“Understand Your Man”: An Interview with James Garner

James Garner’s Tribute to Johnny Cash celebrates the life and music of the legendary “Man in Black”. Garner and his band faithfully recreate Cash’s biggest hits and presents historical accounts and personal anecdotes about Cash’s life.

JamesGarner's JohnnyCash by Kial James color
James Garner – Photo by Kial James

Since 2008, Garner and his band have performed more than 350 shows, including a special show at Folsom State Prison in 2008 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Cash’s infamous live album recorded behind prison walls. The band then returned to Folsom, California, in January 2018 to perform two sold-out concerts on the 50th anniversary of the prison concert.

We sat down with Garner to talk about the show, and what makes Johnny Cash America’s most beloved singing storyteller

Tell us about what first drew you to Johnny Cash.

I discovered Johnny Cash when I was 11 years old. The first song I heard was “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” a musically sparse ballad about a young cowboy “who grew restless on the farm.” It contained many of the signature elements found in most of Cash’s recordings. The vocals were big, powerful and right in your face. The instrumentation was sparse and rhythmic, supportive of those vocals. The song, based on an old Irish Folk tune, was a story told in two-and-a-half minutes. For me, it was so different than any 1990s contemporary music – country or pop. As I devoured more Cash material through my teenage years, everything about it just resonated with me. Growing up on a California cotton farm myself – and by no means, working nearly as hard as he and his family did in northeast Arkansas –  his songs about agrarian, rural life spoke to me.

How did this show develop?

Little did I know at the time, the show developed in my teenage years. I had dozens of Johnny Cash tapes and CDs that I pretty much listened to exclusively. When my peers were listening to Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam, Weezer, etc., I was jamming “Big River,” “I Got Stripes,” and “Hey Porter” on my Sony Walkman. I had VHS tapes of Cash’s television shows and concerts. I read his autobiographies and other biographical works, studying his career and life. Simply put, I was a big fan. I sang his songs in the car, at school, and at home. When I started playing guitar, I wanted to learn the Johnny Cash songs that I had fallen in love with, so I played along with his music, learning chords and trying to figure out how his thumb seemed to be everywhere at the same time.

Fast forward to my 20s. I was singing Johnny Cash songs one night at a karaoke bar and met some musicians who said we should do something together. Long story short, we put a band together (my first and only) and I applied all the information I had read, listened to, and watched over the years into this show. It’s hard to believe we are in our 11th year and have played more than 500 shows across the country.

Johnny Cash is definitely a larger-than-life figure. What do you do capture that energy when you perform?

No doubt, and so the first thing I do is not pretend to be Johnny Cash. Our show is not an impersonation, but truly a tribute to the “Man in Black” with songs and stories. Never once, have I said “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” or presented the show from a first-person perspective. The energy is in the music and we work very hard and take very seriously presenting his music the way he and The Tennessee Three performed it, especially during their live performances.

CashTribute-JamesGarner+band by Mike Melnyk
Left to Right: Denny Colleret, James Garner, Rick Duncan, Nick Auriemmo – Photo by Mike Melnyk

What’s the rehearsal process like before you go on tour?

Good question! I don’t have an answer because there isn’t one. We’ve been doing this so long together, that it’s just part of us. Every now and then we add some new songs, but we don’t get together ahead of time to rehearse. We each know what we must do on the song and we’ll run through it a few times during sound check before some shows. When we feel good about it, we’ll add it to the show.

What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?

It’s hard to pin down one favorite thing. I love the fact there are people in the audience every night who grew up listening to Johnny Cash and saw him live in concert, perhaps as early as 1955. Folks have said that it takes them back to that time or a special moment in their life –  their first love, military service, riding in the car with their dad, a date-night to a Johnny Cash show, etc. I love when the audience recognizes and applauds the first notes to “I Walk the Line” or “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” They’re not applauding us. They’re expressing their love for Johnny Cash and the impact his music had in their lives. I can relate and I’m right there with them.

Do you have any pre-show superstitions or rituals before going on stage?

I don’t think have any superstitions. The closest thing to rituals would be drinking warm tea, liberal applications of hairspray and pacing backstage a few minutes before going on.

If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?

I don’t really know… I like researching and learning and have tried to apply that to our show. Maybe a hound dog with a good nose. Or to borrow a Cash lyric, “gone as a wild goose in winter.” We usually do about 25-30 songs in a 2-hour show and it just seems to fly by when we’re on stage.

What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

My big hope is that people leave feeling a love for Johnny Cash and his music. I hope that when folks get home, they pull out their Johnny Cash records, CDs or tapes and fall in love with his music all over again. And if they don’t have any of his material, I hope they download it on iTunes, Amazon, etc.

Then I have different hopes for different people. For the Johnny Cash super fans, I hope they notice the attention to detail in the music – the two different leads we play in “Folsom Prison Blues,” one in the style of Luther Perkins (pre-1968) and the other as Bob Wootton played it (post-1968), the Carl Perkins style picking in “A Boy Named Sue,” the W.S. Holland “Ring of Fire” drum fills of the 1980s, and the Marshall Grant tone from the 1965 Epiphone Newport “Batwing” our bass player uses.

