Cash on the Barrelhead

The Man in Black wows the Gusman, one piece at a time

Again, the affair could've ended right there. But Cash had yet another surprise, what he calls "my favorite part of the show." A bowlegged woman wearing a short black skirt and a smile entered stage left: June Carter Cash. And you thought she was dead.

Anything but. The woman who rescued Cash from a decade of decadence and married him in 1968, and whose family pretty much invented country music, virtually stole the show.

She and her hubby high-timed it through "Jackson," kissing at the conclusion. The duo -- looking not unlike they did back when they had a network TV show 25 years ago -- had even more fun with Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter," June vamping and turning her back to wiggle her butt at the audience. Left alone out there, she spent several minutes aw-shucksing as if she were in a very big, very ornate living room with friends. "I just go where Johnny goes," she said. Admitting that Miami hasn't seen much of her, she explained that back in the old days she "wore Miami out. But country music changed a lot.... But I thought, 'Hey, I could get me one of them short dresses. I got me a topless, strapless, bottomless evening gown...and then found out it was a belt.' Maybe I don't know what's going on in country music any more...but I used to be somebody!"

Still explaining herself, still smiling like she'd won the lottery, Ms. June mentioned daughters Carlene and Rosanne. "I'm their mother. And I'm Rodney Crowell's ex-mother in law. And Marty Stuart's and Nick Lowe's.... I have six daughters and fourteen sons-in-law."

She talked about the Carter family history and seemed surprised when Johnny came back out. "I forgot about you," she quipped. Then she and the rest of the musicians stopped time with her forebears' classic "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."

The circle will not be broken as long as this clan keeps going. But June's inability to understand the current state of country music was evidenced by the curious irony that came at the very beginning of the night. Cash was introduced by DJ Johnny "Shotgun" Dolan from KISS, the big country radio station. The big country radio station that is not giving airplay to Johnny Cash.

But who needs radio? Cash played another five songs, then encored with "A Boy Named Sue" (duplicating the famous bleep vocally) and "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," which he wrote in 1958 partly as a joke based on his quickdraw duels (using blanks) with Sammy Davis, Jr., and now introduces as "a song for the times."

The shifts from somber and violent themes to big fun proved that Cash is still in top form as a performer, whether people come out to see history or just a good show. He closed with "Flesh and Blood," but by then everyone knew exactly how human Johnny Cash is. And being human always has been more important than being a myth.

Johnny Cash performs at 8:00 p.m. tomorrow (Friday) at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd, West Palm Beach; 800-KRAVIS-1. Tickets cost $25 to $40.

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