Bill Forness and One More Round will appear at the St. Peters Cultural Arts Centre's Performing Arts Theatre on Friday, Oct. 11. Forness, 45, of Belleville, Ill., has been performing as the legendary Johnny Cash since 2009 and has entertained people in 17 states. Forness sat down to answer a few questions about performing as the "Man In Black."
Q: How did you become interested in music?
A: “I started playing guitar at 13 years old. I started singing somewhere between 17 and 18 years old and gravitated toward the acoustic guitar. I grew up listening to a lot of this old country music. My uncle was a songwriter in the late 1970s, early 1980s on Music Row in Nashville, so he wrote for Lynn Anderson and Dolly Parton and had hits with Kenny Rogers. So that was always in there and around me. By the time I was in my early 20s, I was signed to an independent label and I did hard rock music. But it was always my mother that brought me back (to country). She would say, ‘Gosh, you really need to be doing this. That stuff sounds so much more natural than the hard-rock stuff that you’re doing.’”
Q: When did you begin performing as Johnny Cash?
A: “In 2009, I was performing acoustically in restaurants and bars and hotels around the St. Louis area and a little bit in Illinois, but I was living over (in St. Louis) at the time. I had some Johnny Cash in my repertoire and I was playing it. Some people kept asking me if I would be willing to do some more. So I came up with the concept of at least putting the old instrumentation together. I started looking for an upright bass player, which was difficult at the time. I was on the hunt for a female singer to do June Carter, and I needed somebody to do that ol’ chicken pickin’. That was tough, too. And I needed a drummer. It took a little over a year to put those components together. I already had the songs in the works, and I just started adding to it. … (Cash) recorded over 1,500 songs. I just started to incorporate different entities into it. Now I can do different kind of shows.”
Q: Did your family listen to Johnny Cash as you grew up?
A: “My grandfather was a huge Johnny Cash and Carter Family fan. That stuff was always there. It was always surrounding me in some sort of way. It was infiltrating my ears all the time.”
Q: What’s the hardest thing to conquer, looking like Johnny Cash, sounding like Johnny Cash or moving like Johnny Cash?
A: “Dressing in all black is fine with me, so that’s not hard to do. You put on a long black coat and it’s OK. What I think is difficult, though, is people expect an older look. They picture Johnny Cash now and picture this older guy. I don’t know what’s up with that, exactly. That’s odd, because he was actually younger than me when he started. (Moving) like him comes pretty natural. As far as the singing goes, I just sing my natural tone. That was never a difficult thing to do."
Q: Did you watch video of Cash before you started the act in 2009?
A: “I was able to find some DVDs of concerts and I got ahold of all of the episodes of the Johnny Cash television show. I watched that stuff as much as possible. Now, after 9½ years of doing it, you just go do it.”
Q: Do you have a favorite song you like to perform?
A: “I don’t. For me, I guess my favorite song would be the one the crowd’s singing along to and is into the most. At that point, it becomes that rotation of energy between us (the band) and them. You can’t beat that sort of energy.”
Q: What would you like to do with Cash if he were still alive?
A: “I would like to write a song with him. That would have been probably the coolest thing, to just sit down with a couple of guitars and write. That would be pretty neat, and just to have normal conversation.”
Q: What should people expect at the show in St. Peters?
A: “There will be the trio — (me), an upright bass and an electric guitar. That’s it. No June. We probably won’t do the later (material). We’ll try to keep it to its original sound. … Expect a 1950s feel. But we’ll definitely do some 1960s hits like ‘Ring of Fire’ and ‘A Boy Named Sue.’ There will be some story-telling that will give some background on some of the songs in Johnny Cash’s life. The rest will be a surprise.”