|Kenosha News | February
Johnny Cash tribute artist
to play Brat Stop on Saturday
By Bill Robbins
Hello, he's Johnny Combs.
The real Man in Black has moved
on to that big Folsom Prison in the sky, but Johnny Combs
stills hears that train a comin'.
Combs is a Johnny Cash tribute
performer who sings uncannily like the leather-faced, bass-and-baritone-voiced
Cash, who made an indelible mark on American country music
with treasures like "I Walk the Line," "Ring
of Fire" and "Jackson," which he sang with
his wife, June Carter Cash.
"I've pretty much devoted
my life to performing Johnny Cash songs," Combs said
in a telephone interview with the Kenosha News.
A Cincinnati resident who was
born in West Virginia, Combs retains the southern drawl.
"I started playing his songs
when I was in the Army, and I realized my voice sounded just
like his," said Combs.
"So I would play Johnny
Cash songs constantly," he said. "I was so serious
about it I would not play my guitar unless I was dressed
in black. It was like I was putting myself in the spirit
of things, so I could get the feel."
Combs spent 11 years in the Army,
and after he got out and returned to Cincinnati he began
playing Cash songs publicly at, contrastingly enough, area
honky-tonks and churches.
The recently retired school custodian
has played Cash tribute shows for more than two decades,
performing songs from all periods of Cash's life. He's doing
some touring, and will appear for the second time at the
Brat Stop on Saturday, Feb. 17.
Intriguingly, Combs met Cash
in the early 1980s when the country icon was filming a TV
movie, "The Pride of Jesse Hellam," in Cincinnati.
"I was dressing in black
and had my big Johnny Cash International Fan Club button
on," Combs said. "I told him I played nothing but
Cash autographed Combs' guitar,
then made a surprising, and somewhat ironic, comment.
"He told me to be myself," Combs
For the next few years, Combs
wrestled with exactly what Cash meant. And finally he came
to terms with it.
"When I sing Johnny Cash
songs I am being myself," he said. "I can sing
Ricky Nelson or Fats Domino songs – and I'll sound like Johnny
Cash singing Ricky Nelson or Fats Domino songs. That's my
Combs, who performs with a backup
band, is completing a CD of original songs, which he expects
to release soon.
"So it's kind of come full
circle," he said. "I sound like Johnny Cash naturally,
and I'm recording my own songs. I'm being myself and at the
same time I'm carrying on the Johnny Cash tradition."
Still, sometimes he feels like
a musical medium.
"I feel like his spirit
is with me when I'm on stage," Combs said. "It's
almost like he's doing the show instead of me – he's working
through me to get his songs out."