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'The Man in Black' is back

Jimmie Ray Cantrell opens each of his shows with: "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash." Obviously he's not, but he shares Cash's initials and has a passion for music by "The Man in Black."

Cantrell and wife Cyndi Cantrell pay tribute to Johnny and June Carter Cash by performing selections of the couple's timeless music.

"One of the things I think Johnny Cash offered was music and communication for the common man," says Jimmie Ray Cantrell.

Cantrell's band is not the Tennessee Three but the Ring of Fire, featuring guitarist Greg Smith, bassist Woody Woodruff and drummer Jan "Hoss" Courtright.

The tribute artists will present a family show at 7:30 p.m. and an over-21 show at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7, at Johnny B's, 35 Bartlett St., Medford. Fiddler Don Maddox will open the show with a few "hillbilly" songs by the Maddox Brothers and Rose.

Cantrell and his wife began developing their act when they married and began singing together in 1994. For the first decade, the duo played their own original grass-roots and bluegrass music, as well as some covers, including ones by Johnny Cash. Cantrell grew up in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. He has since lived in Arkansas, Tennessee, California, Oregon, Texas and, now, in Las Vegas. Cyndi Cantrell is the daughter of a preacher and was raised on country and gospel music.

In 2006, at the urging of friends and audiences, the Cantrells became full-time Johnny Cash tribute artists.

Jimmie Ray Cantrell says he's a Johnny Cash natural.

"For years, people told me that I had a similar stature and voice," says Cantrell.

Their shows are kept spontaneous by occasional spousal banter, similar to the frequent, on-stage exchanges between Johnny and June Cash.

Before the show, Cantrell says he visits with audience members to discover which of Cash's songs they favor and then incorporates those into the set.

"Him (Cash) and June recorded between 1,200 and 1,300 songs, which gives us a great picking," says Cantrell.

He says the audience can expect to hear many of the hits, including "Jackson," "Ring of Fire," "If I Were a Carpenter," "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Sunday Morning Coming Down," as well as some more recent hits, such as "Ain't No Grave," the title track on a posthumous album by Johnny Cash.

"Johnny was someone who I looked up to when I was young, and I'm honored to be doing his music," says Cantrell. "We're keeping the legend alive, so to speak."

Cover for the shows at Johnny B's is $10. Call 541-773-1900.

Jimmie Ray and Cyndi Cantrell incorporate music from all six decades of Johnny and June's career into their tribute act. - www.johnnycashtributes.com