‘Walk the line’ at Greensburg Palace for Johnny Cash tribute

He wears the clothes and he sings the songs, but James Tamelcoff isn’t trying to be the man in black.

He just presented Cash Unchained: The Ultimate Johnny Cash Experience, at the Palace Theater in Greensburg at 7:30 p.m. on January 22.

“I’m not going to go on stage and say, ‘I’m Johnny Cash.’ We’re not imitators, we’re music ambassadors,” Tamelcoff said. “No one will ever see Johnny Cash perform again, so we’re all keeping the music alive.”

The Virginia-based group spans Cash’s entire oeuvre, from 1950s recordings for Sun Records to “Hurt,” the Nine Inch Nails song that Cash recorded in 2002, a year before his death.

“The show captures everything from start to finish. It tells the story of Johnny Cash in 90 minutes,” Tamelcoff said.

Cash was just one of the country, rockabilly and classic rock musicians Tamelcoff, now 23, grew up listening to in central Virginia.

He started taking guitar lessons at the age of 7 and played in several bands throughout his teenage years. It was during one such concert that an audience member heard echoes of Cash in Tamelcoff’s baritone voice.

“He came over and said, ‘Hey, you kinda look like Johnny Cash,'” Tamelcoff said.

It sparked an idea.

Tamelcoff and his comrades approached the management of the State Theater in Culpeper, Virginia, to organize a one-night show in tribute to Johnny Cash.

“I thought it would be one and done, but people really liked it,” Tamelcoff said. “I realized what a big market there is for Johnny Cash.”

‘Very blessed’

Cash Unchained have been together for 6 years now. They have performed and recorded in Memphis, TN, and hallowed music venues across the country like House of Blues and The Fillmore.

“One thing led to another,” Tamelcoff said. “We’re a younger band, so we’ve been very lucky to have the success that we’ve had and to be able to tour the country with the show.”

Tamelcoff is the singer and guitarist. His longtime friend, Mike Hott, plays double bass. The drummer is Hott’s cousin, Noah Smith. Ronnie Lambrich plays rhythm guitar and keyboards.

“Mike and I have been playing since I was 14 or younger,” Tamelcoff said. “Ronnie is my ex-girlfriend’s father, which is a little awkward, but it works.”

Courtesy of Stephanie Augello

Cash Unchained, a Virginia-based Johnny Cash tribute band, performs at the Palace Theater in Greensburg on January 22.

Although there is a Johnny Cash album titled “Unchained”, Tamelcoff said the band was not named specifically for this record.

“We were just sitting around trying to think of names, throwing names around, and ‘Cash Unchained’ sounded like a good name,” he said.

As Cash Unchained continues to tour, Tamelcoff hopes it will also provide him with opportunities to perform original music.

Playing in Greensburg will give Tamelcoff the opportunity to meet relatives who live in the New Castle and Beaver Falls area.

The group will be joined at the Palace by local singer Cathi Rhodes, who performs a tribute to Patsy Cline.

“We’ve worked with her on a few shows, and she does a great job,” Tamelcoff said.

Tickets for Cash Unchained are between $20 and $40 at 724-836-8000 or thepalacetheatre.org.

Shirley McMarlin is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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