Tommy Cash back at the Palace . . .
NASHVILLE — Nostalgia ruled at the Nashville Palace as Tommy Cash sang his golden oldies, such as “Six White Horses,” “Rise and Shine” and “I’m Gonna Write a Song,” Sunday, Feb. 12. In fond remembrance, he covered big brother Johnny’s classics, including “Ring Of Fire” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
Nice show, with fine backing by pianist Willie Rainsford, guitarist Charlie Vaughan, steel guitarist Ron Elliott, drummer Dina Johnson, and bassist Larry Barnes, despite some technical problems with the sound system. It marked one of Tommy’s rare public appearances since the tragic death of his granddaughter Courtney, 23, some three years ago. (That’s Tommy at right, with bassist Larry Barnes.)
Tommy, 76, managed a few light-hearted quips, and made it even more special with his recollections of songs delivered, notably “Six White Horses,” a Top Five country click, simultaneously #1 on the Canadian chart (1969), and hit Billboard’s Hot 100 pop list, as well. Its composer Larry Murray wrote about America’s ill-fated 1960s’ political triumvirate – John and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. – assassinated in the prime of life. Reflecting on its timeliness, Tommy noted, “I found that song, rushed in and recorded it the next week.”
Actually Cash kicked off his Sunday show with Johnny’s 1958 rouser “Big River,” after alerting patrons his manager-wife Marcie was in the audience (seated with Kitty Wells’ niece Jean Stromatt), and there would be a new CD come spring. Early in his career Tommy traveled with Johnny’s major arena touring shows and appeared on his network TV series.
When Tommy tackled the Ivory Joe Hunter #1 rocker “Since I Met You, Baby” (1957) – also a #1 country cut for Sonny James (1969) – Ron got in a good instrumental riff, complementing Willie’s piano vamp, making it a clear crowd favorite.
Cash has been big on tribute songs, recalling his brother and Waylon Jennings in “My Mother’s Other Son,” a duet with another brother Tommy, Jennings; and there was “The Greatest Voice Is Gone,” a salute to George Jones, which he recorded in 2013, shortly after the Hall of Famer’s passing. He dusted off this sentimental song for the show, recalling he and Jones did duets on “Some Kind of Woman,” included on Cash’s 2008 “Fade To Black” album, and another tip-of-the-Stetson song, “Hank and Lefty, George and Me.”
Introducing his next number, Tommy confided, “I was present when this song was recorded, and it was co-written by June Carter (with Merle Kilgore), who would be my sister-in-law.” Initially penned with June’s sister Anita in mind, she did record a terrific vocal version sans horns in 1962, which had all the ear-marks of a hit. There’s no mistaking that familial Cash sound, especially when singing one of his brother’s hits, like “Folsom Prison Blues,” which he did at the Palace (though Tommy was always careful not to be another sound-alike).
Before kicking off “The Way We’re Living,” an obscure ballad, Cash mused, “This one I wrote . . . ,” a commentary on life back then, that may well apply today. Picking up the tempo, Tommy chose Hank Williams’ lively “Jambalaya,” which the band seemed to relish. Among music pros on hand to cheer him were guitarists Lynn Owsley, Jerry Green, Billy Robinson, Johnny Moore, engineer Mike Figlio with wife Rita (who used to run the restaurant Figlio’s On The Row) and former rocker Gene Kennedy.
Another audience pleaser was the countrypolitan gospel song “Rise and Shine,” which he’d first heard while in Wisconsin (by Carl Perkins, who wrote it), and so became Tommy’s second Top 10 single (1970). Glenn Sutton, his producer at Epic, wrote a pair of Top 40 tunes for Tommy – “The Tears On Lincoln’s Face,” “You’re Everything” – and the upbeat tune that closed Cash’s Palace performance, “I’m Gonna Write a Song (The Whole Wide World Can Sing).” Incidentally, both Jody Miller and the ex-Mrs. Sutton, Lynn Anderson, covered Cash’s cut. Yeah, “It’s gonna be about love/The one thing the world needs a lot more of/I’m gonna write a song that the whole wide world can sing . . . ”
Hearing this, we felt like playing fan and calling for an encore, that is Tommy doing his Top 10 “One Song Away,” written by Don Reid (The Statlers), who also supplied Tommy his Top 20 “So This Is Love” (co-written with fellow Statler Lew DeWitt). Missing, too, were his excellent renditions on “Sounds of Goodbye,” Tommy’s breakthrough Top 40 from 1968, co-written by Eddie Rabbitt (covered by George Morgan); “Your Lovin’ Takes the Leavin’ Out Of Me,” also from Rabbitt; and “I Recall a Gypsy Woman,” his last Top 20 (covered by Don Williams) in 1973.
True, he’s had a good ear, selecting some smooth sounds, and while some will argue that if he hadn’t been in the shadow of such a famous brother, they would’ve been chart-toppers. We can rely on our own judgment, without reinforcement of radio statistics, and from our vantage-point, Tommy Cash has more than made his mark. This day at the Palace was all the better because it benefits the non-profit musicians organization, Reunion Of Professional Entertainers (ROPE). Anxious now to hear the new CD, Mr. Cash. – WT