The Johnny Folsom 4, a Johnny Cash cover band, will play a Johnny Cash-Patsy Cline tribute show at Southland Ballroom in Raleigh. (Willa Stein)
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David Burney didn’t intend to front a Johnny Cash cover band. “It’s something that just happened,” Burney says while calling from his Raleigh office.
While delivering an array of covers with his prior band, the Swingin’ Johnsons, Burney, 57, and his mates tossed in some Cash songs.
“The Cash tunes went over very well,” Burney said. “Some people came up to me after the show and said, ‘you sound like Johnny Cash’ and one thing led to another.”
Burney put the Johnny Folsom 4 together five years ago. The band, which will perform Friday at the Southland Ballroom as part of a Johnny Cash-Patsy Cline tribute, enjoys performing the Man in Black’s material.
“It’s so much fun partly because it’s so varied,” Burney said. “We go back to Johnny’s early years. We have a blast with the classic Sun Studio material and go all the way up to his American Records days.”
Toward the end of his career, Cash signed with American and Sony honcho/producer Rick Rubin urged the icon to record covers of contemporary artists, such as Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails and Tom Petty.
“The American material he recorded is some of my favorite Cash songs to do,” Burney says. “He absolutely owns (Soundgarden’s) ‘Rusty Cage.’ It sounds like his song. I love doing Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down’ like Johnny did it.”
The Folsom 4 also render some Gospel tunes as well. “Johnny recorded some great Gospel numbers,” Burney said. “We’ll do some of those and some songs Johnny sang with June Carter Cash. Thankfully Eleanor Jones joins us, and she sings just like June Carter Cash.”
The Folsom 4 draw from a 90-song list of Cash tunes. “That way it’s not the same every time we do a show,” Burney says.
The Raleigh-based band plays about 20 times a year, since each member of the group has a full-time gig. Burney is the CEO of a design company; guitarist David Gresham is a firefighter; bassist Tom Mills spends the day as a programmer; and drummer Randy Benefield is a dentist.
“It’s a great outlet for us,” Burney says. “We get to play to a varied audience. It ranges from college kids to seniors. The thing that’s great about it is you never run into anyone who doesn’t like Johnny Cash. He really hit it with that boom-chicka-boom sound. It’s basic and primal and it connects with everyone.”
Just don’t expect Burney to ever try to look like Cash. “I wear black but I have facial hair and I have some gray hair,” Burney says. “We don’t go for the Cash look. We go for the sound.”
Unfortunately, Burney never experienced Cash live.
“I had the chances to see him but unfortunately never did,” Burney says. “I might not have seen him, but I get the opportunity to sing his songs whenever we play, and that’s not a bad thing at all.”