The Electric Sound of Johnny Cash

By Miguel Ángel Ariza

The musical career of Johnny Cash is undoubtedly marked by his writing talent and his voice as deep as an ocean, but we all know, including himself, that without Luther Perkins at his side and his unmistakable rhythm pattern when it comes to playing country, his career may not have been as successful as it was.      

The famous pattern, known by Americans as ‘boom-chicka-boom’, which fits phonetically like a glove on what Perkins made, originally came from a Fender Esquire that will go down in country history as one of its most important relics. We can see him flirting with other Fender models such as the Jazzmaster and even the Fender Jaguar, but without a doubt it is the Esquire, with just one simple pickup on the bridge, which marked his sound and therefore the sound of a new style and new way of playing country.  



The amps used to create that sound were, how could it be otherwise, the then new Fender Tweeds and later in the 60s we can see him with a Bassman or a Deluxe Reverb Blackface.    

In addition, there is one thing that the experts on this type of sound usually strongly recommend to get our sound to resemble that primitive country of Luther Perkins, and that is that we should choose the ‘Flatwound
’ or flatter strings that we should put on our guitar. Flat and of great calibre, at least a 011.

Likely it is with these same strings that our second protagonist of the day came into Johnny Cash’s life, one Bob Wootton, a guy who, as if on a divine mission, prepared himself for years to be Cash's guitarist without even knowing him, then one day the Lord heard his prayers and created the perfect script for them to get together. On September 17, 1968 Wootton went to a Johnny Cash concert in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and come showtime, half of the man in black’s band were trapped in the airport, unable to make the show. Wootton’s girlfriend approached Cash and told him her friend played his style very well and knew all the songs. Cash decided to try the kid out and fell in love with his way of playing. He always maintained that God had put Bobby there. Of course he had no intention of firing Perkins from the band but when shortly after he was killed in a fire at his house, Cash already knew who would replace him for the rest of his career.       

Armed with a white 1971 Fender Telecaster, which he has used his whole career,  inevitably plugged into a Fender Twin Reverb,
it was Bob Wootton who just became the lead guitarist for whom is perhaps the biggest legend of all times in country music until he retired from the stage.



As a final point, we must say that another music legend Carl Perkins
(not related to Luther) played on numerous occasions with Cash and his band; let’s not forget that ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ of the Sun in the 50s when they joined their voices to those of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. But it should also be noted that after the mid-60s to the early 70s Carl Perkins was also a Cash player although always in the shadow of one of the two guitar players who appear in this article except for a brief period of time following the tragic sudden death of Luther Perkins who was the band’s first lead guitarist.