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Reflective Bobby Bare looks forward to Johnny Cash Music Fest

He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year on account of such classic 1960s country and pop chart hits as “Detroit City” and “500 Miles Away from Home.”

Bobby Bare, at the 2013 Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion ceremony at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum last October in Nashville.
Jason Davis/Getty Images

But Bobby Bare, who along with Reba McEntire and Loretta Lynn is headlining the fourth annual Johnny Cash Music Festival at Arkansas State University’s Convocation Center in Jonesboro on Aug. 15, might have been an anonymous one-hit wonder had it not been for legendary Nashville guitarist/record company executive Chet Atkins.

Bare scored a No. 2 pop hit in 1958 with "The All American Boy," a humorous talking blues song inspired by Elvis Presley—but it was mistakenly credited to a friend named Bill Parsons.

“Everything works out for the best!” says Bare. “If my name had been on it, I’d have been pegged as a comedy singer.”

Fortunately, too, Atkins was a fan of the song, and Bare’s vocal style.

“He was a big fan of my talkin’,” continues Bare, referring to the “recitation”-style of his early hits, a trait shared by “Whisperin’” Bill Anderson, who also crossed over from country to pop in the early ‘60s with hits like “Still” and “8 x 10.” “The part of me that got me my deal with Chet at RCA was my ability to talk!”

Bare’s first hits there—“Detroit City,” “500 Miles Away from Home,” “Shame on Me” and “Miller’s Cave”—all featured Bare’s recitations along with his singing on the choruses with the ubiquitous Anita Kerr Singers.

“I told Chet that Bill and I were the only guys in history who talked their way into their songs and sung their way out!” laughs Bare. “He never really let me sing until later on.”

But Bare, who was living in Los Angeles and was friends with the varied likes of Buck Owens and the Beach Boys, sang so well that he was able to fit in with rock ‘n’ rollers like Bobby Darin, the Dave Clark Five and The Ronnettes on “package shows” throughout the South, then return to the same venues a couple months later on country shows with stars like Marty Robbins, Hank Snow and Loretta Lynn.

But he soon relocated to the Nashville area, and last year he joined Cash, Anderson, Owens, Robbins, Snow, Atkins, Lynn and McEntire in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

“I did nothing to promote myself going in—like people do—and didn’t even know I was in the mix,” says Bare. “But I always supported the Country Music Association, and when they called me to tell me I was in the Hall of Fame, I just happened to have on a CMA baseball cap that I’d never worn before!”

Bare’s former band member and fellow Hall of Famer Tom T. Hall inducted him.

“He said, ‘You did a lot of crazy things, and it’s beginning to look like you’re gonna get away with it!”

Kris Kristofferson, who’s also in the Hall, sang “Come Sundown,” Bare’s 1970 hit that Kristofferson wrote, and according to Bare, “got very emotional about the whole thing.”

But Bare’s nine-year-old granddaughter took it all in stride.

“The phone was ringing off the hook, and she said, ‘Papa. What is the deal on this Country Music Hall of Fame thing?’ And I said, ‘What it means is that when you’re grown up and have children and take them to the Country Music Hall of Fame, they’ll have a plaque on the wall of me and you’ll point up there and say, ‘There’s my papa and he loved me very, very much.”

The Bare and Cash families lived near each other in Hendersonville for 45 years.

"When our daughter died in 1975, John was the first one there,” says Bare. On a lighter note, he recalls that during an episode of his 1980s TV series Bobby Bare and Friends on The Nashville Network, he, Cash and Carl Perkins cracked up uncontrollably after he asked Cash if he’d ever done “anything crazy on the road.”

“Of course it was a real loaded question!” says Bare. “I knew some of the crazy stuff he’d done!”

So when Cash responded in the negative, Bare and Perkins “busted out laughing,” as eventually did Cash—so much so that they had to stop the tape. But while Cash most certainly did “a lot of crazy [stuff] that almost killed him, I know firsthand that he had a heart as big as Tennessee and Texas put together,” testifies Bare.

And Bare knows how Cash felt about his historic boyhood home near Jonesboro in Dyess, Ark., which the Johnny Cash Music Festival raises money to restore—and to fund a scholarship program in his name.

“Historical things meant a lot to him,” says Bare, “so I’m excited to be part of it this year. We all owe Johnny Cash as much as we can give back, and it’s going to be a big show, with people coming from miles around.”

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