In honor of two ‘50s music icons, tribute artists Danny Millsap and Danny Memphis will be kicking off next month at the Lobero Theatre with “A Tribute to Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley,” a double-bill concert featuring the two singers’ catalogues. The February 1 show will be the first collaboration between the two tribute singers and came about when Mr. Millsap decided that getting an Elvis Presley tribute singer to play a joint show with his group The Only Cash Tribute band would be apt. The pairing is a throwback to the mid 1950s when Mr. Cash and Mr. Presley were on the same Memphis record label Sun Records.
Mr. Millsap has been performing Johnny Cash tribute concerts since shortly after the country singer’s death in 2003. In an interview with the News-Press, Mr. Millsaop remarked that his desire to perform Mr. Cash’s music goes back more than a before that to 1990, when he saw the man in black perform live in Fresno. Not only was he fascinated by Mr. Cash’s music, but also by his mysterious persona, his love for his family, and his belief in god.
With The Only Cash Tribute Band, Mr. Millsap performs the biggest hits of the singer-songwriter’s career like “Ring of Fire” and “I Walk the Line,” as well as songs that Mr. Cash performed later in his career for a series of albums he made on producer Rick Rubin’s label American Recordings. These include his versions of the American gospel song “Ain’t No Grave (Gonna Hold This Body Down),” Soundgarden song “Rusty Cage,” and Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt.” For the last part of Mr. Millsap’s set, his wife Christie Millsap will join him as Mr. Cash’s wife June Carter for performances of songs like the couple’s famous duet “Jackson.”
The purpose of The Only Cash Tribute Band is to keep Mr. Cash’s music alive, which Mr. Millsap believes is necessary as he no longer hears the country singer’s music on the airwaves.
“It’s kind of our mission to keep his music out there because you don’t really hear his music on the radio anymore,” he said.
Mr. Millsap told the News-Press that performing the tribute to Mr. Cash is “an honor.” Looking at the singer-songwriter’s life, he believes that Mr. Cash’s ability to weather the hardships of his sometimes troubled life and emerge with a more positive life situation is a testament to the power of perseverance. That Mr. Cash was recording music when he was in poor health and had less than a year to live is a major example of this.
“Six months before he died he recorded ‘Hurt,’ so it just shows, don’t give up,” Mr. Millsap said.
Whereas Mr. Millsap as been paying tribute to the man in balck for over a decade, Danny Memphis has only been taking on the king of rock and roll’s persona for the past three years. Still, Mr. Millsap said that Mr. Memphis’ performance as Elvis Presley is second to none.
“His voice is absolutely amazing,” Mr. Millsap said of the other Danny.
Like the singer whose essence he embodies, Mr. Memphis hails from Memphis, Tennessee, and grew up with a steady diet of gospel music going to church. This added with the fact that his parents were huge Elvis fans and turned him onto Mr. Presley’s music early on have made performing Elvis tributes a completely natural experience. When asked about the process by which he developed his Elvis voice, Mr. Memphis replied, “To be honest with you, I was born that way.”
He added, “I don’t try to be like Elvis. I think that can be overdone.”
Throughout his performance, Mr. Memphis performs cuts from three decades in which Mr. Presley was musically active, the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Depending on the gig he’s been hired for, he switches his onstage attire between a couple of iconic outfits that Mr. Presley wore throughout his career. If the event has a ‘50s theme, Mr. Memphis will wear the sharp suits that Mr. Presley donned during that decade. If he’s asked to perform a career-spanning Elvis set, then he might wear the black leather suit that the singer wore on his 1968 NBC television special or the white, rhinestone-encrusted jumpsuits that were his trademark during the ‘70s. Mr. Memphis couldn’t name any one Elvis Presley song as his favorite, but he said the late ‘60s hits “Suspicious Minds” and “Kentucky Rain” get a great audience reception.
During most concerts, Mr. Memphis’ audiences are eager to hear songs from each Elvis era. While the king of rock and roll is best known for the rockabilly songs that became a cornerstone of the rock and roll genre, Mr. Memphis commented that there’s much more to what he did such as his late career ballads, gospel songs, and country music.
“He had an incredible range. Nobody could sing a song like Elvis,” he said.
At a few points during his interview with the News-Press, Mr. Memphis said that doing a good Elvis Presley requires not “overdoing it.” While it may sound counterintuitive, in his opinion, the trick to avoid going overboard with the Elvis mannerisms is “just to be yourself.” After all, there’s no being better than Elvis.
“We’re not trying to be better than Elvis,” he said. “Being a tribute is just that. We’re trying to bring an Elvis vibe to the show.” Tickets for Mr. Millsap and Mr. Memphis’ “A Tribute to Jonny Cash & Elvis Presley” can be purchased online at www.lobero.org. The concert will begin at 8 p.m. at the Lobero Theatre, located 33 E Canon Perdido St.