Roger's tribute to the Man in Black

When Norfolk-based entertainer Roger Dean announced a series of concerts celebrating the life of Johnny Cash life you’d be forgiven for assuming that he had planned it to coincide with bippic Walk The Line, but in fact Roger had more than a stroke of luck.

There could hardly be a better time to launch a tribute show to Johnny Cash. The late country singer's music has grown in popularity in recent years and tonight sees the release of Walk the Line, the Oscar-nominated film about his life.

So when Norfolk-based entertainer Roger Dean announced a series of concerts celebrating his life you'd be forgiven for assuming that he had planned it that way, but in fact Roger had more than a stroke of luck.

"My business partner, David Boldero, came up and said 'Let's give this a go' some time ago, not realising that they were doing this Walk the Line biopic," said Roger.

"We booked the theatres and then heard about the film, and now it is up for the Oscar!"


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Cash's star has been on the rise again for the past decade and since his death in 2003, at the age of 71, it has shown no sign of waning.

The new film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as his wife June Carter Cash, and they have been respectively nominated for the Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars.

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It focuses on the early years of his career in the mid-1950s, when he was recording songs such as I Walk the Line at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee.

It wasn't until more than a decade later that Cash, nicknamed the Man in Black for his dress style and demeanour, came to wider prominence with the crossover hit A Boy Named Sue. The film should ensure a new generation is hooked by his music.

But Roger, from Heacham, was a fan from the early days after hearing his music on the radio as a teenager.

At the age of 14, in 1962, Roger appeared on a BBC children's television talent show called All Your Own, presented by Huw Wheldon. Roger sang a Cash song called Tennessee Flat Top Box and was then asked by the BBC to appear on several radio shows.

"I have always been grateful to Johnny Cash in that sense, because he gave me a way in to becoming an entertainer," he says.

"Over the years I have done things ranging from touring as Postman Pat to appearing in a West End musical with Sir Ian McKellen, but I have always had an interest in country music and Johnny Cash in particular.

"When I was young I started to like people who did story songs, rather than love songs - I was into that kind of music. I tuned in the radio and picked up some station that was playing Johnny Cash. We had a tape recorder and I learned how to play the songs from that."

Now he is touring a three-man show, entitled Roger Dean Sings the Johnny Cash Story, with his partner David on bass and keyboardist Benjie Howell.

The show isn't a Stars in Their Eyes style impersonation in full Man in Black costume, but Roger does possess a similarly deep and resonant voice.

"He naturally sounds like Johnny Cash, but doesn't dress like him," said David.

"It's about getting the feel and the essence of it."

Between singing classic numbers such as Big River, Ring of Fire and Sunday Morning Coming Down, Roger also describes Cash's rise from poverty-stricken beginnings in rural Arkansas to world stardom.

The singer was actually born with the name J Cash - he had to change it when serving in the US Air Force, which would not accept initials as a name.

At the age of five he was working in the cotton fields of the family farm, which was flooded when the Mississippi burst its banks. This formative incident later inspired him to write the song Five Feet High and Rising, which is featured in Roger's musical version of his life story.

Although he has been performing Cash's music for most of his life, this is the first time that he has performed this dedicated show.

The music featured goes right from his early days, when he produced his classic recordings with the minimal backing of Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant, to his revival in the final decade of his life.

In 1993, producer Rick Rubin, until then best known for his work with rap and hard rock artists, began recording the ageing Cash singing a selection of new songs, intriguing cover versions such as U2's One, and new versions of his older material.

Throughout his career he wrote more than 500 songs and a representation will be featured in Roger's show.

"We have got a show of more than two hours so we can play all the songs that were associated with him, from his early work to the later stuff to - music from right across his career."

Roger Dean Sings the Johnny Cash Story is at the Little Theatre, Sheringham, on March 3, Gorleston Pavilion on March 11 and the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich, on April 5 - contact the venues for ticket information.

For more details see www.singingjohnnycash.co.uk.

Walk the Line goes on general cinematic release today.

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