Marshall Grant, who played standup bass in Johnny Cash's original
trio and helped create the legendary singer's distinctive, rhythmic sound in
the 1950s, has died. He was 83.
Grant, who remained with Cash as a bass player for more than two decades and
later managed the Statler Brothers, died Sunday in a hospital
in Jonesboro, Ark., according to a spokesman for Memorial Park Funeral Home and Cemetery
A resident of Hernando, Miss., Grant was in Jonesboro last week for
a Johnny Cash Music Festival to raise funds for the restoration of Cash's
boyhood home. The Thursday concert included George Jones, Kris Kristofferson,
Rodney Crowell and Cash's children, John Carter Cash and Rosanne Cash, among others.
"Marshall was supposed to give a speech, even play his bass on one song," Rosanne
Cash told The Times Monday. Grant had participated in the rehearsal
Wednesday afternoon but was hospitalized with an aneurism that night, she said.
"I loved him so much — he treated me like a daughter," she said, adding that
Grant called her almost every month in recent years to talk about "the old stories."
Teamed with lead guitarist Luther Perkins, Grant was half of
the Tennessee Two, whose first record with Cash, "Hey, Porter"/"Cry, Cry, Cry,"
was released on Sam Phillips' Sun Records label in 1955.
Grant continued to play bass with Cash — he also served as Cash's road
manager — from 1954 to 1980 and played on Cash hits,
including "Ring of Fire," "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line."
Grant and Perkins were working as mechanics with Cash's brother Roy in
Memphis in 1954.
"Sometimes we'd bring our guitars to work, and when things were slow,
we'd go in the back and pick and have some fun," Grant recalled in
a 2010 interview with The Commercial Appeal. "One day, Roy said, 'Grant, I
got a brother in the service who sings just like Hank Snow, and I
bet he would love to pick a little with y'all when he gets out.'"
Cash, Grant and Perkins all played rhythm guitar when they began playing together,
but they made changes after deciding to audition for Phillips. Grant had never
played a bass before.
The combo's famous sound came out of rehearsals. "We sat around trying to figure
out what we were doing," Grant recalled in the 2010 interview. "Luther and I
played the same notes on bass and lead guitar, and John with that old awkward
lick that he had … well, here come this god-awful sound. But we worked with it."
Before the night was over, he said, "We could go from E to A to D
and back. Slap, hit. Slap, hit. Boom-chicka, boom-chicka, boom-chicka; and all
of a sudden the sound of Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two was born."
As musicians, Hilburn said, all three of them were "very limited, and
Grant always said maybe if they had been better musicians they would have
just copied what Nashville was doing in country music, and Cash's records
would have been kind of conventional.
"So they came up with this primitive sound, and it was remarkable. When
Johnny Cash went to Sam Phillips to get a record contract, he almost apologized
for their limitations. But Sam loved that sound. He said, 'Don't change a thing.'
"That primitive beat almost sounded like a heartbeat to me. It was reinforcing
the honesty and character of Cash's voice and Cash's stories.
"It's almost like lightning striking. These three guys getting together and
creating this sound."
Despite a falling out that led to Cash firing Grant and a lawsuit filed
by Grant over money he claimed he was owed, Grant and Cash reconciled in the late '90s.
When Hilburn interviewed Grant a few weeks ago for his Cash
biography, Grant recalled the time he visited Cash at his home shortly before
the singer's death in 2003.
"They were talking about the stuff Cash had accomplished, the great career
he'd had," said Hilburn. "He was trying to cheer
him up and said, 'You sure did it all.' And Cash looked at him
and said, "No, Marshall, we did it all.'
"They really were a team. Cash was an essential part of it, but Marshall and
Luther were right there with him."
Grant, who was born outside Bryson City, N.C., on May 5, 1928, and began playing
guitar at age 10, titled his 2006 memoir "I Was There When It Happened:
My Life with Johnny Cash."
A complete list of Grant's survivors, who include his
wife Etta and son Randy, was not available.
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