Music

Bob Wootton: From Face in the Crowd to Johnny Cash's Lead Guitarist

Screengrab via YouTube

An unbelievable story about Johnny Cash not pertaining to his love life or his struggles with addiction involves a stranger in the audience becoming a permanent member of his backing band, the Tennessee Three.

In August 1968, Cash's original lead guitarist Luther Perkins died in a house fire. Initial shows without Luther Perkins featured rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins (no relation) filling a vacancy in Cash's band.

By September 17, 1968, Cash and his drummer from the beginning until the end, W.S. Holland, showed up at a Fayetteville, Arkansas campaign rally for Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. As it turned out, an airline delay kept Luther Perkins from making the town, leaving Cash without a key element of his boom-chicka-boom sound.

Bob Wootton, a Paris, Arkansas native who'd been performing regularly around Oklahoma City, just happened to be in attendance. Wootton, a fan of Cash's since age 11, offered to fill in on guitar, if only for a day.

Wootton proved to be way more that day than a subpar stunt double. Days later, Wootton hit the road as Cash, Holland and bassist Marshall Grant's permanent bandmate.

A year later, Wootton's contributions to the live album At San Quentin, namely renditions of "I Walk the Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues," proved him to be one of country music's most irreplaceable guitar players.

For further examples of what Wootton brought to the table as Cash's guitarist, check out the Tennessee Three's 1970 collection of instrumentals, The Sound Behind Johnny Cash.

He also took part in the Nashville tapings of ABC's The Johnny Cash Show alongside bandmates, the family of June Carter Cash and an array of Cash's peers, including Bob Dylan.

After Cash's retirement from active touring, Wootton worked as a tour bus driver, most notably for the Smashing Pumpkins.

Following Cash's passing, Wootton carried on the Tennessee Three name with a lineup teaming himself and Holland with his wife Vicky Wootton and daughter Scarlett Wootton. Together, they cut a 2006 Cash tribute album titled The Sound Must Go On.

Read More: The Story Behind Johnny Cash's Iconic Hit 'Ring of Fire'

Robert "Bob" Clifton Wootton died on April 9, 2017 in Gallatin, Tennessee at the age of 75. He's buried at Hendersonville Memory Gardens, the final resting place of Cash and Maybelle, June and Wootton's ex-wife Anita Carter.

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Bob Wootton: From Face in the Crowd to Johnny Cash's Lead Guitarist