WHAT DOES JOHNNY CASH AND CARLOS VIVES HAVE IN COMMON?
Musically, Johnny and Carlos don’t really have much in common. Yes, they both come from folk music roots tradition to their respective home countries: US and Colombia. But what most certainly they DO have in common is FANS! Loyal fans.
Even though Johnny Cash is no longer with us, he passed away in 2003, he still has legions of fans today. Carlos Vives has got a lot of loyal fans too. Starting off as a Colombian soap opera star generating public awareness, Vives soon started steadily releasing music since the early 80s and eventually gained fans all over the world.
What is a jazz guitarist like me writing about, or even caring about, a Country music icon or a Latin soap opera hunk turned pop star?
Besides both having a treasure trove of devoted fans, what they both have in common is ME!
Well, sort of. Let me explain.
I was touring one summer with a Country artist in Canada, where I’m from. The artist was touring with was in support of her CD release at the time. Yes, I was her guitarist. You may not know this, but I first started off playing Bluegrass, then Country music when I was first starting out playing gigs since 12 if you may recall from my last story about my Mom & Eddie Van Halen. Anyways, back to the original story.
Where was I? …Oh yeah. It was 1996. I considered myself a jazz guitarist at the time, but an opportunity presented itself to make some touring money for a solid 2 months. And what musician (any kind of genre) would turn that down a chance for adventure and the open road? Since my musical roots were in Country, all I had to do is dust off my old country licks and I was good to go.
Touring was a fun experience. I loved living out of a suitcase. I got to see places I had never been to before, and meet people. I still enjoy meeting people. I love greeting individuals at my gigs that come see me perform. We also met other great musicians. One band we got to know a little was the fabulous Texas Swing band, Asleep at the Wheel. What a great bunch of people! Their drummer, Dave, man. He was such a hoot! Sorry, I keep getting side tracked…
Near the end of the tour we got to open for Johnny Cash at a huge music festival in British Columbia. That was very cool to say the least. Johnny was one of the first “concerts” I ever saw as a child in the small town arena near where I grew up. So now I’m opening for him 20 years or so later! But that wasn’t the biggest eye opening experience. It was playing in front of his huge audience. And I mean HUGE! Just like Johnny!! Johnny was a tall guy. I walked right passed him.
It was an outdoor festival. There was a sea of bodies and heads nearly as far as the eye could see. It think is the largest crowd I have ever played in front of to this day. We heard reports of 50, 000+ people there. I’ll tell you, unless you have done something similar, you have no idea the energy you feel from 50, 000 humans looking at you. It can be scary if you think about it too much. But I loved it!
And I got to stay side-stage and watch Johnny perform alongside his wife, June. I’ll never forget, he kept looking over at me too, like “Who’s that guy?”
What was scarier, was nine years later, I got a chance to open up for Latin star, Carlos Vives. This time I was performing with a great Toronto singer/songwriter, who wrote and sang in both Spanish and English and some songs were Flamenco inspired. I did a quick tour of Columbia with her earlier that year. Mostly radio and TV performances and interviews. Sometimes it was 5 or 6 in a day! She even won an award in Colombia for a live music video recorded in Toronto that I also was in. So she was perfect choice for having a spot to open up for Mr. Vives that day.
The crowd wasn’t as big, only 10, 000. Trust me, 10, 000 people is still a lot! Especially when you are all stuffed inside an outdoor tennis arena. And believe me the energy was even more electrifying. Remember, Carlos was not only a pop star, he was a sex symbol too. Needless to say there were a lot of women in the audience. Now THAT, is an even a more extreme energy you feel. Imagine Elvis, or the Beatles in their day. Yeah, kinda like that.
Just before we were to perform, I wanted to grab my guitar to make sure I was in tune and ready to go. So I snuck out onto the dark stage to grab my guitar real quick to tune up back stage. As I reached for my guitar, all of a sudden a blinding white spot light shone down on me. There was a roar from the crowd so loud, that I froze on the spot. Just like an animal that is startled with fear and just stands there not moving. (Or a small insect when you shine a light on it, more like it) That was me. I was my body seemed petrified for a moment. I didn’t know what to do.
It wasn’t fear though, really, it was something else that is hard to convey. They thought I was Carlos. Or at least they thought it was his band coming out. It was partly cool, and partly “Oh no! Now what? Are they going to boo me because I’m NOT Carlos?” Because we were a last minute addition to the concert, it wasn’t advertised that we would be opening up. So that’s why the audience rightfully assumed their star was about to perform.
There was an almost blood curdling, thunderous roar coming from 10, 000 people. But I’ll never forget it, that’s for sure. We played a great show, had a ton of fun. And the audience dug it too. What more could you ask for?
I’ll never forget those experiences, having the chance to play in front of such large audiences again. It was fun, exhilarating, and exciting to experience what huge stars (Rock or otherwise) experience night after night. Hey, you never know. I may play in front of large audiences again at some big Jazz festivals. At least I know what that feels like now and will be able to roll with it. And this time the attention will be towards me!
As a THANK YOU for sticking with me so far and being one of my followers, I want to give you a free – no strings attached – song that shows you my country influence from my Fun City album.
Download the Country influenced Bebop track “Fun City” here.
If you like that track, I know you’ll love my newest album, Out of the Blue. It doesn’t sound ANYTHING like Carlos Vives or Johnny Cash. That I can guarantee!
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