Tex cashes into the black
Tex Perkins as Johnny Cash.

Tex Perkins reckons he was about five or six years old when he first heard Johnny Cash.

"A Boy Named Sue was one of those songs that was always on the radio when I was a kid," he recalls. "The thing that always struck me about Johnny Cash's songs is that they always told a story, and that's what engages a child a lot quicker than your usual average pop lyrics."

Perkins is about to return to Perth for a second tour of The Man in Black: The Johnny Cash Story, which won a Helpmann Award for Best Contemporary Australian Concert back in 2010. He'll be ably supported by Rachael Tidd (who plays June Carter) and the Tennessee Four, not only performing some of Cash's greatest hits but also telling the tale of the great man's complex, often difficult life.

"Johnny Cash's lyrics were the first time I'd ever heard mention of the dirty side of life," Perkins says. "But often it was done in a humorous context, and that defined a lot of what he did.

"When I started in bands, his music was incredibly important. We were doing an inept 16-year-old's version of punkabilly and his music was perfect because it had cool lyrics, pretty simple music, and you could get away with playing a lot of it on two strings. The absolute simplicity - combined with lines like 'I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die' - I mean, half our set, at one stage, was Johnny Cash songs."

As Perkins' career progressed from the early days of the Dum Dums and the Beasts of Bourbon into the Cruel Sea and beyond, he went through a period of not listening to Cash's music at all.

"I left it behind for quite a long time and didn't think about it," he says. "I moved into that sort of noisy, messy, weirdo stuff and started exploring all sorts of music. But when Cash started that final comeback, that run of albums that Rick Rubin produced, a lot of people went: 'Wow, that's right - Johnny Cash!' It reignited his career as well as everyone else's perspective on him."

One of Cash's last great recordings was a cover version of Nine Inch Nails' Hurt, which Perkins will perform alongside the earlier classic material, including Ring of Fire, I Walk the Line and Folsom Prison Blues.

"By the time this show popped up, it was exactly the right time for me," Perkins says. "I don't think the producer, Jim McPherson, realised just how up for it I was and how qualified I was, in a way, to do it. I think they just looked around for a rock muso who might have had a passing familiarity."

Although Perkins dons the black suit and slicks his hair back, he says he's not really "acting" in The Man in Black.

"I think that's why the show works so well," he says. "They picked the right guy. I don't really have to change too much about my own persona to do the show. I know this shtick - I've been there, and I have a true connection to and affection for the music."

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The West Australian

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