July, 2103 – Rhythms Magazine
Tex Perkins On His Role As Johnny Cash In The Man In Black
“This is a celebration of a flawed artist who in the end made a massive impact on music history and brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people.”
Tex Perkins man in black and Dadang Christanto’s moving tribute
Tex Perkins cashes in with The Man in Black
Amazing how a tribute show can stand in for the real thing. After seeing Tex Perkins perform as Johnny Cash in The Man in Black, I feel as though I’ve almost seen the real thing.
Over the two hours of performance Tex Perkins’ rounded bass/baritone voice booms out the lyrics to 20 of Cash’s best-known songs including Ring of Fire, I Walk the Line, Folsom Prison Blues, A Boy Named Sue, and Jackson with the boom-chica-boom rhythms of his backing band, The Tennessee Four. And he does a mighty fine version of playing the Man himself.
But The Man in Black, which played three nights last week in Lismore’s Star Court Theatre, is more than a musical tribute to Cash.
The yarns that unfold between these iconic songs from the twentieth century American songbook work as part-documentary and part-memoir and give plenty of context for those of us who’ve only had a passing relationship the American country music icon.
He doesn’t carry this off on his own however. As in Cash’s life, there was a strong woman by his side. Actor and singer, Rachel Tidd plays the role of Cash’s second wife, June Carter, who Cash performed and toured with for 35 years until she died in 2003.
Tidd’s alto voice is honey to Tex Perkins bass/baritone and her storytelling adds variety to the show. They duet on the Grammy Award-winning Jackson and she backs him up beautifully throughout the show.
The band that backs Tex and Rachel do a fine job and are rarely off the mark, led by musical director Steve Hadley on bass, and with David Folley on drums, Shane Reilly on electric guitar and Matt Walker on acoustic guitar.
A weakness of the show is probably its script, which appears to have been partly written from material gleaned directly from the Wikipedia entry on Cash.
That aside, Perkins tells the tale of Johnny Cash’s rise to fame and his well-documented drug and alcohol addictions, and run-ins with the law, sometimes switching to an American accent to directly quote Cash.
From his early life in the cotton fields to his famous performance in the Folsom Prison, we get an idea of the urge Cash had for social justice, and also for his appetite for cocaine and Jesus. An angel and a demon: one on each shoulder.
The show might not always be seamless, but it rarely drags and when it does, the Tennessee Four strikes up another song and off we go with that signature boom-chicka beat.
The show certainly went down a treat with the full house who sang and clapped along, and even danced up the back of the theatre.
Jeanti St Clair
ABC, North Coast NSW
11th April, 2012
The Man in Black – The Johnny Cash Story
Don’t get me wrong, I love political theatre that is controversial and thought provoking but sometimes it is nice to go to the theatre and just be entertained. And after the recent offerings of the big city theatre companies it is nice to be able to sit, enjoy and not worry about having to think up several polite ways to write ‘it kind of stunk’.
As I stood in the foyer waiting for the opening night of The Man in Black, one strange thought did cross my mind and that was how everyone in the foyer looked older than I thought they would. After all, this is Tex Perkins of The Cruel Sea and Beasts of Bourbon. I remember trudging through Sydney in my red Doc Martins with dyed black hair and industrial strength eyeliner (it’s not just for the eyes, you know) to see Tex perform and that was only just yesterday. Right? So as I stood in the foyer of the Playhouse Theatre on my forty-first birthday, it struck me like a lightening bolt. Oh dear god, I’m middle aged.
There have been many tours of those I loved from the eighties and nineties and I have been pretty lucky – Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran still looked good and sounded good and were aging like a fine wine rather than a piece of over ripe fruit. I went into the theatre hoping this would be the same.
The lights came up, and Tex looked different from the young, svelte dark haired rock dude I loved. He starts to sing ‘I Walk The Line’ and within the first few bars it is clear Tex is different and so much better. He looks good and sounds fantastic with a voice like dark chocolate coloured velvet.
The show is a simple series of monologues delivered by Perkins and Rachael Tidd who speak as narrators and Johnny and June Carter Cash respectively. They speak with ease and communicate comfortably with each other and the audience. Steve Hadley, David Folley, Shane Reilly and Shannon Bourne who together are The Tennessee Four accompany them and the whole package is smooth, slick and fun. Perkin’s voice is perfectly suited to Johnny Cash as is Rachel Tidd as his long time muse – June Carter Cash.
I left feeling beyond good, and realized we are all getting older but watching Tex Perkins on stage made me realize we are also getting better as with age comes the wisdom and nuance needed to perform like this.
His songs voiced the lives of the marginalised, the outlaw, the lonely and the damaged.His final hit was an unforgettable version of the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt. Released just before he died in 2003, it showed an old man’s mastery of emotional restraint, the stillness in the centre of Cash’s power. His achievement was remarkable. He wrote more than 1000 songs and recorded dozens of albums, releasing hit after hit.
An outsider to the end despite his fame, he stood at the crossroads of popular music, respected by artists as diverse as Bob Dylan and U2. One of his most celebrated albums was recorded in Folsom Prison in 1968, when he played his brand of gospel, rock and rhythm and blues for a truly captive audience. And it’s a re-enactment of this concert that is a highlight of The Man in Black. When Tex Perkins, formerly of the Cruel Sea and the Beasts of Bourbon, grabs the microphone and growls: “I’m Johnny Cash”, you believe him.
The Man in Black hardly qualifies as a jukebox musical. It’s a straight-up-and-down tribute concert, complete with TV-special dialogue between the songs, a sketchy biographical repartee tossed between Perkins and his perky co-singer Rachel Tidd. During the two-hour show we are told about Cash’s life: his tough childhood, the trauma of his brother’s death, his first marriage, his tumultuous but long-lasting marriage to June Carter, his enduring faith in God (“he could love Jesus and cocaine at the same time”). Like the stage set, which consists of black curtains, the set-up is as basic as it gets. Fortunately, Perkins has the voice and hard-man presence to channel the man himself.
He takes us through all the signature songs – Ring of Fire, Bird on a Wire, I Walk the Line and a goose-bump version of Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord) – ably backed by Tidd and the Tennessee Four (a tight band featuring Peter Luscombe and James Black of RocKwiz fame, Steve Hadley and Ashley Naylor). They generate a rough and stylish rock’n'roll energy that transcends the show’s slim premise, demonstrating that black never goes out of style.
By casting gangly country rock singer Tex Perkins as Cash, the producers got the best man for the job.
He … possesses the dark charisma of Cash, … relates to the dark material of the songs and has the range to cover Cash’s diverse musical palette that mixes up folk, blues, country, gospel and rockabilly.
Perkins is brilliantly backed by the Tennessee Four, featuring some of the country’s finest musicians, and Rachael Tidd, whose voice outshines June Carter’s.