My Memories of Johnny Cash
Don Wilson - Posted November 16, 2003
Johnny Cash inspired me more than any other human being other than my
father. Losing Johnny Cash in life is heaven's gain. The first time I
picked up a guitar I banged on a Johnny Cash song before I even knew
chords. I first met Johnny Cash when I was about one year old, my
father met with him and took me with him. I wish I could remember
that experience, Dad said he held me in his arms. The first time I
remember seeing Johnny was in 1968 at Hunstville State Prison Rodeo
in Texas,I went with my grandparents. I also saw him on his 37th
birthday and recall the entire Astrodome singing happy birthday to
him during his concert there.
The next time I saw him was when he and his show paid tribute to Tex
Ritter at Sam Houston Col. in Houston, Texas. In 1974 I attended his
shows at the Houston Music Theatre, which was in the round. I recall
Glen Shirley who was once a prisoner at Folsom Prison performed that
night. Glen sang"Greystone Chapel, which he wrote and Johnny recorded
at his famous concert there in January 1968.
The first meeting was arranged by Johnny's manager Lou Robin and it
took place at the Houston Music Theatre backstage on November
11, 1976. I was only 15 years old. I arrived with my grandmother before
the show started - around a hour or so in advance and no one else
Then in came The Tennesee Three: Bob Wooten, guitarist; Marshall
Grant, bassist and W.S. "Fluke" Holland, drummer. I actually froze and
couldn't say a word. W.S. recently laughed at that! My grandmother
and I met Lou Robin and he escourted us backstage and there I met
Johnny face to face. He came in alone and said,"Hello I'm Johnny
Cash", as if we didn't know!
I said "Where's the restroom?" and he replied "Excuse me?" I
said "Isn't that what you wrote in your book, Man In Black when you
met the Louvin Brothers and you were so nervous as a teen seeing them
in person and they approached you and asked you that?" Yes that was a
long question, he listened and laughed! I said "I wanted to say
something, so you'd remember me." I had seen Elvis shortly before in
person and told him I was going to meet Johnny Cash/ Elvis smiled and
asked me to give John his best.
Johnny was taken aback when I passed on Elvis' greeting. Johnny
looked at my grandmother and she replied 'He did". Johnny returned
the best wishes thenI asked Johnny when the last time they saw each
other was and he said "In 1962, when Elvis came to visit the Grand Ole
Opry." We talked about Elvis tuning his guitar to "Cry! Cry! Cry!" on
the jukebox when Elvis toured with June Carter.
I actually asked him how he got that scar on his chin and he
replied, "I had a cyst in the air force and a doctor botched it up."
I brought a then new Polaroid "Pronto" camera where the picture spit
and out developed before your eyes. Johnny hadn't seen one do that
before and Anita Carter came by and said, "Would you look at that!".
Lou Robin then took a photo of me and Johnny. After a 15 minute chat
Johnny started to leave and my grandmother grabbed his arm and pulled
him back in and said, "Johnny come back here and take a picture with
me! Johnny hugged up on her and said "Come here Granny!" She asked
Will you do "Ring Of Fire" for me? He replied "Sure Granny!" and he
opened the show with it.
I saw Johnny dozens of times after that in concert, not always seeing
him backstage, though there were meet and greets. I recall being
backstage with him at Rice Stadium in Houston in the 80's and walking
briskly with him to his limo. Hundreds were converging on him in the
field after a Billy Graham Crusade appearance.Toward the end of the
trek we ran!
Once Johnny told me a joke: "Where is a sincere place to take a bath
in Nashville?" The Answer: "Ernest Tubb!"
Johnny collected old coins, old books and such. I was happy to find
some that he liked and in turn he gave me some wonderful personal
The last times I saw Johnny were in March 1995 in Tunica, Mississippi.
My son Donny was born just one month before and Johnny signed a photo
for him - which my son treasures. He loves him. The last time I saw
Johnny was a year later, backstage in the VIP room at the House of
Blues in West Hollywood with Glen Glenn (who used to tour with Johnny
in the 50's as Glen Troutman.) Johnny and June were in there alone
then, Glen talked with them about Rose Maddox whom Glen used to
perform with and Johnny and June loved her.
On October 11th, 2003 it was a honor and a bit surreal to me to have
W.S. Holland back me on drums at Overton Park Shell in Memphis. W.S.
hadn't played there since 1955 when he backed Johnny on the Elvis
Presley Show -- Johnny's first major performance.
With W.S. Holland behind me and guitarists Alan Clark and Pat
Woertink, Bob Timmers on tambourine we did "Big River" in tribute to
Johnny who passed away exactly a month before. I was honored to
present an award to W.S. Holland, with Pat Woertink CEO of Legend
Records (my recording label). The award was for W.S. Holland's years
of backing Johnny Cash.
When my debut album was released in July of 2003,the first person who
I sent a copy to was Johnny Cash, I recorded two of his songs,"Big
River" and "Sing It Pretty Sue". I am glad he lived to see me record
his music and dedicate my album to him.
On Monday I will be in the studio recording a tribute album to
Johnny,I will be recording a dozen of his songs as well as a original
song I wrote for him. It is a labor of love and I already intended to
do this as of this past August. Glen Glenn will also produce this
Ever since I was a kid, I listened to Johnny Cash,I was influenced by
him more than anyone and heard his voice more than any other. I
picked up his phrasing and felt his heart through the songs. I have a
deep voice like his due to that and being related to Country singer
Johnny Sea doesn't hurt, perhaps it is inherited. Johnny Sea was also
on Columbia and is well known for his hit, "If It Weren't For Hard
Luck I'd Have No Luck At All" and sounds remarkably like him. I will
not imitate Johnny, but I am in his same vocal range is what I am
There will NEVER be another Johnny Cash. I miss him. He called me
friend, I wish I got to know him more than I did. He will always be a
inspiration to me and will live on for generations because of his
sincerity, honesty, integrity and talent. He was faithful to God and to
his beloved wife June and their family. God bless his memory - Sincerely, Don Wilson
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