Johnny Cash Bassist Marshall Grant Dies at Age 83

Grant and the Late Luther Perkins Helped Define Cash's Signature Sound

Bassist Marshall Grant, a founding member of Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Two band, died Sunday (Aug. 7) at a Jonesboro, Ark., hospital after suffering an apparent aneurysm while in town for the Johnny Cash Music Festival.

The 83-year-old musician became ill Wednesday (Aug. 3) after attending rehearsals for a Thursday night concert featuring Kris Kristofferson, George Jones, Rodney Crowell and Cash’s daughter, Rosanne Cash, and son, John Carter Cash, among others. He was scheduled to speak about Johnny Cash’s early recordings during the concert at Arkansas State University.

With Cash’s rhythm guitar and lead guitarist Luther Perkins’ distinctive single-note playing, Grant helped develop the “boom chicka boom” style that became a signature of Cash’s early recordings. Cash died in 2003. Perkins died in 1968 following a house fire after he apparently fell asleep with a lit cigarette.

Raised in North Carolina, Grant moved to Memphis, Tenn., in 1947 and teamed with Cash and Perkins in 1954. Originally a guitar player, he switched to bass and later served as Cash’s road manager while playing in his band in the ’60s and ’70s. Grant performed on Cash’s original recordings of classics such as “I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” He also played on two of Cash’s most famous albums — At Folsom Prison (1968) and At San Quentin (1969). He left Cash’s band in 1980.

“Had Dad not had Marshall, he wouldn’t have had the ’Johnny Cash sound,’ and he wouldn’t have become all that he was, in his fullness,” Rosanne Cash told The Tennessean newspaper. “And I wouldn’t have become a songwriter or a musician. There’s a whole lineage that wouldn’t have happened.”

“He and Luther were automobile mechanics when they met my dad,” John Carter Cash told the newspaper. “None of the three were educated in music whatsoever, but that’s part of the magic of it — that innocence behind their sound.”

Grant’s autobiography, I Was There When It Happened: My Life With Johnny Cash was published in 2006. A year later, the Tennessee Two became an inaugural inductee of the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville.

Grant resided in Hernando, Miss. Funeral arrangements are pending.