Covina Library in Southern California thirty miles east of Los Angeles, the band’s show was developed to honor Johnny Cash in 2006. Smith wanted to present the whole man and the history that he encompassed between the mid-1950’s until his death in 2003.
Their live show is an impressive, beautifully performed survey of Cash as an artist illuminating the man behind the legend. With strong musical skill by the entire band-a powerful and passionate rockabilly group including a precision lead electric guitar and drums blended with bass and acoustic guitar guided by Jay’s easy adept feel for Cash’s vocal quality and phrasing; the show provides the foundation for a deep appreciation for Cash’s life and times.
The average audience member will walk away from this show knowing more about Johnny Cash; while the most devout fan will gain a deeper appreciation for the man and his music.
Both their album, The Ballad of Johnny and June, and the live show lead the audience through a careful selection of songs spanning each decade of Cash’s musical legacy. Also bass player, Leticia Blumette, handles the June Carter vocals effectively while taking on June’s sassy sexiness with a voice that resembles Rosanne Cash-well demonsrated when she sings Cash’s classic, “Tennessee Flat Top Box.” Her delivery and ease with the material, along with her rapport with Michael Jay, recalls Johnny Cash and June Carter on stage together.
As the Mighty Cash Cats began nearly a decade ago, Smith expected a short run of local shows and then thought the gig would fade into the sunset. However, as it happened with Johnny Cash during his lifetime, the show has only grown in demand over the years. During that time, The Mighty Cash Cats have played festival shows in America, Ireland, England and Paris, France.
But, the band’s genesis was fairly unassuming according to Jay,
“I had been playing and singing his music for many years in my band, The Rhythm Rangers. I started to notice a great upswing in interest every time I sang a Cash tune with the band. I felt the time was right, but wanted to do it right; to pay homage to Cash and not be an impersonator. People have told me that I sing and look like Johnny. I am a former teacher, so part of my game plan was to educate about The Man in Black and his music. I do a lot of musical workshops about Cash and the roots of his music in libraries all over California. Part of my vision also was to have a female singer in the band doing June Carter-Leticia. She was a big part of his music and audiences love the Johnny and June duets we do on tunes like “Jackson.”
Probably most enlightening is the original title song on the album, “The Ballad of Johnny and June.” A fiery and furious slide guitar driven rock & roller with a screaming John Fogerty fused lead vocal, it tells the story of Johnny Cash’s sharecropping childhood alongside June’s history of being raised in country music royalty. The song blazes with rage and rockabilly energy as it brings Cash’s legacy to life in a new and unique way.
Other songs on the album include a beautifully rendered version of “If I Were A Carpenter,” in duet with Leticia, the Merle Travis classic “Sixteen Tons,” Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and the June Carter original, “Ring of Fire.” Each recording brings a fresh and original approach to these classic songs.
Most important, The Mighty Cash Cats have stood the test of time as they’ve educated, informed and entertained around the world. They have done Johnny Cash proud a they bring his legacy to life.