Editor’s note: The previous headline stated an incorrect date for the show.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Johnny Cash “The Man in Black,” would have turned 87 years old next Tuesday, Feb. 26. With standout hits as “Ring of Fire,” “Folsom Prison,” “I Walk the Line,” “Jackson” (featuring second wife, June Carter), among others, Cash has remained one of the most influential musicians in country music. His music continues to be covered by many musicians throughout upstate New York, including True Grit Outlaws, Blue Hand Luke, Maurizio Russomanno and Marty Wendell.
Singer, songwriter and Rockabilly Hall of Fame member Marty Wendell and The Bluebillies will celebrate Cash’s birthday in style with an upcoming performance at Caffé Lena in Saratoga Springs on Sunday, Feb. 24.
Having parents who loved listening to music of all various genres, country and rockabilly were two musical genres that Wendell was greatly inspired by throughout his life. Growing up, he became a huge fan of Johnny Cash and his music. In 1957, Wendell’s mother brought home Johnny Cash’s Johnny Cash Hot and Blue Guitar (Cash’s Debut record) for him to listen to on a record player. Upon listening to the record, Wendell became a fan of Cash and went out to a store to purchase a chord book and listened to the album while learning how to play the songs on his guitar.
Wendell first met Cash through talent agent Jerry Teifer in 1964 while he was in school in Newburgh. In 1968, at just 23 years old, Wendell opened for Cash. Inside a backstage dressing room, Cash had brought out his 12-string acoustic guitar and gave it to Wendell to have him perform an original song. According to Wendell, “I had never played a 12 string before, and I can’t remember what song I had tried to play for him. I was nervous as I could be. I mean, here I was with this guy that I’ve been listening to since I was about 12 years old! He was so gracious. He sat and listened and then he played me a bunch of songs that he hadn’t released yet.”
On the strength of the airplay, Wendell’s first single, “Hey Hey Mama”, Wendell was booked to open for Cash who was on tour to promote his current record, Folsom Prison, that ultimately helped Cash reach his stardom.
From time to time, Johnny Cash would often perform at SPAC, Proctor’s, and other venues throughout the Capital Region. Every time Cash was in town, Wendell would come to these shows to spend quality time with his friend. Wendell even brought his sons, John and Sean with him to meet Cash backstage. Cash never looked down upon Wendell as they had performed on stage. Despite his commercial success, Cash remained humble and made sure that Wendell felt like one of the gang.
Throughout his fifty plus years of being a musician, Wendell met plenty of famous names throughout his career including Willie Nelson, Carl Perkins, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Arlo Guthrie, the Carter Family, the Statler Brothers, Marty Stewart, among others, including his musical hero, Johnny Cash. 1996 marked the last year that Cash had made his final stop touring within New York State. Wendell recalled of Cash’s performances of being diverse with his fan base. Cash, back then, had a certain ability to connect with people; young, old, hippies, people of all races and backgrounds that were in tune to his musical style and the way how he was able to tell a musical story.
Wendell is looking forward to his upcoming show at Café Lena as he celebrates and honors his friend, Cash, and the music that continues to have an impact on today’s local musicians and fans of country music in this birthday celebration. This will be the 55th year of Wendell as an artist. The friendship that Wendell had with Cash for many years was very special and to be able to honor that friendship with a birthday performance remains meaningful to him.
Wendell continues to pay homage to his friend through the upcoming release of his new album, Rock & Roll Days “A Celebration of Sun Records”. Wendell’s song, Teardrops of Gold, was inspired by a dream that he had one evening when Johnny Cash had come to one of his concerts and suggested that title for him to record and write an original song. The album will feature a recorded conversation with Cash back in 1968 when Wendell was his opening act for one of his shows. The album will be released on Sunday as part of the Café Lena performance.
Marty Wendell and the Bluebillies will perform at Caffé Lena on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. Tickets can be ordered online at brownpapertickets.com/event/4022317. To learn more about Wendell and his music, go to his website at martywendell.com/index.html.