The night was a tribute to Johnny Cash, just not in the way you might think. Missouri native Scott Shipley had the honor of being Johnny Cash’s guitarist for 6 months on tour and it is his greatest achievement; rightfully so. Shipley tours solo and with his band Snake Oil and commonly pays tribute to the man in black when on stage. On what would have been Cash’s 81st birthday Shipley made his way to St. Joseph to play a solo show as a honorary birthday party on February 26th. Cash had a great legacy as one of the best songwriters of all-time and being able to reach fans across genres. He also left a legacy involving extensive drug abuse, affairs and erratic behavior. The evening would unfold into a strange tribute to the desire to have a good time rather than a tribute to the music, but the love for the country singer was apparent from everyone in the room.
Shipley is a big man, imposing looking and appearing as if he would fit in with the roughest of crowds. In reality he probably would, not because of his hardcore look, but because he will talk to anyone who wants to engage in conversation. His tattoo covered arms and huge mutton chop-style sideburns that hang well below his jaw line would indicate a roughneck but it isn’t so, he is just a friendly hillbilly from the Ozarks.
The show would start out promising with the plan to do a set of Johnny Cash covers and a set of originals. Shipley was giving away a new song called “Won’t Be Me” as a single on a cd that would be played over the PA shortly into the show. The song is phenomenal It sounds like it could be a Johnny Cash outtake from the Rick Ruben years with its low growling vocals and Cash inspired guitar. The song would debut right there in Cafe Acoustic as a world premiere but strangely enough wouldn’t be played live.
The first set started with originals but actually started with a cover, just not a Cash cover. “Six Days on the Road” originally by Dave Dudley got toes tapping and started the evening with well. Shipley would whip out one of the most bad-ass looking mandolins you will ever see and absolutely kill on a cover of “Little Wing”. The crowd was impatient to hear Johnny Cash covers and annoyingly kept bringing it up like they didn’t know it was imminent. The cigar smoke from the room burned my retinas and was strong enough you could taste it. The chatty table in the back corner was too often filling any quiet gaps in the music and the off-beat clapping and off-key singing was enough to drive a true music fan look for the door.
From the stage, Shipley proved he was a very good guitarist but insisted on a ton of crowd participation. He would constantly stop songs to raise his glass and demand his audience to “holler” at which point the crowd was to yell, then “swaller” at which point they were to down their respective drinks. Often crowd participation wasn’t up to snuff and the action would be repeated until it was done to satisfaction. Shipley would abide to the crowd’s request for Cash by playing “Hurt” and I couldn’t help but notice that half of the raucous crowd seemed to not recognize the “new Cash” song and the other half likely had no idea that Trent Reznor wrote the song back in 1994 until Shipley would point out that fact.
A sing-along (complete with a t-shirt giveaway) of “Ring of Fire” would follow shortly after. Shipley would be selling several t-shirts like the one he gave away for the winner of the sing-along, 9 to be exact. He would also have hats, bandannas and coozies in addition to the 9 different shirt designs but unfortunately lack any cds to buy (other than the exclusive single). Many of the shirts had a “hillbilly” theme to them which would go along with Shipley’s frequent requests for “all the hillbillies” to yell.
Shipley would pull out a “Johnny Cash Anthology” book and start in on songs from it for the second set. He would play “Bad News” “Big River” and “Dark As A Dungeon” while telling some interesting Cash stories along with the covers of the legendary artist. Breaking them up for more “holler and swaller’s” and hillbilly yells. The Cash covers were done with great admiration. He would even fit in a cover of Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” toward the end of his set. With the various covers it seemed the show would be better with Shipley’s originals being performed. Many covers would belong to Cash but others would vary from several artists, Shipley’s own songs seemed very strong though.
In a tribute to Johnny Cash that avoided “I Walk The Line” “Long Black Veil” and “Get Rhythm” it ended feeling a bit shallow in the overall lack of tribute to the man in black. It was a drunken good time with yelling and story swapping but ultimately lacked to be a proper tribute to the great musical contribution Cash had on the world and more to his desire to enjoy life.