Rosanne Cash reported on Twitter this morning that legendary bass player, Marshall Grant, an original member of Johnny Cash & the Tennessee Two died early Sunday morning at St. Bernard’s Medical Center in Jonesboro, AR., from the effects aneurysm. He was 83.
Marshall Grant, original of Johnny Cash & The Tennessee Two, died lst nt. Grateful I was w/ him last 2 days. Boom Chicka Boom, old friend. - Rosanne Cash via Twitter
Cash, the eldest daughter of legendary singer Johnny Cash, had a lifelong friendship with Grant as she was born at the beginning of the group's rise to stardom. She further called the musician her 'back-up dad' and was happy she got to spend a couple of days with him just before his death.
Cash played a show at the Johnny Cash Music Festival at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, AR this past Thursday night. The Johnny Cash Music Festival is raising money to restore the singer's boyhood home in Dyess, Arkansas and brought out performers who played with Cash or were close to his life. The performance recorded for a later broadcast featured husband John Leventhal, George Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Rodney Crowell and other Cash family members. Grant was also scheduled to perform and even made an appearance at rehearsal the previous evening, but went to the hospital after suffering a brain aneurism following the rehearsal. Leventhal even got to play a guitar once owned by original Tennessee Two guitarist Luther Perkins, who died in a house fire in 1968.
Raised in Bessemer City, NC, Grant was one of twelve children born of Willie Leander and Mary Elizabeth (Simmonds) Grant. He married his wife of over 64 years, Etta May Dickerson on November 9, 1946. They had one son, Randall. The two settled in Memphis, TN the following year with Grant working as an auto mechanic. There Grant worked with Perkins and met Roy Cash, Johnny's older brother. Upon seeing the two aspiring musicians playing their guitars on breaks at work Roy Cash mentioned he had a brother stationed overseas who would probably like to play with them when he returned home. On July 15, 1954, Grant got to meet Roy's brother, J.R., who was returning from serving in the Air Force in Germany. J.R. Cash left for Texas to get married and a month later when he returned everything started to happen.
With his upright bass, Grant was a master of the rolling boom chicka boom sound made famous by the group in the 1950s and 1960s. Originally Grant, Perkins and Cash all played acoustic guitar, but they soon realized that to follow the lead of fellow Memphis musician Elvis Presley someone would need to to play electric guitar and bass. Perkins bought an electric guitar and Grant bought a used bass at OK Houck Music Store in Memphis for $25. To save costs and because it needed to be done, Grant served as road manager during Johnny Cash & the Tennessee Two tours in addition to playing bass. Grant made housing and travel arrangements for the group to get them to gigs. The group would travel by car and station wagon from city to city to play concerts. Grant also managed the Statler Brothers for many years until their retirement last decade.
Grant wrote with Chris Zar about his experiences playing with Cash in his autobiography I Was There When It Happened: My Life With Johnny Cash published by Cumberland House in October, 2006. The title is a reference to the a gospel song the group presented to Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, to record. Phillips rejected the song on the grounds he couldn't sell gospel music asking the group if they had any other material. The group got hard at work building music around poems written by Johnny Cash. Grant wrote the book on his experiences in Johnny Cash's inner circle from memory without the aid of a diary or extensive notes. Ever the straight sideman, Grant admitted that he never drank alcohol, took drugs or smoked cigarettes.
The book, endorsed by way of forwards written by both Rosanne Cash and the Statler Brothers, is Grant's account of his days playing with Cash from the early 1950's up until his dismissal in 1980. The stories contained are both stark and truthful telling readers many of the behind the scenes details of Cash's life including his demons with amphetamine and barbiturate addictions.
In an interview, Grant discussed how the he sat with writers initially slated to write the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk The Line." The writers were eventually replaced by the studio, but Grant's recollections were used even though they were now third hand.
Grant was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2009. In addition to music Grant also enjoyed owning and racing outboard powerboats racking up many victories.