ON THE PICTURE : The Mighty Cash Cats are regulars at the Canyon in Agoura Hills. Photo submitted
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
The life and music of Johnny Cash loom large in American culture. The son of cotton farmers in Arkansas, he rose from his poor beginnings to find fame and fortune on the airwaves and in the concert halls of the 1950s and continued to be a figure of admiration and influence until ‘ upon his death in 2003. His songs of love and loss, trials and tribulations, fall from grace and eventual redemption were reflected in his own life. Despite his struggles with drug addiction, adultery and run-ins with the law, he wrote a string of hits that became classics, renewed his faith in God and became known for his social activism and numerous collaborations. with everyone from Elvis Presley to U2. Cash would be inducted into the Hall of Fame for three distinct musical genres (country, rock and roll and gospel) and today remains one of the best-selling artists of all time.
Silver has also left big footprints in Ventura County. From 1957 to 1968 he lived in the city of Ventura and later in Casitas Springs, recording one of his greatest hits, “Ring of Fire”, during this time. His daughters attended Saint-Bonaventure High School. He had an office in downtown Ventura at 437 East Main Street – the current site of Carlson Jewelers.
It was Cash’s legacy as a musician and resident of Ventura County (at least for a time) that Michael Jay sought to honor and perpetuate as the founder of the Mighty Cash Cats tribute band.
At first glance, Jay — a New York native who once taught high school — seems like an unlikely torchbearer for one of America’s most influential country artists. And yet, the fact that Johnny Cash’s music could inspire Jay’s own career is proof of Man in Black’s broad reach and appeal.
“I wanted it to be precise”
Jay came to California in the early 1990s, following in his family’s footsteps.
“I had a brother here and I was a bit fed up with New York,” he admits. “So I came to visit and kind of stayed.”
He played with a few different local bands, finding modest success with a band called the River Rangers. He took a little break from music for four years to care for his aging mother. When he was ready to get back into the game, he knew he “didn’t want to do the 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. bar band thing.”
It was the early years that Jay said saw a wave of tribute bands.
“We’ve always had a great response to our Cash covers,” Jay recalls, which inspired him to start the Mighty Cash Cats.
His first step was to familiarize himself with Cash’s work, from his early rockabilly days to his later days covers and collaborations.
“I spent six months learning the material,” says Jay, listening to Cash’s music and studying concert videos and master recordings. “I wanted it to be precise; all original keys.
His deep diving has yielded startling discoveries.
“His music is a bit strange,” notes Jay. “Sometimes he cuts beats and meters or sings behind the beat. ‘Ring of Fire’ he did with a two bar silence.
With this knowledge and a vision for a tribute band that would play Cash’s music the way the man himself played it, Jay formed a band, spent two months training, and debuted with the Mighty Cash. Cats in January 2007, at Pirates Grub ‘n’ Grog. at Oxford. They were an instant hit, and it wasn’t long before the Cats were booked for a tour.
Bloom with Blumette
As the Mighty Cash Cats grew in popularity, Jay (who sings and plays guitar) began looking for another ingredient to add to his heady mix: someone who could portray the talented singer/songwriter (and great love of Cash’s life) June Carter . He posted an ad on Craigslist and a raven-haired Leticia Blumette showed up for the audition.
“As soon as she sang a verse of ‘Jackson,’ I knew it was her,” Jay says.
With Blumette and guitarist/keyboardist Oliver Thin on board, the Cats had plenty of talent in their corner. The only thing still missing, however, was a bassist. . . and Blumette was happy to oblige.
“She learned to play bass as part of a band,” Jay says, “and she’s been the bassist ever since.”
In 2016, current drummer Tim MacDonald joined the band. A few years later, the versatile Blumette took on yet another role: the Linda Ronstadt Experience, which would later be renamed Silver Threads.
Jay notes that it’s a natural fit for a Johnny Cash tribute band. “Johnny launched Linda’s career. And when June was on maternity leave, Linda stepped in for a tour with Cash.
Silver Threads opens frequently for the Cats – a handy situation for any touring act – and Jay explains that “Linda Ronstadt’s act has breathed new energy into the band”.
The Cats’ faithful recreation of Cash’s music has won them a following far beyond Ventura County. The Paso Robles-Palm Springs circuit keeps them on the road in California, but they have fans across the United States – and beyond.
“We’ve been to Europe seven times,” says Jay. “I’m like a rock star in Ireland.” He adds that performing at the “Music in the Mountains” festival in Cork helped to make the band known across the Atlantic, and the rest of Europe followed.
The Cats have also performed for audiences in the UK, France, Israel and the Philippines. While touring Japan, Jay asked a woman at one of his shows why she was a fan. She told him that the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic walk the line attracted many people to his music.
“Friends and fans show up on Facebook from Argentina, Bulgaria, Poland. . . there seem to be Johnny Cash fans all over the world.
They also have a lot of fans closer to home. The Mighty Cash Cats are familiar to almost every bar, music venue and music lover in the area. Jay et al are looking forward to Independence Day weekend.
“We’re thrilled to be back here,” says Jay. “We have three local shows on the same weekend. That almost never happens!”
Fans can catch the Mighty Cash Cats in Oxnard’s Heritage Square on Friday, July 1, followed by the 14th Anniversary Show at Ventura Music Hall on Saturday, then the 4th of July festivities in downtown Ventura on July 4 .
After that, they’re back on the road for shows in Arizona.
“Power to Stay”
Jay has made a career of recreating the music and presence of the Man in Black, and after all these years, Cash has never ceased to be a source of fascination and inspiration to him.
“He seems to have stamina,” Jay says. “His music was so ahead of its time that it couldn’t be played on the radio. “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” was a commentary on the treatment of Native Americans. ‘The Man in Black’ is an anti-war song. He took courageous positions.
“He was a very smart man,” continues the Cats leader. “He wrote his own music, promoted many young musicians, like Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young and Kris Kristofferson. He had a lot of depth in him. . . He was undoubtedly a patriot, but he also believed in social justice. It’s one of the things I like about him. »
Notably, Cash kept the same backing musicians for almost 25 years. drummer WS Holland; guitarists Bob Wootton, Luther Perkins and Carl Perkins (no relation); and bassist Marshall Grant were among the longest serving members who contributed to the distinctive “Johnny Cash” sound.
“He didn’t really change his sound – he kept the same band for most of his career,” Jay says. “He remained loyal to the people around him. That’s what I’m trying to represent. »
For him and the other band members, the Might Cash Cats are a full-time gig. . . and their only concert. It’s all cash, all the time for them. . . and Jay didn’t want it any other way.
“I am dedicated to what I do. I’m for the long haul.
Catch the Mighty Cash Cats at the following dates, times and locations: