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Michael Jay and Leticia: Cash, country and western (Covina, that is . . .)

On Saturday, February 8, The West Covina Library in West Covina came alive with the tunes and tales of Johnny Cash as Michael Jay (lead guitar and vocals) and Leticia Blumette (bass and vocals) and vocals presented their popular Johnny Cash Music Workshop. The all ages show would begin at 2 p.m.

Michael Jay and Leticia
Michael Jay and Leticia
Courtesy of Mary Sparks
Michael Jay and Leticia
Courtesy of The Mighty Cash Cats

The excitement apparently began well before the show, however, as your rockin’ writer and his sexy sidekick arrived to find a line of people eagerly waiting to see the show that led out to the front sidewalk. Furthermore, library personnel reported they had expected a significant turn-out. Once we were permitted to enter the library room reserved for the event it was standing room only for the more than 100 people in attendance.

Jay had previously explained what occurs at such an event. He said: “I go behind the myth and music of the ‘Man in Black’ and perform and discuss the roots of Cash's music including the Carter Family, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Kris Kristofferson, and Sun Records.” He noted that the audience generally included “a wide demographic, ranging from elementary-aged students and their parents to teens and seniors.”

As he predicted, there was a mélange of music fans in the audience. It was a multi-racial, cross-generational crowd. There were gray-haired old ladies and guys with Mercedes. (“Mercedi?” What is the plural for Mercedes?)

Jay opened the performance on time with a pleasant “Good afternoon”. He added: “I’m not used to saying that. “Well”, he joked,” Mama always wanted me to get a day job” and opened with a Cash classics “Ring Of Fire” and “Folsom Prison”.

They also performed Hank Williams 1952 song “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" before continuing on with what Jay called “the educational part of the show”. He discussed the history of the yet-labeled country music genre including its relationship to the Victrola record player and the Victor Records label before launching into one of the biggest hits of the genre “Keep On The Sunny Side” by The Carter Family.

Naturally his Cash class contained classic cuts such as “A Boy Named Sue” which is based on a poem by Shel Silverstein and “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” complete with a humorous intro involving “Beefaloes”. Also included was the Bob Dylan written, Cash covered tune “It Ain’t Me Babe”, the fan favorite “Jackson” and the Tim Hardin song “If I Were A Carpenter” once made famous by Bobby Darin.

They revisited the 1968 Carl Perkins’ hit “Daddy Sang Bass” as well as the then groundbreaking composition “I Walk The Line”. The course in Cash also featured his comeback tune “Solitary Man” and the Ervin Rouse train tune “Orange Blossom Special” for which Jay strapped on his harmonica. The two tuneful teachers segued back into an encore of “Jackson” and Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” which Cash performed as part of the supergroup The Highwaymen.

They wound down the workshop with Cash’s “Get Rhythm” from 1959 and the show-closer often performed By Cash and Carter “Long-Legged Guitar Pickin Man”. Overall it was both an enjoyable and educational experience made all the more interesting by Jay’s more “intellectual” approach. “Music doesn’t begin and end with Justin Bieber” Jay commented after the performance. If you have children, grandchildren or even nieces and nephews who believe otherwise then this is definitely the place for them.

My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.

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