Big fan helps bring Johnny Cash to WAC stage Oct. 14-15

Big fan helps bring Johnny Cash to WAC stage Oct. 14-15

Of all the people who have a Johnny Cash story, Debbie Horton arguably has the best.

“I had known Johnny from when I was a child; I had got onto his music when I was about 10 years old. Then I was in his fan club and over the years, I had gotten to know him,” she starts her tale. She was invited to his home to have lunch with him and his family and regularly attended his concerts.

Then one fateful day, she got a huge hand up.

While she often went back stage to say hello before his concerts, one day in Baltimore she didn’t get to see her hero before he went on stage, so she sent him a note telling him that she’d learned to play guitar and that she wanted to show him sometime.

“I said, ‘Johnny, I’m here in the audience and I’ve learned how to play guitar. I can play guitar just like Bob Wooten can’ — who was his lead guitar player,” she says.

“In the middle of the show, Johnny gets up in front of 4 or-5,000 people and says, ‘I got this note, and I’m going to surprise her! Debbie, come play the guitar!’”

Before that, he’d never heard her play guitar, she says.

“I got on the stage, and he gave me the lead guitar from Bob Wooten. And I played ‘Big River.’ It was historic,” she says. “Then over the years, as I’d see Johnny, he’d say, ‘There’s Debbie! The only woman ever played lead guitar for me!’ So it was quite surreal.’”

She adds, “I thought, well, if I can do that, I can do anything!”

Branson fans may remember Horton from her Branson On The Road show, a traveling concert series in the tradition of the Grand Ole Opry or the Louisiana Hayride.

“This is the 20th year for Branson on the Road,” she explains. “I was getting to the point that I was ready to kind of retire and back down because we work 200 days a year some years. Then Johnny Cash came back into the picture!”

Horton will play lead guitar again, this time for “Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience,” a touring show that makes its first stop at the Walton Arts Center before launching on its first tour of the U.S. and Canada.

To create a concert experience, Johnny Cash is shown on a big screen behind a live band, which features Horton on lead guitar. From there, the band plays along with his vocal tracks.

She estimates that the footage is from the early 1970s. “He looks great. This was at the peak of his career,” she says.

“Then in between [songs] his son, John Carter Cash, is doing commentary about Johnny’s life, their life growing up, and the background of the songs.

“It’s upbeat, it’s personal. It’s a concert, it’s a music experience. It’s not so much a story of Johnny and all of his life, but a celebration of his music and his songs, which is wonderful,” she says. “People who have never seen him are going to be mesmerized.”

The show includes all of his hits like “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Ring of Fire” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” plus some gospel songs Cash often performed like “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and “I’ll Fly Away.”

“If you are an old fan, you’re going to love it. If you’re a new fan, you’re going to see what it was like to attend a Johnny Cash show.”


‘Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience’

WHEN — 8 p.m. Oct. 14 & 2 p.m. Oct. 15

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $35-$69


BONUS — As part of its first national tour, the show will also play Mountain Home Nov. 1 and Little Rock Nov. 4.



The show’s creative director, Dean Elliot — also a huge Cash fan — answered these questions for What’s Up!

Q. What are your top five favorite Johnny Cash songs?

A. Johnny Cash had an incredible ability to sing and write songs that took you to different places. He could be sincere, funny, truthful, sarcastic, passionate or goofy. My favourite songs show off this amazing skill. “Folsom Prison Blues,” “A Boy Named Sue,” “Jackson,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “I’ve Been Everywhere.”

Q. If you could be transported back in time to a single live performance by Johnny Cash, which one would you choose and why?

A. It would have to be at San Quentin. Can you imagine how much energy was in that room? How close it could have got to all going horribly wrong? It was dangerous and passionate. Although we wouldn’t be able to fill a theater with inmates and wardens, I would love to achieve the passion and energy from our fabulous band in the delivery of this music.

Q. What will people learn about Johnny Cash from this show?

A. Not only does the show have a fabulous repertoire of amazing songs, but in this show, we explore the topics and themes Johnny Cash was passionate about using video technology. Whether it be love, redemption and being a voice for the marginalized, we hear from Johnny himself as he talks about some of these themes that he championed.

— Monica Hooper

Categories: Music