Paying tribute to the Man in Black
February 14, 2012
When Jack Quist was attending Olympus Junior High School, he put together a country band.
The group auditioned for the school talent show by playing Johnny Cash’s "Folsom Prison Blues."
"We passed the test, so we got to perform that night in front of the students, their parents and the faculty," Quist said during a phone call from his home in Salt Lake City.
"They judged the show by measuring the loudness of applause with an electric sound meter. So, who caused the loudest applause would win."
Quist upped the ante by deciding to sing "Cocaine Blues" for the evening performance.
"I knew the kids would scream and yell because the lyrics were bad, and we would win," he said with a laugh. "We played and the kids went nuts and clapped and screamed. The needle on the meter went into red."
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When the dust settled, the faculty knew Quist and his band were the winners, but to appease the parents because of the profanity-laced performance, the faculty, to save face, suspended Quist for three days.
The experience taught the musician one thing he could sound like Johnny Cash.
In fact, he sounds so much like the late great country singer that, as an adult, he created a tribute show called "Jackson Cash: A Tribute to the Man in Black."
The show will play at the Egyptian Theatre Saturday, Feb. 18, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 19, at 6 p.m.
Quist said he developed an affinity for Johnny Cash at an early age.
"My adopted father really liked the music and I liked the song ‘Ring of Fire,’" Quist said. "As time went on, and I began to develop my musical talents, I wanted to be like Johnny Cash or Elvis Presley."
Quist discovered that, by singing in his low voice, he could sound like Cash or Waylon Jennings.
"So, when I got into the nightclubs, I started singing more Waylon, Johnny and Willie Nelson stuff," he said. "The group I was in, Cow Jazz, got pretty popular in Salt Lake City."
During those bar gigs, Quist began thinking of doing a Cash tribute.
"Before Johnny passed away in 2003 and the movie ‘Walk The Line’ came out, I wondered, since there were so many Elvis impersonators, if there were Johnny Cash impersonators," he said. "I had my manager do some research and we found that there were a few, but while some looked like Johnny, they sounded more like Hank Snow."
Quist knew he could sound the part, but didn’t feel tall enough.
"I’m five-six and three-quarters, and Johnny was six-one," he said. "I also had brown hair, not black, so I didn’t think I could look enough like him to pull it off."
Then Quist saw Joaquin Phoenix play Cash in "Walk the Line."
"Joaquin wasn’t that tall, and he didn’t sound as close to him as I did, so I thought if he could do it, I can, too," Quist said.
So, with the help of his friend Bryan Shafer, Quist took off to Branson, Mo., to be a Johnny Cash impersonator.
"I met Bryan seven years ago and I call him my Park City angel," Quist said. "He was the one who got me the costumes and guitars for the part.
"I took off with 25 bucks in my pocket and tried to see if I could find a place to play."
Two days after arriving in Branson, Quist landed a gig at the Branson Mall on the strip.
"I even had someone cut my hair and dye it black," Quist said with a laugh.
After a month of shows, Quist recorded some of his own country albums and met someone who would change his life: James Mock, the owner of Branson’s Caravelle Theatre.
"He was a former pilot who flew Johnny Cash, his wife June Carter and son John Carter Cash to shows," Quist said. "He had me sing a version of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ and offered me a gig opening for the Beatles tribute band Liverpool Legends and Cody Slaughter, an Elvis Presley impersonator."
Within a year, Quist had started headlining at the Caravelle Theatre.
One morning, another door of his career opened at Walmart.
"I went in to buy some night crawlers and the elderly greeter stopped me and told me that I needed to go to televangelist Jim and Lori Bakker’s TV station down the street.
The greeter told Quist that the Bakkers were going to film Cash’s little sister, Joanne, singing her gospel songs.
"I walked in and saw about a hundred people gathered around this miniature woman who looks like a prettier Johnny Cash," he said. "Someone said I looked like Johnny and asked me to sing."
Quist sang "I Still Miss Someone," which happened to be Joanne Cash’s favorite song.
"I started singing and then she started singing harmonies with me," Quist said. "After we finished, I was asked to be on the show with Joanne, who told everyone that her mother would have loved me, and stopped just short of saying I was the bastard son of Johnny Cash.
"If you don’t believe me, you can check it out on YouTube," Quist said.
The singer doesn’t have a favorite Johnny Cash song. He said he loves them all.
"If I was ever pushed to choosing, though, I would have to say ‘Cocaine Blues’ because of what happened at Olympus Junior High," he said with a laugh.
The Egyptian Theatre will present "Jackson Cash: a Tribute to the Man in Black" on Saturday, Feb. 18, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 19, at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $30 and are available at http://www.parkcityshows.com.