Delivering a letter to Johnny Cash

Delivering a letter to Johnny Cash On Wednesday night, February 22, while packing suitcases for a week-long trip to Nashville and Memphis, my partner Greta and I found a letter sealed in a baggie attached to the front door of our Dana Point, California, home. The letter was not addressed to us; and, we had anticipated it would be there. The hand-printed letter read: “Mr. Cash, I love you. I like ‘A Boy Named Sue.’ It’s funny. I’m named Cash too.” It was written by a five-year-old boy named Cash. He is the son of our neighbors, Cody and Victoria, a delightful young couple who live across the street. When we first met Cody and Victoria, they told us their son was named Cash. “Why?” We asked. “Because we love Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and country music,” they said. They about flipped out when I told them that I worked with Johnny in 1976 and 1977, and had been friends with him. Also, when I mentioned to them that Greta and I and my brother Bill and his wife Linda were going to Nashville to visit The Johnny Cash Museum, the Grand Old Opry, The Ryman Auditorium, The Country Music Hall of Fame, and the cemetery in Hendersonville, Tennessee, where the Cash family is buried, they said, “Maybe you could do us a favor?” Cody and Victoria knew that their son Cash, a huge Johnny Cash fan, would want to send a letter to Johnny and wanted to know if we would hand-deliver it for him. Of course, young Cash didn’t comprehend that Johnny and his wife June Carter had both passed away in 2003. We said we would somehow get the letter to Johnny, in one way or another. The trip was the first time I had been to Nashville since 1977, when I co-produced an album of train songs with Johnny, at his recording studio in nearby Hendersonville. On our first night in Nashville, we had dinner at B.B. King’s restaurant in “The District,” the bustling downtown area of Nashville, where live music is heard on the sidewalks from the endless bars and honkytonks. The next morning, our first stop was the Ryman Auditorium, home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 until 1974. Johnny Cash and June Carter led the final song there, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” The Ryman is a must for any visiting country music fan; there is incredible history posted on the walls. Concerts are performed there now. A popular group called “Little Big Town” was playing that night. Next, we walked to the Johnny Cash Museum, a short distance away.

The Johnny Cash Museum on south Third Ave in Nashville--a must visit

I wanted to meet the museum founder and owner, Bill Miller, to give him a copy of I book I wrote, titled “Prime Rib & Boxcars. Whatever Happened to Victoria Station?” The book features the details of when I worked with Johnny and has a picture of us on the front cover. While waiting to meet Bill Miller, the four of us took the museum tour. And that is where our young neighbor Cash’s letter was delivered to Johnny:

Tom handing Young Cash's letter to Johnny Cash at the Johnny Cash Museum Later we met Bill Miller. He was most gracious, and gave us a tour of the soon-to-open Patsy Cline Museum, which is located on the second floor above the Cash Museum. He also invited us to a private Johnny Cash birthday anniversary party for the following day.

Tom Blake and Bill Miller. Bill is the Founder and Owner of the Johnny Cash Museum

On Saturday morning, we visited the Country Music Hall of Fame. If you are a country music fan, include this when you visit Nashville. The highlight: the rotunda where each of the 130 Hall of Fame members have plaques on the wall. The country music memorabilia in there is staggering. From there, it’s a short walk to the Johnny Cash Museum. We spent time with W.S. Holland, Johnny’s only drummer. I had known him when I worked with Johnny. And since he is mentioned in my book, I signed a copy for him.

Tom and W.S. "Fluke" Holland--Johnny Cash's only drummer--holding Tom's Prime Rib & Boxcars. Whatever Happened to Victoria Station" book

We enjoyed attending the birthday party for Johnny in a private room, which included a presentation by Alan Messer, a photographer who had taken hundreds of photos of Johnny and June. That night, we attended the Grand Ole Opry. Johnny’s manager, Lou Robin, who I’ve known for 40 years, arranged for a private backstage tour during the show. We saw Vince Gill practicing his guitar in his dressing room before his appearance. We watched a part of the show from behind the stage. There were nearly 20 performers that night, making it a stellar evening.

Greta, Tom, Linda, Bill

Great seats at the Grand Ole Opry - from left: Greta, Tom, Linda, Bill (Tom's brother) On Sunday, we drove 20 miles to Hendersonville to pay our respects at the gravesites of Johnny and June Carter Cash. Other members of the famous Carter family are buried nearby. Then, we drove to the Hermitage, the home of President Andrew Jackson, for a tour of his home and the extensive grounds surrounding it. On Sunday, we traveled 212 miles on the “Music Highway” to Memphis, where we visited Graceland, the home of Elvis. I recall in 1956, while listening to Detroit’s WJR radio, hearing the song Heartbreak Hotel for the first time. I said to my brother it was going to be a huge hit. So, being with Bill at Graceland 61 years later, was very nostalgic for me. Elvis is buried at Graceland:

Tom, Greta, Linda, Bill at Graceland That night we stayed in the Memphis suburb of Germantown. A friend told us to have dinner at a Memphis style BBQ restaurant called The Commissary. It opened in 1981. On the wall, the ad slogan reads: “So good y’ull slap yo’ Mama.” All agreed, it was the best BBQ ribs we had ever eaten. On our last day together, we went to Sun Records in downtown Memphis, where Sam Phillips launched the careers of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, also known as the Million Dollar Quartet. It was special to stand in the very spot where Elvis recorded his first song and to hold the microphone he used.

Standing where Elvis stood and holding the same microphone he used

The building that houses Sun Records is 104 years old. See below:

Sun Records 407 Union Ave. Memphis And to hear the very first recording of Johnny’s “I Walk the Line,” gave me goosebumps. On our trip to Tennessee, we did everything we had hoped, including delivering our young neighbor Cash’s letter to Johnny. I mentioned that his parents Cody and Victoria are country music fans. It’s not surprising that they named their daughter, Waylan Jane, in honor of the late Waylon Jennings. One thing we noted: the people in Tennessee are the friendliest anywhere we’ve been. And finally: Bill Miller said the Johnny Cash Museum would carry my books in the gift shop. That made me very happy. -------------------------------------------------------------------------

A similar article appeared in the San Clemente Times Newspaper on March 9, 2017

A similar article appeared in the Dana Point Times Newspaper

A similar article appeared in The Capistrano Dispatch Newspaper

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