Walking the line: David James and Big River perform Johnny Cash Tribute at Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre

Johnny Cash tribute artist offers up songs, jokes and stories inspired by the man in black.

David James

Musician and Johnny Cash tribute artist David James says it was Joaquin Phoenix who inspired him to begin performing as the notorious ‘man in black.’

“I was just at the end of my marriage and I was seeing a lady and we were watching Walk the Line. I started singing along. She stopped the movie and said ‘you sound closer to Johnny than Joaquin does,” said James.

Already familiar with Cash’s music, James said watching the film allowed him to rediscover the wonderful performer Cash was. He also connected to Cash through similarities both had in their lives.

“I had a similar life minus the millions of dollars. I walked the line with drugs,” he said.

James said the discovery of Cash’s music was during the time he himself had started to clean up. He was in his 40s at the time.

James started to add a medley of Cash songs to his performances. Prior to that James had mainly played guitar and back-up vocals in bands.

“There aren’t really many baritone singers,” he said.

The result was astounding. People loved hearing James sing Cash’s songs and the release of the movie Walk the Line meant a younger group were keen on listening.

The resurgence of Cash’s music over the years has led to many people being familiar with some of his more popular tunes such as Folsom Prison Blues, Ring of Fire, and Walk the Line. Asked what his favourite lesser-known Cash tune is, James replied with Orange Blossom Special.

“It’s an old fiddle tune. Johnny and Jimmy Dean did a version. Instead of fiddle they used harmonica. It’s quite a show stopper,” said James.

James may have the baritone voice to match Cash, but that isn’t enough. He also attempts to match the man in black’s penchant for story telling between songs. It’s something he says Revelstoke can expect when David James and Big River perform at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre.

“We’re gonna play all the favourites. We’re gonna tell stories in between and get into things that maybe not everyone knew about Johnny and June,” he said. “We’re going to take people back in time.”

James has been approached by people who saw Johnny Cash live. They said James’ tribute performance took them back years. He also admits to telling a few jokes, much like Cash would.

“I’m a bit of an amateur comedian like Johnny was. He talked to his crowd,” said James.

David James and Big River play at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre on Tuesday, October 24 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased at revelstokeartscouncil.com or by calling 250-814-9325.