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 arrived yet.
           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 souvenirs.
           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 album.
           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 saying.
           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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