Cash’d Out: Live! Authentic! And in SoCal!


CASH’D OUT (Johnny Cash Tribute); press photo

Sadly, not too long ago we lost the great Johnny Cash. Fortunately, however, we have San Diego based Cash’d Out – a band who continues to bring us the sounds and styles of the legendary artist. Existing for eleven years now, they have traversed the country countless time and earned the praises of fans and critics alike for being “the next best thing to Johnny Cash.”

Currently, Cash’d Out is Douglas Benson on vocals, George Bernardo on drums, and Stephen Rey on bass. But what got this band started in the direction they have taken? “I just like the way he sounds, number one. I like the stories that he tells. I like the man that I’ve learned about and what kind of a man he was. Plus, I can kind of sound like him a little bit”, Benson explains with some humor. ” I put an ad in the San Diego reader, and a few people answered it. One guy I ended up hooking up was Kevin Manuel who became our guitar player. And we formed the band from there. Actually, now I’m the only original member who’s left. But my business partner/drummer/backing vocalist George Bernardo, him and I run it now. And he’s been with me for about ten years now, I guess.”

The first step was like nearly every band, i.e. how long should we play, what songs should we learn, etc. “The first song I learned was “Cry, Cry, Cry” or something like that, it was real simple. We had probably had about fifteen songs to play, maybe, the first time we played. I think it was about a half hour of music,” Benson recalled to the best of his ability. “I remember it was my cousins wedding reception. He got married the same day; we went to dinner, and after dinner he brought the wedding reception party over to the little venue we had booked already. Cuz I didn’t know, that was a last minute thing he did…So it worked out pretty good, we had a pretty good sold-out show.”

As they began to play show after show, Cash’d Out began homing in on exactly what it was they wanted to do. Johnny Cash has an extensive career thus it is not easy for a band to reference all his material in a single show. Thus, the band chose to primarily focus on and combine two areas of the Man in Black’s career: The Sun Records/early Columbia sound and the energetic performances showcased on the prison recordings done at Folsom as well as San Quentin. While these are the most popular eras of Johnny Cash’s music, this was not the reason Benson chose them, “Those are my favorite years. The Sun and Columbia years were my favorite years of Johnny Cash music. So, obviously, that’s where I wanted to start. Why not start from the beginning, as much as possible?”

To date, the oft-quoted number of songs in the bands repertoire is 150, but factors along the way point to a different number according to Benson, “Yea, I probably have learned closer to 300 songs out of the 3600 he wrote and stole. Probably due to, like, personnel changes, and the bass player and guitar player here and there. And the time allotment. Most clubs don’t want you to do a three-hour show anymore. When we first started out, that was what we were doing every time…We try to keep it to 90 minutes and if they want to hear an encore, we have plenty of songs we can do in the encore.”

It is this dedication and authenticity which has garnered them so much praise over the years. Cindy Cash saw Cash’d out and was so moved she gave her father’s locket to Benson; Lou Robin, a longtime Cash manager, stated that closing his eyes at their shows was like “going back in time.” It doesn’t even stop there, since Benson even received the honor of playing one of Cash’s guitars and the official Johnny Cash website endorses them.

One of the most fascinating examples of this was when longtime Cash drummer W.S. Holland sat in with the band for a session. “He was at a show, we did a thing for Bill Miller, owner of…Before he moved to Nashville, he used to live up here in Corona. There was a Fender guitars education center and he used to live kinda close by. And they had room and asked him to do a kind of make-shift Johnny Cash musuem. He set that up in there for awhile, and having us come up and sing at shows, and events, and stuff. And one time, W.S. Holland just happened to be up there working, you know, doing drum classes for kids and stuff like that. And we asked him if he would mind sitting in on a couple songs. After drumming all day, I figured he was gonna be tired. But he sat in and did three hours straight with us after he had been working with the kids all day. He’s got alot of fire still left in his blood, and it was alot of fun. Real pleasure working with him.”

Cash’d Out is still going strong, with ambitious plans for the future. There are tentative plans on going in the studio with musician Jackson Taylor and doing some Smiths’ song, in the spirit of where Cash left off with songs such as his cover of “Hurt.” In addition, they have just recently released a live album of their own as well.