Country Praises 'Outlaw' Icons

Cash and Jennings both in good spirits after health scares

This appeared in The Tennessean - June 25, 1998

The people who make a difference aren't the ones who follow others' lead. They're the ones who create change, who defy the prevailing wisdom and succeed in spite of it. During the "Witness History II" concert at the Ryman Auditorium last night--the high point of the second annual Chet Atkins Musician Days--three of Nashville's innovators joined Atkins in receiving the "Chettie" award: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and the late Owen Bradley.

The phrase "musical integrity" was used several times, paying homage to two men who paved the way for and defined the outlaw movement, and one who helped create the Nashville sound.

When Marty Stuart performed Tempted, he gave a sampling, without fanfare, of the way in which Cash and Jennings have affected the development of country music. The song used chugging guitar lines and a simple chord structure that had a stark similarity to Cash's rockabilly leanings. A rollicking, on-the-beat bass and drum foundation harkened to Jennings' influence.

Cash and Jennings "represented the non-conforming side of country music," Stuart noted. "And thank God for that."

Music Row has speculated for some time that both Cash and Jennings were in grave health, though both appeared last night to have rebounded nicely in the past few months. Cash was thinner,though not quite gaunt, and still maintained an aura of confidence. Jennings seemed in control, although he walked with a cane.

"I knew if I carried that around long enough, they'd give me something," he joked as he accepted his Chettie.

Cash admitted that he was close to death when he was diagnosed with the rare Sky-Drager illness in October. He said doctors "told me later they had turned it over to God. There was no way modern medicine could bring me out of it."

The Chettie, a trophy featuring the end of a guitar neck on a small base, was designed to honor those who have had an international impact on behalf of Nashville. Chet Atkins Musician Days are intended to pay tribute to the musicians who form the backbone of Music City's recording and touring industries.

Jennings and Cash have both had a hand in the development of musicians and their ideas. Cash, for example, championed Kris Kristofferson early in his career. Before launching into Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down, Kristofferson recalled the first time he heard Cash sing that song. He was at the Ryman and "almost fell out of the balcony." Cash made an impromptu appearance to sing one verse with Kristofferson while Mark Knopfler backed them up on guitar.

Stuart called it an "injustice" that Jennings is not in the Country Music Hall of Fame and hoped that he would be the first artist inducted when the new musician is dedicated in its downtown location.

Bradley, whose memorial service in January took place at the Ryman, was hailed by Brenda Lee as "a father figure and a role model."

By Tom Roland

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