Gary James' Interview With Johnny Cash Tribute Artist
He looks like Johnny Cash. He sounds like Johnny Cash. He has been so successful with his Johnny Cash tribute that he has taken his act to Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, four 26-city tours of Australia and all across the U.S. Who are we talking about? Mr. Philip Bauer, that's who.
Q - Philip, you started your singing career in 1985, but when did you start doing Johnny Cash tribute?
A - I've been singing all my life. That was my first big contest win back then. I do a show with different voices. Somebody said, "Why don't you take one of these voices, do the costuming and just concentrate on one of the voices?" I thought, 'Well, that won't work.' (laughs) But it did. I took Johnny Cash and I did the costuming. What I did was, I watched YouTube videos of him and I turned the sound off and then I just watched his stage performance and got all his moves. I knew I had the voice, but I didn't have all the idiosyncrasies that he does. I did that for about two months 'til it became muscle memory and I did a show and they put it on YouTube. All of a sudden people all over the country were calling the venue, saying "Who is this guy?" So I started sending that video out to people and the rest is history. It's all over the world now.
Q - What other singer's voices were you imitating?
A - I'd do a Neil Diamond show, a Conway Twitty. I'd do a bunch of voices without the costuming. I do Willie Nelson, Tom Jones, Elvis, Johnny Mathis, Sammy Davis Jr.
Q - You're a one-man Vegas act is what you are!
A - (laughs) I wish.
Q - You started singing at the Minnesota State Fair?
A - Yeah. I'm from Minneapolis originally.
Q - How popular was Johnny Cash in Minneapolis?
A - I used to watch his TV show when I was a kid and that was a big deal. I was kind of old school, so kids my age didn't understand why I liked Johnny Cash, but I did. I watched him and I watched the Glen Campbell Show. I loved that stuff.
Q - You've got some original material as well. Doing a tribute show like this, does that help get the word out about that material?
A - Once in a while I sneak one of my originals into my Johnny Cash show. I just say, "A friend of mine, Philip Bauer wrote this next song." (laughs) I throw it in there, but I've kind of given up on my own original stuff. Johnny Cash pays the bills.
Q - Johnny Cash's drummer, W.S. Holland played with you?
A - Yeah. I did a show with him down in Louisiana and he just said, "Man, it was really spooky playing behind you." (laughs)
Q - He did just the one show with you?
A - Yeah. He did one show with me. I got to talk to him for a long time. He told me a lot of great stories. We were at rehearsal and he said, "Now, if you don't like what I'm doing, do exactly what Johnny Cash did and don't say a word." (laughs) I said, "Okay." He was great. He's like 80 years old now. He can still really play well.
Q - Are you booking your shows or is somebody booking them for you?
A - Both. I have a manager in Nashville, Tennessee and he books a lot of my stuff. I've got a guy in Portland, Oregon who books me some stuff. So it's kind of a mixture. The Australia show is called "The Kings Of Country" and it's Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson and me. I did a show up in Michigan and met the Kenny Rogers guy and years later he was over in Australia doing a Kenny Rogers / Dolly Parton show. That kind of ran its course. He said, "Well, let's try this." So, he called me and said, "I saw your act. We were together in Michigan that time. Do you want to do a tour of Australia?" I said, "Of course." So, we've been doing that every year now.
Q - Since you've done four tours in Australia, they must really like Johnny Cash down under.
A - They do, man. They love it. People come to me after the show and say, "I drove 500 miles to hear you." It's amazing.