For those less familiar with Cash’s music, I hope they recognize just how impactful it was – and still is – for people in this country and worldwide. His songs speak to themes endemic to the human condition: Love, pain, humor, struggle, triumph and redemption.

I also want folks to know that Cash was a powerful force in music and the arts. I think people know that, but I don’t think it can be overstated. His impact and reach transcended the “country music” genre. He supported up-and-coming songwriters and performers, provided inspiration to some of the greats, was a guardian-like figure tasked with preserving the relevance of music icons who came before him, and gave a voice to underrepresented social causes. It’s evident in his musical relationships with Kris Kristofferson, Rosanne Cash, Shel Silverstein, Rodney Crowell, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Tom Petty, Lead Belly, Ervin T. Rouse, The Carter Family, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Carl Perkins, Peter La Farge, and many more.

Thank you for your time.

My pleasure! We look forward to the shows at the Curtis Theatre!


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James Garner’s Tribute to Johnny Cash performs May 19-20. Saturday at 3pm and 8pm. Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM.

Have questions? Contact us! 

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Comedy, Magic, And Mischief with Eric Buss

You might have seen him on America’s Got Talent, David Letterman, or at the Magic Castle…Eric Buss’ innovative and high-energy brand of comedy magic has entertained and amazed audiences worldwide.

Eric Buss Live Variety Show Shenanigans Curtis Theatre
Eric Buss

His latest project is a variety show that feels more like a party.  Shenanigans features a live DJ, along with a variety of guest entertainers, and Eric Buss himself. It’s magic in a fun and modern format that aims to blow your mind and tickle your funny bones.

We sat down with Buss and got some answers on all things magic, comedy, and Shenanigans.

How did you first get interested in magic?

I’ve loved magic since I was young. But at age 16 I was working at a small Italian restaurant near my house in Tucson, AZ. There was another busboy working there that was already into magic. He showed me tricks on our breaks, and I was blown away. He also proved to me that you could make money doing magic, without being famous like David Copperfield. He also told me about the magic shop in Tucson, which wasn’t far, and I was hooked. I began hanging out there every weekend, meeting all the magicians that came in. The busboy also told me about the Society of American Magicians’ local chapter. I quickly became a member and started attending meetings once a month. From then on, I never looked back.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the work that you create?

As a kid, I always loved watching Doug Henning. I thought David Copperfield wasted too much time dancing with pretty girls, instead of doing more tricks. Henning was a bit more kid-friendly. However, when I got seriously into magic, I started studying Copperfield as well. They were both huge inspirations.

I also loved comedy. My dad used to do a lot of Steve Martin impressions, which I thought were hilarious. I had no idea he was doing Steve Martin. I thought he was just being funny. When I found out they were Steve’s jokes, I started watching him as well.

What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?

My favorite part of performing for a live audience is the unpredictability. I have a direction I’m going, but based on the audience, it could change at any time. Also hearing the laughter is almost, if not, more satisfying than the “oohs” and “ahs” from the magic.

Eric Buss Live Variety Show Shenanigans Curtis Theatre
Eric Buss performing in Shenanigans

Tell us more about the Bubble Wrap Bike. What was the process like from initial idea to finished product?

When my wife and I had our baby in 2012, we were both sleep-deprived. But I was still getting out to my workshop for an hour or two a day to work and create. I happen to have a big roll of bubble wrap and a bike. In a sleep-deprived daze, I thought, I want to ride over that bubble wrap!!! Then I thought, ‘NO, I want to attach the bubble wrap so it’s a continuous popping noise.’ I quickly grabbed some duct tape and set to work. A day or two later, I had built a better version and had a friend come over to film it in the street.

I put it on YouTube almost as a joke, and it went viral immediately. I had over 1 million views in a week. It got a lot of publicity for me; the bike in the video is the exact one I still use. The footage on YouTube has also been seen on many TV shows all over the world.

What is one of your favorite props to work with?

I love performing my looping routine. It’s a musical piece, which is fun, and because I’m making the music live it’s like a concert. It’s also the most difficult routine I do which I also think makes it fun. It’s a challenge every time. I get to live out my fantasy of being a rock star or DJ, all while doing magic. It’s a blast every time!

Do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?

Eric Buss Live Variety Show Shenanigans Curtis Theatre
Eric Buss performing in Shenanigans

I’m not superstitious, but it doesn’t stop me from doing certain things before EVERY show. I usually jump up and down in one place RIGHT before going on. This gets my blood pumping. There are lots of little rituals with my props while setting up… certain things need to be set up certain ways. My OCD really shines through while I’m setting up. While getting dressed, I hate dropping hangers on the floor. For some reason, I think it’s bad luck.  Even though I don’t believe that I get frustrated when I drop hangers. If there is someone backstage with me, I like to tell them that I’m going to go back to my hotel real quick, right when I’m being introduced. They always look at me like I’m crazy. It helps me relax and have fun.

If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?

If my show was an animal, it would be a Golden Retriever – playful, yet intelligent.

What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

I hope the audience walks away with a smile on their face, maybe even with sore face muscles from laughing.


