Cash Back pays homage to the Man in Black

Matt Gardner
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The colour black is traditionally worn to grieve for the dead. But for the Johnny Cash tribute band Cash Back, it has become a symbol of resurrection.

Johnny Cash tribute band Cash Back is playing the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on Friday night starting at 7 p.m. From left to right: Drummer Dave Wickett, bassist/vocalist Debbie Norman and guitarist/vocalist Dave Norman.

“One time we were playing early on … and we didn’t really have a name yet,” Cash Back frontman and guitarist David R. Norman recalled.

“Somebody hollered from the crowd, ‘Oh, you’ve brought Johnny Cash back to life!’ And that happened more than once. And one of our musician friends said, ‘That’s what you should call yourselves -- Cash Back.’ So that’s where we got the name from.”

Prince Albert audiences will have the chance to hear Cash Back for themselves this week when the band plays the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on Friday night. Along with Norman, the group includes his wife Debbie on bass and vocals as well as drummer Dave Wickett.

Cash Back’s setlist represents a broad cross-section of Cash’s career. Besides songs from the Man in Black himself, the show pays tribute to his wife June Carter Cash and the Carter Family, his backing band The Tennessee Two (later known as the Tennessee Three) and Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, who helped Cash get his start in the music industry.

Despite his reverence for the late country legend, Norman makes it clear that he is only covering Cash’s songs, not mimicking him.

“We dress in black, but I’m not an impersonator,” he said. “If you look up the definition of ‘impersonator’ in the dictionary, you’ll see that an impersonator tries to act and dress and talk like the person he’s impersonating.”

Norman’s own career in music dates back to the 1960s. Coming from a highly musical family, he counts his parents among the most formative influences in prompting him to pick up a six-string.

“My dad played the violin and the guitar and my mother played the piano and accordion and guitar, and she taught me basically how to play guitar,” Norman said.

“I was mostly interested in country music at the time, and when I first heard the Johnny Cash sound in 1966, I was 13 years old, and that pretty well hooked me.”

During his high school years, Norman played in a country-folk band in which he sang numerous Cash hits, but it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that he formed the country-rock band Midnight Special with his younger brothers and his wife Debbie.

When I first heard the Johnny Cash sound in 1966, I was 13 years old, and that pretty well hooked me. David Norman

Over the years, Midnight Special experienced frequent turnover as members came and went, until the band finally called it a day in 1991. The Normans, who also held day jobs, bought a car wash and laundromat to run their own business on the side.

It wasn’t until 2003, when David received a high-end acoustic/electric guitar for his 50th birthday, that he began to consider returning to the stage.

“My wife and I were invited to play for a couple of benefits and whatnot,” Norman said. “And I just decided that I was going to go back to my roots and dust off my old Johnny Cash songs.”

Although Norman had played at dances and bars in his Midnight Special days, since returning to music he has preferred to play at more sedate events such as fundraisers and care homes.

He and Debbie have previously performed in Prince Albert at the Herb Bassett Home -- where they “caused a bit of a ruckus” -- and were subsequently invited to play at Mont St. Joseph. They have also played in Paddockwood and Christopher Lake.

“We’ve just toured mostly Saskatchewan, so it’s been mostly for fundraisers and things like that,” Norman said.

“We’ve criss-crossed Saskatchewan quite a bit in the last few years. We’ve made it into Alberta a bit, a little bit into Manitoba. But I retired in July 2010, so that was kind of what I had in mind to do some of this after I retired.”

Cash Back’s Friday show at the Rawlinson Centre is meant as a fundraiser for the Prince Albert Lions Club. A local club member booked the band after catching their performance at a Rosthern fundraiser.

Audience members at the show can look forward to a non-stop selection of Cash classics as well as an exploration of the singer’s life.

“It’s kind of a history lesson,” Norman said. “I talk about different songs and give some of the history of some of the music.”

Cash Back takes the stage at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $30.25 and are available at the box office or online.

Organizations: Prince Albert, Rawlinson Centre, Sun Records

Geographic location: Tennessee, Saskatchewan, Paddockwood Christopher Lake Alberta Manitoba Rosthern

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