Cash, Carl Perkins and Wootton play a Jerry Lewis telethon in the early 1970s.
Onstage you play Telecasters, like so many country guitarists. Have you always played Telecasters?
No, I didn’t. Fender gave me a blue Jazzmaster in 1968, and that’s the guitar I used on the At San Quentin album. I haven’t played it since 1971 or so. Then, they gave me a ‘71 Tele. It was white when I got it, but it’s yellowed since then. Then I went to Kramer in the ‘80s and they made a custom guitar for me that looked and felt like a Tele, and I played that for the longest time. I gave it to my older daughter Scarlett, and Montana, my younger daughter, has the Jazzmaster now. It’s been forty years since we did that San Quentin album, and we were going to do a return concert there to celebrate, but it never happened. Too many details and red tape, I guess.
Will you tell us about the Telecaster you’re using onstage now?
It’s a black reissue of a vintage ‘57 or ‘58 Tele. For what I do, the Tele is perfect for me. I’m a rock player, but I play a Telecaster too, a new one. You can’t kill them. I could throw mine out the window and it would stay in one piece and still play in tune.
I’m sure it would. I don’t bend a lot of strings, so mine stays in tune all night. Some of these rock guys bend their strings so much, they yank them out of tune right away, so they have to change guitars after every song.
Carl Perkins & Wootton, early 1970s.
A Fender Twin Reverb. I have always played Twins and still do. The one I have now is a reissue of the vintage models, but I still have about five of the old ones. Over the years, I’ve given some amps away. I gave my dad and my brothers guitars. I had plenty of them. You have to remember, we’re not a loud band, so the Twin is perfect, even though it can get very loud. People want to hear the words and the stories behind the songs, so we don’t kill them with volume.
Are you using any effects pedals either onstage or in the studio? If so, what are they?
Not now, but in the last few years with Johnny, I used distortion and echo on “Ghost Riders In the Sky.” I don’t use any now, because I don’t think they work for the music. I have enough trouble messing with the guitar and amp. I see these guys with their big pedalboards, and they’re messing around with batteries and wires.
In carrying on the tradition of Johnny Cash, you’re preserving the music of perhaps the greatest county artist who ever lived. Outside of the commercial aspects of making a living playing Cash’s music, do you feel an obligation to do this?
Yes. We’re trying to keep the sound alive. You never hear Marty Robbins’ music anymore and that’s a shame. He was one of my favorites. I enjoy playing Johnny’s music so much. We did about 70 dates last year, and will do about the same this year. Our biggest market is Canada. We do Ireland, Wales, England, and we just got back from Italy. We don’t do a lot of gigs in the States.
John had trouble getting booked down south. He could go to New York and the place would be packed like sardines, but we’d go to Atlanta, and the halls wouldn’t even be filled. And forget Nashville; John couldn’t get arrested there. They never knew what to make of him, as famous as he was. He never fit that mold of Nashville Country. We used to play Vegas about four weeks a year, but Johnny didn’t like playing there, because the people were too busy eating dinner and weren’t paying attention. Also, the climate was bad for his voice. It dried his throat out. John had a small humidifier on his mic stand when we played Vegas.