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Eric Buss in Shenanigans performs April 21, 2018, at 3pm and 8pm. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! 

An Interview with Click, Clack, Moo Actor Liana Costable

Fun. Educational. Theatrical.

TheatreworksUSA is all this and more. They deliver incredible theatre productions around the nation for young audiences and their families. With each literary- and historically-based show, they spark dialogue on cultural and social issues. Theatreworks instills a lifelong appreciation for the arts in children that often aren’t receiving that education and exposure in school. Their current touring production of Click, Clack, Moo, based on the popular children’s book by Doreen Cronin, is a hilariously “mooooo-ving” musical about negotiation and compromise. When Jenny visits her grandpa, he declares the farm a tech-free zone and confiscates her laptop. The cows type and send their demands via email; the hens go on strike — what will happen next?!

Cast of Click, Clack, Moo - TheatreworksUSA
Cast of “Click, Clack, Moo” (Top Left – Liana Costable) Source: TheatreworksUSA

Before their tour arrives in Brea for Click, Clack, Moo, Liana Costable, the actor who plays Jenny, typed up her thoughts on the show and emailed them on over (just like those cows!)

Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the theatre you create?


I am definitely most inspired by our young audiences. In Click Clack Moo I play Jenny, a 12-year-old girl visiting her granddad at his farm. As an adult actor playing a child, I was excited to create a character that the children could relate and connect to. In particular their vivid imagination, creativity, and ability to stand up for what’s right motivated my choices in this role.

What’s the rehearsal process like before you go on tour?

The rehearsal process flew by! Over the course of two weeks, we learned the hour-long musical as well as our duties as assistant stage managers. We worked with a fantastic creative and production team at Theatreworks USA who taught us the keys to success on the road- providing guidance and tips on staying healthy, safe, and energized for our daily morning shows.

 

Click Clack Coo - Farmer Brown & Animals
Source: TheatreworksUSA

I hope audiences leave feeling a little more connected to the people around them, more willing to speak up and in return, more open to listening to differing views.  

What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?

I love hearing the audience’s reactions! Every audience is different and seeing how people react in different parts of the country is really exciting!

Do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?

Click Clack Moo cows - TheatreworksUSA
Source: TheatreworksUSA

Before every show, I rub a locket that my boyfriend in the US Army gave me a few years ago. While we are apart and pursuing our own careers at the moment, having the locket reminds me of him and his support for not only my career but also for protecting this country and the people we are performing for.  

If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?

A cow of course!

What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

Click Clack Moo focuses on teamwork, compromise, and standing up for what you believe in. I hope audiences leave feeling a little more connected to the people around them, more willing to speak up and in return, more open to listening to differing views.  

 


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TheatreworksUSA in Click, Clack, Moo performs April 8, 2018, at 3pm and 5pm. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! 

Take a tour through CharlesPhoenixLand

Audience favorite and showman, Charles Phoenix returns to the Curtis this October to present his Retro Disneyland Slideshow. Charles has delighted fans from coast to coast with his live performances, slideshows, food crafting & test kitchen, not to mention the numerous coffee table books he has published over the years. What connects all them all? The unique wit and flair that only Charles Phoenix can offer.charles_phoenix_header

Charles brings us back to celebrate and toast the early days of Disneyland, when the park was new and Tomorrowland represented the ‘faraway year of 1986’. Disney fans and audiences alike will delight with photographs and backstories of the theme park, along with Charles’ keen eye for detail. We were lucky enough to ask Charles a few questions about the performance, and the inspiration for his slideshows. He graciously invited us in for a tour of CharlesPhoenixLand —

How did you first get interested in slides?charlesphoenix_Ventura            I got interested in collecting other people’s old slides when I discovered a big box of them in a thrift shop in 1992. The box was  marked “Trip Across the United States, 1957.” I held a few up to the light, was hooked immediately, and have been collecting ever since.

 

The world is like a great big theme park, we live in a wonderland to discover, and there is something interesting around every corner no matter where you go!

Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the art that you create?
To cherish our history, look for greatness and when you find it put in on a pedestal and tell its story for the whole world to enjoy. That’s what I’m doing.

What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?
The immediate response. The connection. I also always enjoy the Q&A part of the show. You never know what they are going to ask …

Do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?
Not really … the only thing that I’m slightly superstitious about is that I ALWAYS keep my vintage sparkly Colonel Sanders style western bow ties rolled in the inside breast pocket of the jacket I wear them with. Other than that no … but I never take for granted what a privilege it is to be able to stand on a stage in a theater and share my passion with an audience.

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If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?
Hopefully a 500-pound gorilla, or a standard poodle dyed periwinkle blue (w/ vegetable dye, of course) or a pink elephant that flies …  


What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

I want my audiences to walk away with a sense of local and national pride. A feeling of shared enthusiasm for the pop culture that we’ve all experienced together. Also, the joy of realizing the world is like a great big theme park, we live in a wonderland to discover, and there is something interesting around every corner no matter where you go!

Charles Phoenix FB Cover


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Charles Phoenix’s Retro Disneyland Slideshow performs Oct 14-15, 2017. Saturday at 8PM, Sunday at 3PM. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us!