Sunday, March 6, 2011

Get your ticket for the Rock Island Line

The purists among you might revolt at the very notion of a Johnny Cash tribute band. Sacrilege!  We admit it's a touchy topic, and we only arrive at this dark and shadowy doorstep today because Craig Foster led us there.

Foster plays guitar in a McCleary, Washington outfit known as Dan Whyms & Rock Island Line.  There are other bands out there exclusively playing the Man in Black's music, but we're pretty sure Whyms is the closest you will ever come to the real deal.  He bears an eerie likeness to Johnny, he has a rich, deep bass-baritone like Johnny, and he plays guitar and harmonica like Johnny.

Craig Foster, right, with Tennessee 3 drummer W.S. Holland.
And Foster, for his part, does a fine job of capturing the boom-chica-boom phrasings of legendary Cash picker Luther Perkins.

Foster stumbled onto the Sanctuary after a former colleague of ours recommended us on Twitter (thanks O'Malley!). It turns out we have a few things in common.

"The reason I'm writing is that I noticed you put Johnny Cash on the top of your favorite music list and you are in Milwaukee," Foster wrote in an email. "I am in the golf business but also play guitar in a Johnny Cash tribute show with a singer originally from Fond du Lac (Whyms).

"Tribute bands can be can be looked down upon when compared to original artists, but there are good and bad just as in most things.

"Last Labor Day we played a few shows in the Seattle area with some of Johnny Cash's band: W.S. Holland (drums), Earl Poole Ball (piano) and Dave Roe (bass). It was a wonderful experience both playing and hanging out with them. W.S. is full of stories from the early days and is still going strong. He told me some interesting Luther Perkins stories.

Now we'd like to hear a few of those.

It was our turn to check out Dan Whyms & Rock Island Line, so we visited their website at  and downloaded the videos.  Now tell us honestly, what do you think?

Here's what Whyms writes on his Myspace page about playing Johnny's music:  "I'd have to say I've been singing Johnny Cash's songs most all my life. I can remember singing "I Walk The Line" for my mom when I was 8yrs. old. That was in 1956. I'm still singing "I Walk The Line" in 2008, and I hope to continue to sing it for many years God willing. ... Johnny Cash inspired my love of music. He's been the inspiration for me to learn the guitar, to write, and to perform. He was one of a kind.There'll never be another like him. Since John's passing in September of 2003, I've dedicated myself to traveling and playing for his fans young and old. It has been one of my life's greatest pleasures."

Now you can say that Johnny Cash's music will never die and it certainly doesn't need any lookalike practicioners, but just about every artist with a country bent enjoys doing at least a few tunes (we saw one the other night with a Cash decal on his black Ovation guitar).  So if you're faithfully executing the music with good spirit and intrigrity, what's wrong with that? 

Few are doing it better than Dan Whyms & Rock Island Line.

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