Some people may call it destiny. Others may
say there were divine forces at work. This writer
calls it spiritually astounding in the most positive sense of the word. Whatever it was, guitarist Bob Wootton inherently knew at an early
age that his life’s calling was to play music with
Johnny Cash. The amazing thing is he achieved
that goal, serving for nearly thirty years as
Cash’s lead guitarist, replacing the late Luther
Perkins, who had been killed in a tragic house
fire. Bob even worked as Cash’s screen double
in movies and television shows, and eventually
became Cash’s brother-in-law by marrying June
Carter’s sister, Anita. The two men shared an
extremely strong bond for decades that continues to this day, six years after Cash’s death.
After Cash retired in 1997, Wootton left the music business and drove a tour bus for several years, and participated in a Cash tribute show here he sang many of Cash’s songs. Along the way, Bob was elected to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and was also recognized as one of the Top 1000 guitarists of all time. There’s a move- ment going on right now to get him elected to the Musician’s Hall of Fame.
In 2006, after the aforementioned tribute show
fired Wootton’s desire to keep Cash’s sound
alive, he reorganized the Tennessee Three with
original drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland (who
left in 2007), and assumed the role of Cash
himself, playing and singing the songs in the
style of the Man in Black, much to the delight
of Cash fans worldwide. Today, he plays about
seventy shows a year with a crack band that
includes his wife, Vikki, on acoustic guitar and
vocals, along with daughters Montana and
Scarlett, who sing and play guitar. The apples
clearly don’t fall far from the tree, as they say.
Let’s start at the beginning: how and when
did you discover the guitar?
I guess I was about eleven when I started
playing. My dad played guitar; he was one
of seven children in his family. He taught me
my first chords, and we played together a lot.
He’d call out chord changes to me, and I’d try
and make them. His family all played music
in the mountains of Arkansas. I grew up with
hillbilly music, playing on the back porch. One
day, I was out there, and my mother called me
into the house. She said, “There’s someone on
the radio that sounds like you.” It was the first
time I’d heard Johnny Cash, and I instantly
loved his sound. My voice was lower than
most boys my age, so I guess I did sound like
him even back then.
I said to my mother, “Who is that?” She
said, “Johnny Cash & the Tennessee
Three.” From then on, every penny I had
I spent on Johnny Cash records: 78s, 45s
and albums, and I still have them all, including promo copies and other rare things.
The first record I ever owned was one by
Johnny Cash. I just knew I was going to
play with him one day, and I loved Luther’s
guitar playing, so I listened to the records
over and over, and copied that boom-chic-ka-boom sound just like Luther.
Would you also tell us about your “audition”
I went to Fayetteville, Arkansas on September
17, 1968 to see Johnny, and most of his band
had been stranded at the airport. Now, it
was show time and no band. The only ones
there were June Carter and Fluke Holland.
This girl I was with went up to June and said,
“This guy can play guitar Luther-style.” So,
June took me over to John who was onstage
already, and we talked for a minute, I borrowed Carl Perkins’s guitar, and went onstage
with Johnny. Luckily, I knew every song Johnny
called out. I was nervous, but it worked out
well. After we were done, Johnny said he
might be calling me at some point to do some
playing together. He called me a few days
later and asked me if I was ready to join his
band. I was, and I feel it was predestined by
God. I was at the right place at the right time.
Johnny always said that God sent me to him,
that he was afraid he would never be able to
reproduce that sound without Luther.
I always played simple. I took what Luther did
and added my own twist to it. Johnny always
said I sounded like a combination of Luther
and Duane Eddy.
You spent thirty years working with Johnny.
What were some of the high points?
It was just wonderful. You see, I always
wanted to be a singer and guitar player,
and Johnny would call me up to do a lead