Left to right: George Bernardo, Douglas Benson, Kevin Manuel and Sean Glithero are Cash'd Out. Bassist Ryan Thomas will fill in for Glithero at the Rogue Theatre. - Photo courtesy of Michael J. Media

The next best thing to Johnny Cash

Cash'd Out vocalist Doug Benson may sound like the real deal, but he's never walked on stage and said, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."

"We're not impersonators," says the bandleader and rhythm guitarist. "We're celebrators of Johnny Cash."

Cash'd Out, with Kevin Manuel pickin' a Fender Telecaster in the style of Luther Perkins (the lead guitarist of the Tennessee Three played an Esquire), Ryan Thomas on stand-up bass and George Bernardo on drums, will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at the Historic Rogue Theatre, 143 S.E. H St., Grants Pass. Tickets cost $15 in advance, $20 at the door, and are available at www.roguetheatre.com or by calling 541-471-1316.

"There's no other way to do Cash than Cash," Benson says. "Whether he wrote the song or not, he did it the best way it was ever done. We try to keep our arrangements as close to his as possible, to keep his songs and his spirit alive."

Country and rockabilly artist Cash has sales of more than 90 million records to his credit. He wrote hundreds of songs, some never recorded.

"We love all the tunes," Benson says. "I know about 150 of them. 'Ring of Fire,' 'Folsom Prison Blues,' 'Walk the Line.' Those hits always bring the audience to their feet. We played a sold-out show at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle, and the crowd sang every song, word for word. Our fans are Cash fans first, but there are so many of them that it allows us to keep playing the music."

Benson's band's ongoing tribute has the blessings of Cash's friends, associates and relatives.

The group performed at a birthday celebration in honor of Cash in 2010, hosted by Bill Miller, founder of johnnycash.com and Johnny Cash Radio, at the Fender Museum in Corona, Calif. Cash's longtime drummer W.S. Holland sat in at the show.

About four years ago, Benson and his band covered "Cindy, I Love You" at a show at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. Afterward, Cash's daughter Cindy joined the group backstage and thanked them. Then she gave Benson a locket holding strands of Cash's hair.

The San Diego-based Benson grew up listening to The Smiths and the Misfits. It was during the summer when he rode through the Midwest with his parents to visit family that he first heard Cash.

"I was attracted to that voice," Benson says. "Then I started listening to Cash and others like Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson."

Benson started playing at open mic sessions at Buster Daly's in San Diego. Then he placed an ad for a guitarist that was answered by Manuel.

"It was meant to be more of a hobby," he says. "But, right away, it took on a life of its own. Soon we were playing at the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas."

Benson says he feels a connection to the spiritual side of Cash.

"I'm not the greatest Christian, but I know where my heart is," he says. "Miller once said that Cash considered himself a C-plus Christian. Yet he could play a gospel number in a dive bar or a prison and it would be like being in church for that two or three minutes. He could pull that off, and when we bring a little light to our audience, it makes me feel good inside.

"I think Cash was a bit of a prophet. He stood for the common, working man, and he respected everyone. He was never better than anybody.

"I really wish I could have met him."

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