GAC extends condolences to the family, friends and fans of Marshall Grant, the last surviving member of Johnny Cash & The Tennessee Two. The Associated Press reports Mr. Grant, 83, passed away Sunday, August 7 in Jonesboro, Arkansas after an aneurysm and stroke. He fell ill after rehearsing for a concert to raise funds for the restoration of Johnny Cash’s boyhood home, according to Johnny’s daughter, Rosanne Cash.
Marshall, Johnny Cash and guitarist Luther Perkins shaped the unique sound heard on songs like “I Walk the Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Ring of Fire,” “’Big River” and “Cry Cry Cry.” They happened upon their sound almost accidentally when Marshall and Luther, who were both mechanics in Memphis, were introduced to Johnny by his brother, Roy Cash. Since all three of them couldn’t play rhythm guitar, Luther borrowed a Fender Telecaster with the volume controls stuck in wide open, said John Rumble, senior historian at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, and Marshall bought a Kay bass. From there, their sound evolved.
The trio began recording in 1955 on Sun Records, a label that included Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. They earned success quickly and appeared on first the Louisiana Hayride and then the Grand Ole Opry. “I think the word that comes to my mind is originality,” Marty Stuart once said in an interview. “They were pure American originals, all three of them.”
Though Johnny was the man fronting the band, there was no doubt that they were a band. “The Johnny Cash sound was created by the three of them equally, you know what I mean?” Rosanne Cash told the Associated Press. “There was none of that ‘boom chicka boom’ without Marshall. You can’t separate the three of them at that point when it all started. It was one thing. You know, they’re united again, the three of them.”
Rosanne spent the last days of Marshall’s life with him in Arkansas. They had reconnected last Wednesday during rehearsals for a Johnny Cash Festival appearance that served as a fundraiser to help restore Cash’s childhood home in Dyess. Marshall fell ill and the Johnny Cash Festival was held without him, attracting George Jones and Kris Kristofferson. She says Marshall’s contribution to her dad’s success is undeniable.
“He wouldn’t have gone where he did without Marshall, and therefore this lineage not only of me but of the next generations of roots and rockabilly and country musicians would’ve disappeared,” she said. “An entire generation of those musicians owe something to Marshall.”
Marshall played bass with Johnny Cash until 1980. He then began a career in management, handling The Statler Brothers until they retired in 2002 and later writing the autobiography I Was There When It Happened. He and Luther Perkins were among the first inductees into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville in 2007.
Watch Johnny Cash & The Tennessee Two perform “Get Rhythm.”