Perfect Sound Forever

Marshall Grant Was Here, There, and Everywhere

Founding Member of the Tennessee Two
who put the chicka behind The Man in Black's Boom
Interview by G.E. Light
(February 2008)

At The Inaugural Johnny Cash Flower Pickin' Festival in Starkville, Mississippi (November 2–4, 2007), one of the star attractions was longtime Cash bassist and road manager, Marshall Grant. Cash was "officially" pardoned for his incident and night in the "Starkville City Jail" (well really Oktibbeha County Jail as the City does not now nor has it ever had a jail proper but following Maxwell Scott's dictum we'll "print the legend") as his $36 fine was returned and daughter donated it to the local Boys and Girls Club. Saturday morning, Marshall gave a book signing and reading of I Was There When It Happened at the Starkville Public Library. Marshall spent 27 years as a founding member of the Tennessee 2 and a lifetime as a friend/confidant and confessor for the Man in Black. PSF caught up with Marshall after his reading was over and posed a few questions about his own career in music rather than the usual Cash-centric focus.

PSF: What was the first instrument you played. Not the bass I think...?

MG: The first instrument (I) ever played, when we first started getting together all three of us played (was) rhythm guitar.

PSF: I read that bit in the book where you all three worked in the auto industry [as mechanics]. When did you get your first bass and what kind was it?

MG: It was a K and I paid $25 for it from OK Houck Music Store on Union Ave in Memphis. The first time I ever touched a bass in my life when I bought it.

PSF: Who would you says influenced your bass playing? Where there people that you heard or did you just sort of learn it as you went.

MG: No, I'll tell you I learned it as I went. There was a lot of bass players I wanted to sound like, but I didn't have the ability at that point to do it and that's just the way it come together. All three of us learned to play these instruments together. That's one of the things that the chemistry came from.

PSF: So you would say you arrived at the signature sound as a chemistry with the other two players. I'm always intrigued that people like to call it "boom chicka boom." I'm not sure that's the best description. I sort of think of the sound of a train myself. How would you describe your bass sound?

MG: I'm not sure who gave it that name. But it's a pretty good description of it. It's country with a beat. It all didn't come from the slap on the bass 'cuz we didn’t have drums and the slap on the bass...

PSF: So that was the percussion.

MG: Yes, that was the percussion. That had a lot to do with it. But John had a great bink [indecipherable from tape] with his wrist action in his right hand and Luther (Perkins, guitarist) with the way he [verb indecipherable on tape] the strings on his guitar and it just gelled together.

PSF: Now another thing that's interesting. I noticed in some of the pictures in the book, that occasionally you're actually playing what looks like an electric bass rather than a stand up. Is there some reason you chose to play one or the other?

MG: Yea, there's a good reason I started playing the electric. It become a problem to transport the upright bass …

PSF: It's so big.

MG: So big. And it got to where when we flew I had to buy a seat. And put it in beside me and it got a little expensive. So I started playing the electric bass.

PSF: So you were Cash's road manager and you also managed the Statler Brothers. Is there any reason why you wanted to be both a musician and management or was it just somebody had to do it and you were willing to do it?

MG: You hit it. Somebody had to do it. You know I started out doing it from the very beginning and it just evolved and grown and got bigger and everything I don't like to refer to myself as a "road manager." I was just the coordinator that tried to put everything together. So I've never looked at myself as, literally, a road manager. I just did what had to be done.

PSF: Do you have any particular special memories of 1965?

MG: Yes, when I found out that he was in jail down here. Of course, I had nothing to do with getting him out. I did when he got in jail in El Paso. But it was very sad... It was very sad. And my wife and myself shed a lot of tears over it. But I'll never forget it and I will always fault myself for not staying here. But I gave my family first priority, so

PSF: One final question, was it typical for you to play Frat Houses in the sixties (the pre-jail Johnny Cash show) was held at the Pi Kappa Alpha house on the MSU campus) or did that just happen that you played a frat house here.

MG: That just happened.

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