Marshall Grant–May 5, 1928-August 7, 2011
Marshall Grant, Johnny Cash’s original bass player, helped create the pulsing “boom-chicka-boom” sound that so many of us associate with Johnny Cash and the Tennesee Two. Grant died Sunday in Jonesboro, Ark. at the age of 83.
I’ve been a fan of Johnny Cash’s music since Grandma used to play his music for me when I was a small boy. It wasn’t until the past fifteen or twenty years that I even paid attention to the fact that Cash had other guys with him, both on stage and in the studio.
Marshall Grant played acoustic and electric bass with Cash from 1954 to 1980. His bass lines gave songs like “Folsom Prison Blues”, “I Walk the Line”, “Ring of Fire”, “the Man in Black” and many of the other Johnny Cash songs and recordings that foundation that reminds me of a damned train. Grant was at least partially the ‘sound’ of Johnny Cash’s music that we take for granted, as exemplified by the Cash recordings at Folsom prison and San Quentin.
Marshall Grant– 1/3 of the Tennessee Three
Luther Perkins was the other original member of the Tennessee Two. Perkins played lead guitar and created the scratchy rhythm pattern overlaying Marshall Grant’s bass lines. With the addition of the drummer W.S. Holland in 1960, Cash’s backup became the Tennessee Three.
The group’s signature sound came into being pretty much overnight, as Grant recounted on a number of occasions. Shortly after he switched from rhythm guitar to bass–which he didn’t really know how to play–he and his fellow musicians began experimenting with the group’s new configuration.
“We finally got it [bass] tuned, and then we stuck adhesive tape all over the neck with the notes on it, and then we started playing little rhythm patterns,” Grant said when he and Perkins were inducted into the Musicians’ Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tenn., in 2007. Grant never claimed to be a great musician. He and the band just did what they did. “The only thing that we could do was what the world now knows as the boom-chicka-boom-chicka-boom sound that we established that first night.”
Marshall Grant–Cash and Sun Records
Marshall Grant was introduced to Johnny Cash in 1947. After the band failed to impress Sun Records founder and producer Sam Phillips with their first audition, the trio passed a second audition and began recording in 1955 on a roster that included Elvis Presley and other early rock and rollers, such as Carl Perkins. They earned modest success quickly and built on it with appearances first on the Louisiana Hayride and eventually the Grand Ole Opry. In time, that simple rhythmic pattern would infiltrate country music and would soon change everything.
Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three recorded and toured together for the next 25 years. Grant was a teetotaler and non-smoker, and it kind of fell to him to take on the arduous responsibility of shepherding Cash to performances through the years of his well-documented drug abuse and erratic, self-destructive behavior. “I took every step that he took, I looked out after him,” Grant said in a 2008 interview with the website classicbands.com. “I did everything you could do for a person.”
Marshall Grant–a “rock” said Roseanne Cash
“Marshall was a solid, solid rock,” Roseanne Cash told The Nashville Tennessean. “I cannot imagine what would have happened on those tours without him. He understood how complicated my dad was, that he was a great musician who had real demons.”
After parting ways with Cash, who died in 2003, Grant managed the Statler Brothers, with whom he had recorded the 1965 hit “Flowers on the Wall.” After a nearly 30 year silence between Grant and Cash, the two later reconciled and performed together on stage in 1999. I was glad of that.
Marshall Grant–one of my heros, even if I didn’t know it