(Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)
Even though the "Man in Black" is gone, the two remaining members of the band who helped create his unique sound continue to pay tribute to him. Only two original members of the group remain, Bob Wootton, guitarist and lead vocalist, and W.S. Holland, on the drums. Holland, formerly of Paris, Ark., joined the group in 1960 and Wootton, from Saltillo, Tenn., joined in 1968.
"The title of our album, The Sound Must Go On, reflects the sound our fans expect to hear from us," Holland said. "They want stirring and emotional songs, and that familiar boom, chikka-boom beat."
The Tennessee Three is carrying on another Cash tradition, the inclusion of family members in the act. New band members added for the tour include Wootton's wife Vicky Wootton, with vocals and rhythm guitar, his daughter Scarlett Wootton, vocals, and Lisa Horngren, vocals and the upright bass. On occasion his youngest daughter Montana Wootton, 8, makes a special appearance.
A crowd gathered at the old Dyess High School Saturday afternoon and took great pleasure in seeing the "JC Unit One" tour bus pull up out front. The tour bus has as much nostalgia wrapped up in it as the Tennessee Three do.
The historic tour bus was customised by Johnny Cash in 1979 and was the only private bus that Cash ever owned and toured in.
"This bus served as a home on wheels when Johnny (Cash) and his wife June Carter traveled the country," Wootton said. "They put a lot of little things inside it that reminded them of home. The door to the bathroom is covered with alligator hide. Johnny claimed he killed it in the Bahamas, although we aren't sure if he did or not. There is a wooden door near the entrance that is made from walnut wood from their Hendersonville, Tenn. farm."
"Johnny sold the tour bus three months before his death in 2003 to the American Heritage Music Foundation in Blytheville," said Trevor Chowning, TN3's personal manager. "They in turn sold it to MotoeXotica in St. Louis, Mo., who auctioned it on e-Bay. Dave Wright, of Columbus, Ohio, purchased the vehicle on e-Bay Motors in November 2003 and had it restored to its original condition. He has loaned it to the Tennessee Three for their tour, and hopes to donate it to a museum afterwards."
Chowning said the vehicle was also used for the 1991 Highwayman Tour, to transport Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson.
"At one time we all traveled in vans or a Bluebird school bus," Holland said. "It was quite a luxury when we got this nice tour bus. Johnny Cash traveled on this bus for 17 years."
Dyess Mayor Larry Sims greeted Wootton and Holland as they made their exit from the bus. He invited them inside the gymnasium to take part in the big country meal he had promised would be waiting for them. The table inside were filled with barbecue and all the trimmings, along with homemade cakes and pies, and gallons of sweet tea.
Area vocalist and musician Barbara Warhurst played familiar country songs in the background, much to delight of the visitors, as they have made music their life.
"We are so pleased to have the Tennessee Three here in Dyess, where Johnny (Cash) grew up," Sims said. "We feel like they are part of our family too. They are coming back on July 8 to entertain as part of our fundraiser to establish a Dyess-Johnny Cash Memorial.
"Since the movie "Walk the Line" came out and people found out part of it was filmed here, we have had a lot of visitors come to town," Sims said. "We don't have anything here to pay tribute to Johnny Cash, and we thought this would be the best year to do something about that.
"Johnny's brother Tommy Cash has pledged his support in helping with the fundraiser, and recording artist Buddy Jewell has agreed to donate his time to present a concert as a fundraiser for the memorial. So many people have agreed to help us, that this may turn into a whole weekend event. We will be back in July."
"We have renovated the old gymnasium and will be erecting a stage for the performances," he said. "We had to take up the gym's wooden floor and will be painting the concrete underneath. We hope to be able to seat 1,000 people in the gym per performance. Some groups may do more than one performance."
"We have been on tour for three weeks," Wootton said. "Our last concert was at the Snorty Horse, in Mt. Vernon, Mo., last night. We couldn't go back to California without heading south to Dyess. We have been anxious to see this town for ourselves and meet the people. They sure have gone out of their way to show us great Southern hospitality. We want to help them raise the money for the memorial, as it would be fitting, and we know Johnny would have loved it."
"We want to see if we can help create enough excitement for the fundraiser to build a very nice memorial for Johnny Cash," Holland said. "He wrote and sang about his life here in Dyess all of his life."
"The first song I ever heard Johnny sing was "I Walk the Line," Wootton said.
He couldn't resist bursting out in a chorus or two of the song. He sounds remarkably like Cash, and even has a striking resemblance. He has even worked as a Cash double upon occasion, when Johnny was alive.
"We have been overwhelmed by the show of support for our Cash memorial event," Sims said. "National recording artists and local musicians have volunteered their time and expressed interest in making a contribution to our July event."
Even Willie Stegall, owner of Johnny Cash's homeplace, west of Dyess, has expressed interest in possibly opening his home for tours.
"I have lived in Johnny's former house for 33 years," Stegall said. "Johnny came by many times to look at the house after he left here. His days spent here were very eventful in his life growing up. Even Joaquin Phoenix, who played Johnny in the movie, came out to my house when he was in town filming. He gave me some of Johnny's books and a big cigar. I smoked on that cigar for days. I want to do something to help also, as we just have to erect a memorial for such a famous man as Johnny Cash. He remembered us, now it is our time to remember him."