The Black Inside The Rainbow

All photos by Andre Gagne,

“Success is having to worry about every damn thing in the world, except money.”  -Johnny Cash

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” said a man onstage who isn’t Johnny Cash, before lifting his guitar into the air to add a little Black to The Rainbow Bistro. The Man In Black himself would have turned 84 on February 26th, and local musicians, fans and dudes who just want to sing “Ring Of Fire”  gathered for “Cash Bash” to pay tribute to Johnny for the sixth year in a row.

Cash’s story has become well known since the release of Walk the Line in 2005. He was born in ’32 to Southern Baptist sharecroppers that couldn’t quite settle on a name for the boy. They called him J.R. He was raised working the cotton fields often singing while picking. Taught how to strum the guitar by his mother, Cash started taking it more seriously at a young age. He was writing songs at 12, the same year his brother Frank was killed in a mill accident. Johnny helped dig the grave.

After a stint in the Air Force, and marriage number one, Cash moved his family to Memphis and took up a job selling appliances door to door while studying to be a radio announcer. Around then Johnny met guitarist Luther Perkins and bass player Marshall Grant. They were called the Tennessee Two and Cash made it Three. Together they created a style of music that has been called “boom-chicka-boom.” Listen to it and you’ll see why. Cash started wearing dark clothes and the nickname “The Man In Black” followed him for his entire career. The three mustered up the courage to visit legendary Sun Studios and impressed influential producer Sam Phillips to make a couple of recordings. The rest, as they say, is history.

“He was the original punk – he took big band country songs and said: “Hey, I can play this with two guitars and a bass”,” says Lefty McRighty (AKA Greg Harris), one half of the organizers of Cash Bash.

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Lefty used to do a show on CHUO called Lefty’s Roadhouse which was brought to CKCU when he moved to that station. You can now listen to him and co-Bash organizer Ray Harris every Friday from 10-midnight on Friday Nite Truck Stop. Harris and Lefty formed a band called The Whiskey Standards and the Bash was organized not only as a way for the two to pay tribute to Cash but also as a fundraiser for the radio station. Neither have ever met the man, but Ray once stole a rock from the place where his driveway used to be before one of the Bee Gees accidentally burned it down. He also got a piece of the fence.

“We also visited his grave. Very moving experience,” says Harris.  “Surprisingly, it’s smack dab in the middle of a subdivision! Personally, when he died, I felt like I’d lost a family member, like a favourite uncle or something. Not ashamed to say that I cried.”

Lefty discovered Cash by way of a monster truck. A monster truck in a video game, that is. A year after hearing the tune in the game he picked up Live at Folsom Prison for a quarter and learned to play “Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart” in a day. Not one of Johnny’s bigger hits, but damned if it don’t put a smile on your mug.

The Rainbow is the perfect joint for this kind of show. You could picture this place on some Texas roadside, neon sign with a letter or two blinking to near burn out, with its abundance of wood, upper loft and crannies you can wedge yourself into if solitude is what you’re seeking with your drink of choice. The design, now including various photos of those who have played the stage since night-one in ’84, is just what you’d expect from the former bartenders who opened the place to hear a little Blues.

The first few Cash Bashes were held at the Elmdale, but packing the Rainbow has never been a problem for the Lefty and Ray. The Cash tunes and atmosphere alone would be enough to bring in the crowd. But the organizers also bring along some guests.

“KJ Thomas is making her first appearance at the Cash Bash,” says Lefty. “She’s a newcomer to the scene but she’s a spitfire on the mic. She sings in a band called The Rusty Frets. She’ll be the June to my Johnny!”

They tore up the place with the song “Jackson.”

Making a return to the Bash was Lynne Hanson. Having just released a disc of murder songs, 7 Deadly Spins, it was fitting she played “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town”. Other guests included Jack Pine, Kevin Schofield, Kristine St-Pierre and Tariq Anwar. Each brought their own slant to the hits. “Rock Island Line,” “Big River,” “Orange Blossom Special,” “One Piece At A Time” and “Ghost Riders In The Sky” joined other tunes in the Cash case you may not have brought out before. Sarah McClurg and Samantha Timmins were both surprised to find that, when it came time to choosing their own tunes, “Walk The Line” and “Ring of Fire” were still free.

Patrons could also purchase raffle tickets for prizes including a custom designed Johnny Cash guitar. After two solid sets the music didn’t let up. Lefty proclaimed at last year’s Bash, where they played the full Folsom Prison album, that he’d keep at it until they all left or he was too drunk to stand. They weren’t leaving so Lefty grabbed another beer, raised ‘er and looked ahead to Cash Bash 7 and a night that was still too damn young for anybody to pack it in.

“The attitude, the stance, the conviction, the badass, the family man, the survivor, the spiritual man, the common man, the romantic, the darkness, the light, there’s some element of JC, his music or his persona that everyone can relate to,” says Harris on how Cash continues to attract fans from all walks of life.

Lefty adds: “He truly was a rebel, and anyone that’s not into country music can look past the music and see that.”