The Man in Black at the Blue Gate
“We grew up in the same small town. I was just a little kid and at home we used to listen to Johnny Cash all the time. The whole family adored him. In fact, everyone loved him because he was so close to the people. He sang for ordinary folk and, even after he became famous, he still remained accessible. And the train he talks about in his songs used to pass behind our house…”
Shawn Barkker’s only regret is not having seen his idol perform on stage. “I learned to impersonate him by watching archive footage, videos, films, and by reading his biography,” adds the tribute artist who formerly por- trayed Elvis Presley (visit YouTube).
When auditioning for the part of Elvis in a Hollywood production called The Million Dollar Quartet (which was to bring together Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins look-alikes), Shawn suddenly came down with a sore throat and was unable to reach the higher notes in some of the Presley songs. “When the producer saw my resemblance to Johnny Cash, he asked me if I could impersonate him. And that’s how the great adventure began. And I was also aware that there were a lot of Elvis imper- sonators out there and I realized that it would be easier to make a name for myself playing Johnny Cash.”
THE MAN IN BLACK
From that moment on, the singer, who now lives in Illinois with his wife Nina and their two sons Nazareth and Noah, has been offering 100 to 150 performances of The Man in Black show every year, not only in the United States but also as far away as Australia. He has even proposed three series of shows in Las Vegas but for him taking up permanent residence in a city he deems “too artificial in every respect” is out of the question. When asked to name his favorite Johnny Cash song, Shawn replies: “Cocaine Blues, which dates back to his early beginnings, and Hurt, the very last song he recorded. These two very different worlds touch me profoundly.” During his two-hour show, accompanied by four musicians and two back-up singers, Barker interprets thirty or so Cash songs selected from an extensive repertoire of 1,500 recorded songs. “That’s twice as many as Elvis,” points out the artist.
THE LIFE OF JOHNNY CASH
● Johnny Cash was born in 1932 in Arkansas where he died on September 12, 2003.
● He was known for his political convictions and his defense of prisoners’ rights.
● As a child, he worked alongside his family in the cotton fields where he became immersed in workers’ songs.
● During the 1960s, he toured with singer June Carter and an ambiguous love affair developed between the two artists, who were both married to someone else; moreover, Cash was the father of two young children.
● In 1963, Ring of Fire was released, a song written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore that talks of the singer’s addiction to drugs and alcohol.
● In 1965, he was arrested by a narcotics squad in El Paso, Texas, on suspi- cion of heroin smuggling, but it was amphetamines that were found in his belongings.
● When serving in the military and stationed in Germany, he watched the documentary Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951) and this triggered his great compassion for prisoners.
● Many artists have performed renditions of Johnny Cash songs; during a concert in 1988, Frank Zappa offered a reggae version of Ring of Fire.
● June Carter died in May 2003 of complications from heart surgery; Johnny Cash outlived her by only four months.