No, James Garner is not the same guy from “Maverick” and “The Rockford Files,” but he has been mistaken for him on several occasions.
“People ask, ‘Well, is James Garner a stage name?’ and I say, ‘It’s not; it’s my given name,’” Garner said in an over-the-phone interview. “If it was a stage name, I wouldn’t pick this one. I wouldn’t muddy up the waters with picking this.”
Garner is the lead singer in The Cash Tribute Show, a band that pays tribute to Johnny Cash. The band will perform at the Paradise Performing Arts Center on Sunday, Nov. 4.
When he was a teenager, the Sacramento area-based resident had the opportunity to meet Cash after one of his concerts.
“My voice cracked and I said, ‘I’m your biggest fan,’” Garner said. “He stuck out his hand and shook my hand and said, ‘Glad to know.’ I should have stopped and called it there, but then I said, ‘I can sing just like you’ in this really, really, high-pitched, Mickey Mouse voice. He laughed and said, ‘I’m sure you can.’”
Several years later, Garner is now singing the tunes of Cash in a tribute band that does more than just cover the Man in Black’s music.
“We talk about his life, his songs, why it was written, why it was recorded, who wrote it, whether it was Cash or someone else, and what was going on in his life around that time,” Garner said. “It’s like watching a documentary on VH1 or MTV. You’re watching the music and listening to the music, but in between, there’s talking about the history of these things. It’s like a live TV show.”
The band, which includes Vacaville resident Denny Colleret on guitar, as well as Lodi residents Rick Duncan on bass and Nick Auriemmo on drums, takes itself “very seriously” when it comes to recreating the sounds of Cash, Garner said.
“Now, I’m not Johnny Cash, and I don’t pretend to be, and our musicians are who they are,” he said. “We try to really nail the late ‘60s, early ‘70s sound of Cash when he was at his zenith. Folks really remember the ‘Boom Chicka Boom’ sound, the Luther Perkins guitar, W.S. Holland on the drums doing all his crazy stuff. I think we do a very respectful show, and people come, sing along, tap their toes, and have fun.”
Those who aren’t too familiar with Cash’s music will get a “great snapshot” of his career, Garner said.
“They get the history, the importance of what he did, not just in country music, not just in popular American music, but also in our society and the history of America,” he said.
Some members of the audience have approached Garner after his show and say that he sounds just as good, if not better, than Cash.
“People have said that, but I don’t believe it,” Garner said. “They say, ‘Wow, I love you and what you’re doing. You sing better than Johnny Cash.’ Those are all nice compliments, and I really do appreciate them. But I think, ‘No, there’s no way.’ Cash is the gold standard for me”
John Zurflueh of Grass Valley-based marketing company Starbright Productions has been working with Garner and his band for the past two years. The one thing about James and his performance that Zurflueh likes to mention is his energy.
“When I first heard his voice, I couldn’t believe it,” he said in an over-the-phone interview. “The guy is way beyond his years in talent. The band is so engaged. Their sound is clear and crisp, and it’s just an amazing show.”
Zurflueh has seen other Cash tribute bands, and while they’re fine, they’re also “tired,” he said.
“James is a younger version of Johnny Cash, although he has the opportunity to play Johnny Cash’s whole career of songs at a young age,” Zurflueh said. “I’ve watched his career develop to where you might get 100 people one year and the next year brings 200 people. All of these people come back. Word of mouth I can’t imagine is any stronger.”
Tickets are $24 in advance and can be purchased in Paradise at Chamber of Commerce, Comeback Diner, PostNet, and Grocery Outlet. They can also be purchased at Jaki’s Hilltop Cafe in Magalia, The Music Connection in Chico, or online at www.starbrightshows.com.
Click here for directions to the Paradise Performing Arts Center from Chico.
David also writes as the Chico Movie Examiner and National Boardwalk Empire Examiner.
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