Big River, a tribute to Johnny Cash, isn’t 100 per cent note perfect.
And that’s just in keeping with the country music artist himself who called himself “the biggest sinner of them all.”
That slight imperfection is part of what sets their tribute act apart, according to David James, who plays the Man in Black in Big River.
The show is Friday Aug. 5 at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre.
“We’re capturing the spirit of man,” James tells The Progress.
The show will cover the early Johnny Cash of the ’50s, right through to the new millennium, with his mannerisms, that voice and the trademark “boom-chicka-boom” sound that echoed freight train rhythms.
James is being interviewed on his cell, while in line at a 7-11 to buy his morning coffee and some smokes.
“What we do is line it up and bring it,” he continues.
“Big River is a high energy show, and that’s cause we ain’t pretending, we’re doing it.”
He points to director Francis Ford Coppola who famously said his film, Apocalypse Now, wasn’t about Vietnam, it “was” Vietnam.
“In the same way, Big river isn’t about Johnny Cash, it is Johnny Cash,” he says. “Come to my show and I’ll fool you good.”
His speaking voice is eerily similar to the famous singer-songwriter who was known for his rich, baritone-bass.
How did James study Cash to be able to recreate his sound so well?
Watching the bio-pic Walk the Line, was part of it for the singer.
“I saw myself in him,” said James.
A rural Alberta upbringing for tribute artist meant many of his friends were farmers, and he grew up listening to country and western. His dad made it his mission to introduce the younger James to artists he considered the “real deal,” like Cash.
But James eventually went on to play in rock bands, not country, often as a weekend warrior, while painting houses for a living.
He remembers looking at his year book where he dreamed of a becoming a professional musician, but that dream got away from him for a while.
“Everybody slips,” he says.
He fell into a similar trap as Cash in the early days, James admits. For Cash it was a dalliance with booze, speed and barbiturates, but for James it was cocaine and other pitfalls that go with the rock and roll life.
“I went in the same direction as him in the bad-boy department early on. But when I came off of it, I ran into Johnny’s music and I discovered I could sound like him.”
He’s never seen a performer like Cash with such magnetism.
“Even Elvis didn’t even have that power.”
These days Big River has sold-out shows across Western Canada and earned the praise of everyone from little old ladies to 10-year-olds in black cowboy hats.
Now he gets a real kick out of telling the old Johnny Cash stories.
“We tend to take it over the top a little bit,” he says.
Check out more at www.johnnycashtribute.ca
Big River, A Tribute to Johnny Cash, Friday, Aug. 5, at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre, doors at 7 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m., tickets $27.50 (plus fees) at 604-391-SHOW (7469)) or www.chilliwackculturalcentre.ca