It may not be a sin to admit at this point, but I'm not a huge Johnny Cash fan. Much respect, but I never felt compelled to delve into his canon. He's more iconic than musical to me.
I'm also not really into "tribute" bands. They're like an artist's rendition of good porn or eating anything that "tastes like chicken." If I can't do drive-thru KFC, I'd rather have a sandwich. But, unlike some fans of original new music, I don't detest tribute bands (although if you think Dread Zeppelin is fun, you are truly clueless).
So then why did I volunteer to write a story about San Diego's premier Johnny Cash tribute band? Because I get to stretch a little and explore-possibly prove myself wrong in the process.
Cash'd Out is vocalist-guitarist Douglas Benson, bassist Sean Glithero, drummer Charlie Henning and lead guitarist Kevin Manuel. Benson and Manuel have been playing since a classified ad brought them together around November 2004, and the group formed in May of last year.
They don't like the term "Johnny Cash tribute band," but, well, tough. It's a more adequate description and just plain easier to write than "paying homage to the Man-in-Black band" or whatever PR malarkie they tried to feed me.
A few weeks ago, I sat down and talked with everyone at Manuel's place near University Heights. Among the things we talked about was the film Walk the Line, the source of a lot of Ray: The Sequel Oscar talk. Henning is the only one who, inexplicably, hasn't seen the damn thing.
"We were kinda worried that once the movie comes out that people would be like "Oh, you're cashing in on Cash,'" said Glithero. "But we had this thing going before we knew there was a movie coming out or anything."
"Joaquin Phoenix did an alright job singing the songs," Manuel added, "but he ain't no Johnny Cash."
Indeed. Neither is Benson, and they know this. Even during moments of "We can play with anyone" confidence, there's an eagerness to shift the conversation to you-know-who. They do advertise themselves as "the next best thing to," and the only thing better than the next best thing happens to be dead. So, by fatal default, they've cornered the market.
But someone close to the real dead man took notice of Cash'd Out and was impressed enough to add a link to their website on the official Johnny Cash site-the first such link the site's 10-year existence.
That someone was Bill Miller, author of the biography Cash: An American Man and content provider for the website. Miller has also apparently suggested Cash'd Out record at Sun Records, where Cash began his career. It would make them the second San Diego band to have done so; The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash (not a tribute band) recorded there a few years back.
Cash'd Out hasn't set a session at Sun just yet, but they have entertained the idea of writing some original material, in addition to the 80 or so Cash tunes they perform. It's a strange and ultimately unnecessary idea. As good as they are at aping the real thing, it seems this is what they were meant to do.
"If we're gonna do our own stuff, it might be a hindrance to us even. But when we do our own stuff, it's gonna sound like Johnny Cash did it," Benson explains. "My voice doesn't do anything else."Cash'd Out plays with The Farmers at The Casbah on Jan. 13. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. $10. 619-232-4355.