Folsom Prison Blues
It would seem that the old Roman port city of Marseille, France would be the least likely place to produce the latest Johnny Cash-inspired performer. Yet, that’s exactly where J.R. Black, the first performer to translate and sing the songs of Johnny Cash in French, hails from. Born in this most southern of French cities, J.R. Black developed a deep love and respect for faraway country stars such as Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, George Jones and, especially, Johnny Cash. With his full backing band, J.R. Black emulates the traditional Johnny Cash sound, from the simple bass parts to the Luther Perkins boom-chicka-boom leads, yet interprets it with a certain Gallic flair and sensitivity.
J.R. Black eventually relocated to Los Angeles, becoming a founding member of the gothic country punk band Miss Derringer. The band, featuring J.R. Black bass player Morgan Slade and famed artist Liz McGrath, toured the United States opening for such popular acts as Blondie, Tiger Army, Bad Religion, John Doe and The Head Cat. J.R. Black drummer Frederick Arciniegas also has a distinguished rock ‘n’ roll track record, from keeping beats for legendary New York Dolls guitar player Sylvain Sylvain to touring the U.S. with garage rock favorites the Charms. Rounding out the band are two other uniquely talented performers – Swedish singer Ghena Nasser and Los Angeles-based guitar gunslinger Mike Silver. Recently, J.R. Black was invited by Johnny Cash’s daughter Cindy Cash to play the Roadshow Revival Tribute to Johnny Cash Festival at the Ventura Fairgrounds.
“Translating the songs is such a special challenge,” notes Black, explaining that he has such respect and awe for the songs that it can be a very intimidating process. “People in France have always had a special fascination with and love of American culture – from rock ‘n’ roll to cowboys and Indians to outlaw convicts – so the songs in French still make a lot of sense. And they also love trains!” So, while this train-inspired sound might be headed South, it’s not the Old Southern sound you might expect!