Last night (March 25, 2017) the legendary Presley & Cash Highway Road Show pulled into Windsor for a night of fun, frolics and fundraising through the experience and dedication of two skilled local tribute artists. Paying Cash – The Johnny Cash Show and James Gibb and The Silvertones brought the music of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley to the Olde Walkerville Theatre for a fundraising event for the Miracle League of Amherstburg.
The show began with Harrow, Ontario tribute artist James Gibb, who brought the post-war Elvis to life in a vibrant and highly entertaining set. The music selection was unique, as was his leg-shaking performance. This was a true tribute and not really an over-the-top impersonation as we so often see. There were no jumpsuits, no giant belts and no overweight wig-wearing phonies – this was the cool suit-jacket wearing Elvis that the world loved in 1956 and 1957. Gibb had enough looks and moves to pull it off and present a believable reproduction of the way Elvis moved, sang and even interacted at the peak of his musical return.
The song selection resembled the King’s 1957 performance at the PNE in Vancouver with such non-traditional tracks like Blueberry Hill, That’s When Your Heartaches Begin and Peace in the Valley.
In many ways Gibb reminded me of an early Michael Buble, with just enough Elvis in the mix to make it plausible and entertaining, but also enough of Gibb himself to keep it fresh and lively. He nailed Elvis’ voice from the early years, as well as the swagger and personality we would expect in an early Elvis tribute. The Silvertones mastered the musical presentation and were the perfect band to backup the energetic Elvis show.
After a lengthy set, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of incredible music Gibb could bring to the table if he decided to record some original music. It took a leap of faith to bring Buble his first recording contract, let’s hope someone does the same for Gibb.
Headliners Paying Cash captured the essence of 1968 Johnny Cash in both attitude and skill, pairing perfectly with Gibb’s 57-58 Elvis – these were the “attitude” years for both superstars, and although a decade apart, they seemed musically aligned at these specific intervals.
Frontman Jason Turcotte seemed a little stressed at times tonight, but maybe that’s because the show felt like a bit of a family reunion with many family members, friends and sponsors in attendance. However, he seemed much more at ease when his 12-year old daughter Cassie joined him on stage for three June Carter duets, and later when he acoustically took on Cash’s death-bed hit Hurt with guitar and piano accompaniment.
Turcotte looked exactly like Cash at various times when he was at the mic, but he was always perfect when it came to the movements and nuances that Cash had on stage. You could actually see the fire in his eyes during such attitude anthems as Cocaine Blues, Folsom Prison Blues and Cry, Cry, Cry. That fire and his voice were right on par with Joaquin Phoenix’s movie adaptation of Cash, except when Turcotte added a little extra growl to the voice, which was a bit distracting at times (at least from where we were sitting). He doesn’t need to add the growl to a perfectly fine performance that already works extremely well without it.
The band itself was so close to the original backup band that they should change their name to The Windsor Three. Mike McCallum handled the lead guitar as if he invented those licks himself, bassist Dave Avellino injected some humour when he wasn’t playing his stand-up bass and drummer John McMenemy provided a solid drum beat throughout. The only thing missing was that they weren’t dressed in full black suits like The Tennesee Three probably would have been.
The superstar of the show was Cassie Turcotte, who charmed the audience with her stunning voice and light-hearted personality – a combination that played out in a fun and charming take on June Carter Cash for three songs, including the infamous relationship-song Jackson. Her personality and voice matched well with her fathers and the duets were a standout moment, much as they were in the movie Walk The Line.
Paying Cash is a well put together band that captures the young and rebellious Johnny Cash like none other. This was the era of Johnny Cash that fans love the most and rarely get to see on its own in a tribute show. Should Turcotte and Paying Cash ever decide to hit the studio, I wouldn’t be surprised if the results sounded much like early Blue Rodeo, mixed with some good old Johnny Cash.
If these two bands do play together again, the Presley-Cash combination is a sure fire knock-out not to be missed.