(Excerpt)As I walked into the offices of Mirvish productions in Toronto to meet Shawn Barker, who plays the legendary Johnny Cash in the Mirvish and LCQ production of The Man in Black, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Although I had seen pictures of Barker and knew he shared a similar resemblance to a younger Cash nothing prepared me for what I was about to witness. Strolling into the Mirvish library in a red cowboy shirt and slicked back hair, Shawn approaches me with more than just a slight resemblance to Cash, he is also laden with a thick southern accent that if one were to close their eyes the tone, depth and lilt would be that of none other than the man in black himself. With energy and excitement written on his face Barker tells Cadence about his current Canadian tour with The Man in Black, why so many people relate to Johnny Cash and how it pays to be an Elvis impersonator. Tell us a little about the show? The show basically showcases Johnny's musical career from the time he started (around 1955 at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee) and it goes on to cover the entire life of his music up to his recordings with Rick Rubin. Is it all musical or is there any dialogue? There is some dialogue, not to the extend like a play would have, but I do play Johnny Cash in first person and in between songs I'll give the audience the history of how the song came about, why it was written or what was going on in his career when it was written . How do you prepare for a role like Johnny Cash who was such an iconic personality? Before I ever went on stage, when I was originally cast for the part of Johnny Cash, I took about a year of studying videos and making small appearances in multi-act shows to try to hone my stage skills. I basically did a character study and watched anything I could, read his biographies, went to his house went to where he was buried at in Tennessee and just anything to kind of get the feel of what his life was like and what his music was about. Do you ever take Johnny Cash home? No. For six years we've toured The Man in Black and we've been on the road quite a bit but no when the lights are out and you hang up the guitar you leave it there on the stage. I'm Shawn Barker when I go home. I think there are some similarities though. Yeah the accent for one! My family is from the same part of Arkansas that Johnny is from. I wasn't raised there but the people who raised me, my dad and my grandparents, were from there. I was raised in St. Louis but that's where it comes from. That must be really interesting for your family to have you playing someone who obviously must have been a big impact in their life? Yeah for sure. Unfortunately the biggest fan was my grandpa. I remember him listening to Johnny Cash on 8-tracks and records and unfortunately he passed away before he got to see me do the show. He would have really enjoyed it. [Johnny] was a big hero of his. Johnny has always had a pretty large and wide fan base, he's just as popular today as he was in his heyday. Why do you think audiences are so intrigued with Johnny Cash? There's a lot of different reasons. Johnny Cash has always been portrayed and portrayed himself as the original rebel, the guy who was standing against the system. He was totally anti-Nashville and everything that Nashville had going on and he was going to do the complete opposite. Of course there's the famous photo of Johnny Cash giving the bird. That was actually taken because of a question he was asked about Nashville and the music scene. He had just won the Grammy for Best Country Album for Live at Folsom Prison and when they asked him about Nashville the bird was the answer he gave them. Young kids are able to relate to that rebellious attitude. Someone was telling me that they heard Snoop Dogg say that Johnny Cash was one of his influences because he was the first real rebel, the first bad guy of music. Older crowds and guys relate to him because he was kind of the John Wayne figure of music, very strong and you could always count on him to be consistent from beginning to end. I always say that Johnny never changed his style of music over time, music eventually changed to come back to Johnny Cash. You listen to the stuff he was doing with Rick Rubin and it was no different from what he was doing 30 years before that. Somehow the music industry came back full circle to what he was doing in the beginning which is really amazing.
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