Gary James' Interview With Doug Benson Of
The Johnny Cash Tribute Band
Doug Benson is Johnny Cash, that is in the tribute band he put together called Cash'd Out.
Cash'd Out is referred to as the premier Johnny Cash tribute band in the world! In fact, they're the only tribute band endorsed and linked to the official Johnny Cash website. Cash'd Out has taken their act to venues like the Hard Rock Hotel in Los Angeles and The Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood. Doug Benson, who plays "the Man In Black", talked to us about his career.
Q - Doug, to be honest with you, I haven't heard of any other Johnny Cash tribute act. I guess that means you have the field to yourself then?
A - Do I have the field all to myself? I don't know. We're not the only band that does that. There's a bunch of different bands out there that do it. Pretty good ones actually. I gotta say we're the best, I think.
Q - You've gotta say that!
A - No. I'm just kidding. We do a pretty good job at it.
Q - When you were growing up, was Johnny Cash one of your favorites?
A - I grew up in San Diego. It was real hard to hear Johnny Cash in San Diego, growing up in the '80s. So I didn't really get to hear a lot of him. I heard some songs and knew that I liked him when I was a kid. But my Dad didn't raise me on Johnny Cash. Most people say "My Dad, my Grandfather raised me on this music." I didn't get that. My Dad was more into Gospel stuff, like Christian music that at the time I didn't really appreciate too much, as a kid. (laughs)
Q - If I'm not mistaken, Johnny Cash loved Gospel music.
A - Sure, yeah, he did. But my Dad was never really into Johnny Cash. He told me one time that he thought he talked through most of his songs. I was like, "What?" I showed my Dad Johnny Cash rather than him showing me Johnny Cash. I always knew that I liked him a lot. There was something that drew me to that voice.
Q - Did you ever see Johnny Cash in concert?
A - I never had a chance to do that. I only got to see him offstage.
Q - I guess that means you never had the opportunity to see him offstage.
A - Nope. I never got to see him in person. I have had the opportunity to meet some of his family though. Since we've been doing this, I've met his daughter Cindy and his son John Carter and some people that worked with him, like Mr. Lou Robin. He was his manager for thirty-some-odd years and one of his best friends, Bill Miller, who runs JohnnyCash.com. Actually he's the one who introduced me to all those people. They've seen us play and they really enjoy it. Actually, Lou Robin told me one time, "I could close my eyes and it was like I was going back in time."
Q - That's a nice compliment.
A - It's huge! Cindy Cash thanked me for doing it. She said we're doing a great thing and that we made her cry and then she took off a necklace she had around her neck and put it around mine. It had a little glass locket on there. I said "That's nice. What's here? What's in this?" She said "That's a lock of my Dad's hair." So, she's been pretty gracious.
Q - I don't know how many guys have that happen to them.
A - Probably not many.
Q - How did this whole Johnny Cash tribute group start?
A - Well, it's kind of weird. I really started listening to Johnny Cash almost religiously back in like, 1998 I think it was. My friends and I have a family of friends we know down in San Felipe, Mexico. We were down there for a weekend and somebody bought a tape called "Hello. I'm Johnny Cash", and it played for four days straight. It was on one of those tape players with batteries that gets to the end of the tape and it reverses itself. So nobody took it out. It's kind of weird. It played twenty-four hours a day 'cause down there, somebody was awake at some point of the day or night. So it was pretty much played constantly until the batteries ran out and then we'd search for batteries and play it again. After the first, I don't know, four hours of that, sitting around the campfire and everybody's just kind of singing along and drinking their beer, I just happened to start singing a little bit. One of my friends leaned over to me and said "Hey man, you kind of sound like 'ole Johnny. Tell me the story about the mud and the blood."(laughs) That was the first time anybody ever told me that I sounded like Johnny Cash. I just fell in love with Johnny Cash, Willie and Waylon. That's pretty much all I listened to for the next five years. You know, Merle Haggard and those guys.
Q - Had you been in a band before that?
A - No. I'd never been in a band. This is the only band I've ever been in. I started it when I was 34, I think it was. About seven years ago.
Q - Was it hard to find guys who said "Doug, that's a good idea. We'll join your band"?
A - Well, not really. I probably interviewed five or six guys until I found the guy I wanted. I kind of lied. I put an ad in the San Diego Reader. It said "Johnny Cash tribute band needs a guitar player. Must play like Luthor Perkins." (laughs) My guitar player answered it. He goes "Where's the rest of the band?" I said "Well, it's just you and I right now. I was just hopin' that you could find a drummer and bass player for me." (laughs)
Q - What did he say?
