FAIRMONT - For 30 years, Bob Wootton played lead guitar for Johnny Cash. His tours with the country legend took him around the world, from Folsom Prison to Buckingham Palace.
Wootton will perform at Fairmont Opera House on Aug. 24, with Minnesota band Six Mile Grove, in a fund-raiser to benefit the venue.
Wootton wasn't with Cash's original band, but he was with him until the end. The two met at a show in Fayetteville, Ark. Wootton had quit his job as a bartender in order to see his favorite musician perform at a political rally for Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, and it's a good thing he did.
COMING TO FAIRMONT — Bob Wootton, who played lead guitar for Johnny Cash, and the Minnesota band Six Mile Grove will play a fund-raiser for the Fairmont Opera House on Aug. 24, at the venue in Fairmont.
The Tennessee Three was running late, and Cash couldn't go on without his backing band. Wootton's girlfriend at the time found June Carter and told her that her boyfriend knew every note of Johnny Cash's music.
"When I kicked it out, his mouth fell open," Wootton recalled.
Later, when Luther Perkins died in a house fire, Wootton was called on again, this time to stay.
When people ask him how he successfully re-created the "boom-chicka-boom" sound The Tennessee Three was so famous for, Wootton says he just kept it simple.
"All I know is I loved that sound Johnny Cash had. It was so clean and simple," Wootton said. "Everybody else was jumping around so much and playing guitar so loud you couldn't hear the singing."
Wootton joined up with Cash at a pivotal time. In 1967, Cash had overcome his narcotic addiction, and in 1968, he and June Carter were married. The band accompanied Cash in his prison tours that year, including the live recording at San Quentin.
"We played five different prisons in one day," Wootton said. "It was really a weird feeling, moving in and out of those places, with the big prison doors clanging behind you. I thought, 'I hope to God they don't lose the key.'"
The two men went on to become close friends.
"We were like family. I was there was his son was born. June was like a sister to me. We traveled all over the world together, to 80-plus countries, like Vietnam, when we played for the soldiers," Wootton said.
"It was awesome," he said. "When I think about it now I have chills."
Cash died in 2003, and Wootton had no intention of performing again. Then he met Minnesota musician Brandon Sampson with Six Mile Grove. Sampson was a long-time Cash fan, and he encouraged Wootton to pick up his guitar. In 2004, Wootton did just that, playing the "Cash Only" tribute, with Six Mile Grove as his band. The two nights sold out, and Wootton began making the trek from his home in Oklahoma to Minnesota on a regular basis. Six Mile Grove opens the act with its original music and then Wootton comes on stage, playing the songs and sounds of Johnny Cash.
He's also been performing with his wife and two daughters, touring the world playing the music of Cash and The Tennessee Three.
"So many people, when they die, they're gone and that's the end of it," he said. "I don't want that to ever happen to Johnny Cash."
The enthusiasm he has seen from fans young and old has been encouraging. He recalled meeting an 8-year-old girl who recognized him and the music he represents.
"You Bob Wootton?" she asked. "You played with Johnny Cash. I love Johnny Cash."
What's your favorite song, he asked her.
"Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog," she replied, causing Wootton to burst into laughter in his surprise.
"You never can tell," he said.
Wootton and Six Mile Grove will perform Friday, Aug. 24. The street in front of the Opera House will be closed from 5:30 p.m. for a "Party on the Plaza" until the show starts at 7:30 p.m.
"We'll serve beer and wine, and have a band outside before show starts," said Kathi Peterson, managing director of the Opera House.
Tickets to see Bob Wootton and Six Mile Grove are $20 each and available for purchase through the Opera House website, www.fairmontoperahouse.com, or by calling (507) 238-4900.
The fund-raiser is sponsored by Profinium Financial.
"Any dollar raised will go directly to the Opera House for paint for the north wall," said Ian Bents, president of the venue's board of directors.