David James, best known for his tribute to Johnny Cash, had mostly given up playing the electric guitar. Cash was an acoustic guy, but after picking up a Telecaster, and another (and another), James wanted an excuse to play them live.
“I thought, gosh, it’d be nice to play these, and I realized Waylon Jennings played a Telecaster,” said James. “I talked to the band and said, “hey guys, what do you think?” Been rehearsing, and it sounds dynamite.”
James and his band, Big River, will be playing the hits from both Cash and Jennings at the Mary Winspear on April 16. James said it’s been about four years since the last time they’ve played in Sidney.
James said there were many reasons why the two country legends would make a good double bill. Jennings joined Cash, Willie Nelson, was in the country super group The Highwaymen with Cash, and recorded a few albums together.
“They’re both outlaw country guys, so it just sort of fit for a dual show.”
Big River features Todd Sacerty on bass, “who’s been with me from the get-go.” Much like Marshall Grant, Johnny Cash’s own bass player, James said Sacerty “takes care of everything for me, you know?”
“He makes sure the van’s gassed up, makes sure the insurance is paid, talks to the agent, talks to the hotels, talks to the venues, talks to the sound man. He’s My Man Friday.”
Big River also features Al Medcalf, “an amazing guitar player” who has orchestrated bands over the years and Phil Hagen (who played in a cover band with James 25 years ago) on drums and vocals.
“They’re real good guys and solid players. Real pros,” said James.
The band is from Nanaimo, and they tour quite a bit, particularly in Alberta, where they will be playing a 10-day run of shows in May and even more shows throughout the summer. The group will sometimes drive for 12 or 16 hours to do a gig.
“There’s a saying, they don’t pay you for the two hours on the stage. They pay you for the other 22,” said James. It’s sometimes tiring, but James said “playing music is just about the best job I’ve ever had, so it don’t bother me none.”
Cash’s vast 1,500 song repertoire gives James a lot of variety to work with, and there are many stories to tell, so James doesn’t get bored. “I could play a different show every night for a week and use different stories every night.” Of all the Cash hits, “Orange Blossom Special” is James’ all-time favourite. Now that they are including Jennings in the mix, there are even more combinations.
James and his band have die-hard fans, too. James said one older couple has seen them nine times, and some have even seen the real Johnny Cash, so James said it’s a trip back in time for them.
“We’re going to take you back in time, and you’re going to leave thinking you just saw the real McCoy.”
David James and Big River play at the Mary Winspear on Monday April 16 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $47 and can be