Walking the line with Tex Perkins

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The man in black is back bigger and better than ever with the 10th anniversary of his show dedicated to all things Johnny Cash. Tex Perkins is coming to the Frankston Arts Centre on October 8 to bring his own brand of remarkable rock’n’roll crooning to a show that sees him slip on the boots of a legend and jump into his Ring of Fire. The Cruel Sea, Beasts of Bourbon and Tex, Don and Charlie and The Dark Horses frontman reckons the show is even better than it was all those years ago when it won the Helpmann award within the first 12 months of life. Tex has grown into Cash’s persona while bringing a heavy dose of his own stage presence into the fold and the result is brilliant.  

We are chatting over the phone as the skies roll across his vision in thick smoky swirls. He’s perched on his car in northern NSW where the fires are taking hold. Tex continues: “Yeah, looks like the fires are getting closer. I think they are around 60km away so if the wind changes . . . You know, it took some time to get comfortable with playing Johnny. The show is scripted and I’m used to just singing and going with the flow on stage in a band, but I’ve really grown to love it. I’ve put a lot of myself into it intentionally and unintentionally. Ten years on and it’s become part of me — and it’s a good fit. I spend a lot less time worrying about remembering lines now and just feel my way through it. I’ve a deep respect for Johnny Cash’s career and love his songs so they are easy to sing. This could be the last time round, though. Ten years may be a good way to end it. We’ll see.”

Tex has five children and is a grandfather to a one-year-old girl. He explains: “Funny, hey? I’m still knee-deep in parenting. I’ve got a six and nine-year-old so I can still smell those nappies! But I still have the drive to perform. I used to get myself into a state when I went on stage; got really worked up and thought I had to be someone I wasn’t. I always needed a drink and then I’d end up injuring myself. It’s not like that now. The thing I love about this show is it unveils Johnny’s almost split personality. He was this conservative family guy and yet this drug-taking and drinking wild man. That’s not an easy life.”

I take the opportunity to ask him if the man in black reminds him of himself. He replies: “It was hard as a rock’n’roll performer in the ‘80s and ‘90s. You’re expected to be this wild man on stage but be able to switch it off and leave it on the stage. It’s the balancing of the duality of characters and it’s undone many a performer. You know, you can’t take that shit home, but I still occasionally slip up.”

The Man in Black – The Songs & Story of Johnny Cash covers Cash’s life from birth through to death. It’s a story of love and redemption and a man’s career that still stands the test of time — much like Tex’s own. He concludes: “I’ve found out lots about Johnny and myself as the show’s evolved. Stories of what did and didn’t happen. I never hear the stories about me. It’s all you lot gasbagging. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, right?”

Sometimes there’s a fine line between fact and fiction, Tex, so maybe it’s not the last time we’ll see you playing the man in black, either. Wait and see, readers. Wait and see.

LIZ ROGERS

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