In pursuit of Cash - Johnny, that isSomething like 30 years ago, when Johnny Cash was headlining the State Fair in Huron, I tried to track him down at a motel in Mitchell. I was doing public relations stuff for River Park, the Pierre-based alcohol treatment program. We hoped to persuade the country superstar to tell his story of addiction and recovery on tape. Cash had an inspirational story, and he could really hold an audience.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
Something like 30 years ago, when Johnny Cash was headlining the State Fair in Huron, I tried to track him down at a motel in Mitchell.
I was doing public relations stuff for River Park, the Pierre-based alcohol treatment program. We hoped to persuade the country superstar to tell his story of addiction and recovery on tape. Cash had an inspirational story, and he could really hold an audience. Trouble was, it wasn’t easy getting to Johnny Cash to make our pitch. He was always on the move, and he and several layers of business organization around him.
We knew someone who said he had a contact inside the Cash organization. The contact thought Johnny might talk on tape if we could explain to him exactly who we were and what good we were trying to do. Our guy said a good time to explain those things might be when Cash was in South Dakota for the State Fair. That seemed reasonable, especially with that inside contact.
Even though they were performing in Huron, Cash and his gang stayed in Mitchell. On a warm Labor Day weekend, we drove over to Mitchell, pulled into the Holiday Inn and went looking for Johnny Cash. It was just about then we learned that our guy didn’t have a really firm contact inside the Cash organization. It was a fairly fragile contact with a person who knew a person who knew a person, one of those deals.
Well, there we were, about to make a cold call on one of country music’s all-time superstars, and we didn’t have the faintest idea how to go about it. I mean, you don’t just walk up to the front desk, do you, and say, “Excuse me, would you please ring Mr. Cash’s room for me? There’s a good fellow.’’
My inclination was to grab some lunch and head back to Pierre and start working the phones to Nashville or Memphis or Tupelo or Dyess, Arkansas or wherever we might find an actual contact. It looked to me like we were pumping a dry well there in the motel lobby.
At that moment, I saw a young guy who looked awfully familiar. He couldn’t have been much older than 20, he had the blackest, fullest head of hair I’d ever seen, and he was wearing a silver jacket that said something about the Johnny Cash tour on the back. He took a seat on a sofa in the lobby and stretched his legs. I walked over and sat at the other end of the couch.
“You’re Marty Stuart, aren’t you?’’ I asked, sure of the answer. “I love your guitar playing with Johnny Cash.’’
He seemed genuinely surprised to be recognized in a motel in Mitchell, South Dakota, but he grinned, nodded and stuck out his hand for a shake. I introduced myself and told him where I was from, then added that not only did I like the leads he played with Johnny Cash, I had also admired his mastery of the mandolin when he was traveling with Lester Flatt’s bluegrass band.
(For once in my life, it paid to be the guy who watched the pickers in the band instead of the star of the show. Marty Stuart later became a huge star on his own, but back then, he was just one of the musicians backing up the headliner).
He asked what I was doing in Mitchell, so I told him about our mission to meet Johnny Cash and talk alcoholism and recovery with him. That probably wasn’t going to happen this trip, Marty said, but he thought he could introduce me to Cash’s road manager. If I provided some information on our program, the manager would make sure Cash saw it, Marty said.
That introduction interrupted the manager’s lunch, but he was gracious, and he took the material.
It took some years and several more contacts by other folks, but Johnny Cash finally sat down and did a segment of “It’s Great To Be Alive.’’ I still have a copy of the tape.
What I don’t have is Marty Stuart’s autograph.
Terry Woster's columns are published on Saturdays and Wednesdays in The Daily Republic.