Take a ride on the Rock Island Line

Moncton’s own Johnny Cash tribute The Rock Island Line is roaring back to life.

Over the past couple of months, the group returned to the concert scene, testing the waters to see if they had retained their fan base. A standing-room only audience greeted their performance at Moncton’s Chris Rock Pub, affirming for members Jason Haywood, Alex Madsen, Brock Gallant and Denis Arsenault that the public was still interested in hearing their interpretation of the music of the incomparable Cash.

The Rock Island Line is set to perform tomorrow night at Moncton’s Tide & Boar Gastropub on Main Street.

After playing their first show in 2005 in Moncton, the band went on to attract crowds not only in their hometown, but throughout the Maritimes.

“I believe our first show was at the Manhattan in 2005,” Jason recalls. “We had rehearsed our material for three or four months straight, learning somewhere between 40 and 50 songs.”

Jason says that the mythical Cash has been an enormous influence on his work.

“I had become interested in country music and began to explore the genre back in 2002. I started out listening to alt-country bands like Wilco and Ryan Adams but I soon started looking farther back to the roots of where country music started. My Dad and uncles always listened to Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, etc. so it was always kind of there in the background while I was a kid.

“I love many styles of music but Johnny Cash has always stood out for me because he is a great storyteller and because I felt that he represents integrity, spirituality and strength. Plus, I don’t believe that you’ll ever hear a voice as unique and honest as his.”

The bulk of the Rock Island Line performance pulls from what is perhaps the most revered part of Johnny Cash’s career, the 1950s and 1960s, but the group does dip into Cash’s lauded material recorded in the ’90s with producer Rick Rubin.

The band’s dormancy over the past few years had much to do with the fact that Jason called Halifax his home between 2007 and 2010. The idea to get back onto the Rock Island Line horse was planted in a conversation between Jason and Alex Madsen last year.

“I moved back to Moncton in July 2010 and later in the year, Alex had approached me with the idea of reforming the tribute,” Jason says. “The show we did at the Chris Rock was meant to test the waters and luckily for us, the show was a big success and gave us the encouragement to continue.”

Article published in July 7, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript