On Sept. 12, 2003, country legend Johnny Cash passed away. Less than two months later, Randy Burk and the Prisoners, Brother Trucker and Ben Eaton played a rocking tribute to the Man in Black. Nine years later the event is still going strong, with the 10th annual Cash tribute taking place Saturday at The Gas Lamp.
In that first year no one was sure how big a draw the show would be. Burk arranged the show at the now defunct Hairy Mary’s and roped Brother Trucker and Eaton into joining him. It got so packed that the bar had to stop letting people in, and they ran out of beer before the last set was played.
“We had no idea what it was going to turn into,” Burk said. “That first one was chaotic and crazy. Probably about as unruly as Johnny ever got in his wild days. When the next year was just as big a success we said ‘Let’s just do this until people don’t want to come anymore.’ ”
That doesn’t seem like it will happen anytime soon. The event has moved around over the years, including stops at the now-closed Walnut Tap, Prairie Meadows, People’s Court, A.K. O’Connors in West Des Moines and finally The Gas Lamp, where it has been held the last two years.
In addition to Burk’s band, the tribute also features performances by Thankful Dirt, Luke Fox and Mark Stuart. Stuart is the frontman of the alt. country group The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash (the real Cash approved the use of his name, and his legitimate son, John Carter Cash, produced part of the band’s “Walk Alone” album). Burk has his own connection with a Cash son (of sorts). Cash’s son-in-law, Jimmy Tittle, worked on Burk’s first album.
The tribute show will feature covers of Cash songs, as well as acts Burk refers to as “Johnny Cash by association” — like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and other friends. But while you will likely hear “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Ring of Fire,” all the bands will perform their own original tunes, as well.
“The reason myself and so many others love to write is because of Johnny Cash,” Burk said. “I think doing our original songs honors him just about as much as doing his songs. His music inspires you to want to write better songs.”
Earlier this year Burk was one of the actors who portrayed Cash in the musical “Ring of Fire” at the Des Moines Playhouse. After years of paying tribute to the singer, Burk got to step into the black suit and sing Cash’s songs as the man himself would have.
The play sold out nearly every night of its run, and Burk said the enthusiasm from audiences show Cash’s appeal is as strong as ever.
“I think it’s only gotten bigger. In his later years, with things like the “American Recordings” records with Rick Rubin, he won over a whole new crowd. It’s amazing that his reach keeps getting bigger and bigger. I really love that he’s being recognized for how amazing he was.”
Cash 10: Johnny Cash tribute
With: Randy Burk and the Prisoners, Mark Stuart, Thankful Dirt, Luke Fox
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Gas Lamp, 1501 Grand Ave.