A - He kind of chuckled. He said "Well, you said you had a whole band." I said "I know. But I know what I need. I got the voice. You got the guitar. That's all we need. We'll find a bass player and drummer later." Johnny Cash had Luthor first pretty much. Actually
Marshall Grant, Luthor and Johnny all worked together before they started the band.
Q - What would you like to do with this act that you're not already doing? Would you like to tour overseas?
A - I definitely want to tour overseas. I want to be on tour as much as Willie Nelson is on tour. He's on tour all the time. I would love to do that, but it takes money and a comfortable bus. Right now we're touring in a white Ford E-350 van that has two seats, the driver's seat and the co-pilot's seat and that's it. Even though it's been a good van for us, we're looking for something that we can actually get out on the road and really do a month or two out on the road without all being stuck in a little van. We'd really love to do that. I'd really love to get to Europe. I think Japan would love it too. One of my cousins, Scott Sherwood, used to own a surfboard company that him and I started years ago. He brought some of his Japanese reps that flew down to see his surfboards. They were buying his surfboards and sending 'em back to Japan. So, they had, I don't know, four or five of 'em at the show. He brought 'em to one of the shows. He told me a couple weeks later that they went back to Japan and actually told people back there that they saw Johnny 'live' singing. I guess they got laughed at by a couple of people 'cause they said he was dead.
Q - You need to be in contact with some Japanese agents and / or promoters.
A - Yeah. I'd really love to get over there and do that. We could get over there. We have enough money to buy plane tickets. It's just we have to make sure we make enough money to support our families back here.
Q - So, you're pretty much devoting full-time to this project aren't you, or do you have something else going on the side?
A - Kevin, our guitar player, he works on the side during the week right now as a painter, helping out his buddy. He's actually a foreman for his buddy's company. He gives him any time he needs to take off when we actually do travel for a couple of weeks. This is all I do for a living. Sometimes I help one of my friends out who's a general contractor. I've been helping him out during the week 'cause he just bought a new house. He gutted the inside of it and I helped him with a lot of the demolition. I've been keeping myself busy during the week, but I'd rather be on the road singing, for sure.
Q - How many gigs a year do you play?
A - Well, I haven't really sat down and figured that out. We pretty much play and average of two shows a weekend and then maybe three or four times a year take off on like a week and a half to three weeks tour. I go back East. We've been as far as Grand Rapids, Michigan and as far South as El Paso, Texas. We've got a lot of ground to cover and we'd like to get back to the East coast. We'd like to do a lot more through the South that we haven't been. We haven't been able to get to the true South yet. If it was up to me and I had all the funds to get a bus, just a nice bus like Dale Watson has. Dale Watson is a good friend of ours and we've actually been talking to him about putting together a package show, Cash'd Out, Dale Watson and maybe another band with a girl in it that we could take on the road and do a little package show that Johnny Cash used to do. They used to travel around and have three or four bands with 'em everywhere they went in the old days. We'd like to get that set up.
Q - Who's your agent?
A - We have Hello booking. They're good. I like 'em a lot. It' just, it's really uncomfortable to be in that van for so long that it's hard to get to the East coast and do a trip 'cause it would take us what, like three days at least to get from here to the East coast and to travel up and down the coast in that little van that we have. So, if you know anybody... If there's anybody out there that has a bus and they want to give us a real tour bus, we'd be more than willing to do it.
Q - How have you been received by the audiences you've performed for?
A - Some towns are automatically just full, packed. For some reason, that town just loves their Johnny Cash, like Seattle for instance, has been sold out. Probably had a lot to do with the promoters too. A booking agency is not the same as a promoter. Each club seems to have a different way of promoting their thing or whatever. I don't know all the ins and outs of why that happens.
Q - Do you have any recorded product out?
A - We have one that's in the process, but we kind of lagged on getting it (out). We actually got it finished, but we never went to get it mastered because we started talking to this new company that's out that we're still negotiating a contract for. It's a new record company called, I think, Mirror Image Music. It's supposed to be a record company based around tribute acts and cover acts. They wanted us to do a bunch of songs. It's like they would get the rights to a bunch of songs that Johnny Cash never got to do, that we liked, and try to do 'em the way Johnny Cash would've done 'em. So, we're still in the process of doing that. So, in the meantime, that's being worked out and we can't put out this old one we've had for a couple of years. Now, we're in this negotiation for this contract and who knows how long that's gonna take. (laughs)