Harold Ford met some new friends last year at the Battle of Plattsburgh concert celebration.
And through Harold, so did Johnny Cash.
“They had 18 World War II heroes they flew up from Washington on the honor flight,” said Ford, who had just concluded a performance as the iconic man in black.
“It was my honor to go down that line and shake every one of their hands,” Ford said. “It was just a good feeling. There was an older guy there who apparently had played golf with Cash and when I got up to him and shook his hand, he said, ‘I found your golf club, remember? And I gave it back to you.’
“I said, ‘Yeah, that was really good,’ ” Ford said, wrapping up his story. “I didn’t have the heart to tell the guy Cash was dead.”
Ford will revive Johnny Friday at the “Cash Birthday Bash” at Saratoga Music Hall on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. He’ll perform 30 songs as a Cash tribute artist during a two-hour show that will also feature Laura Lucy as June Carter Cash. Country and cowgirl singer Deena Chappell will open the show at 7:30 p.m.
Cash Birthday Bash
WHERE: Saratoga Music Hall, 474 Broadway, Saratoga Springs
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
HOW MUCH: $30; $22; $15 for children 16 and under
MORE INFO: www.HaroldFordMusic.com
Ford is getting an early start on Cash birthday greetings. The singer-songwriter with the deep bass baritone voice would have turned 82 on Wednesday. Cash died in 2003 at age 71.
Ford, who grew up in foothills country between the Berkshire and Green Mountains bordering New York state, now lives in Greenwich. He’s been singing all his life, and spent much of his adult years as a logger in the Pacific Northwest. He’s always looked — and sounded — like the man who put “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Ring of Fire” and “I Walk the Line” into the American song book.
5 years singing cash
Ford, 63, has been performing Cash songs for the past five years. He doesn’t like the word “impersonate.”
“When I did my first show, I walked up to the mike and said, ‘Hello. I’m Johnny Cash’ and there was this huge noise in the audience and I wasn’t sure what it was,” Ford said. “That’s a problem for me because they want to hear that. I don’t like to impersonate, so we’re trying to figure out the best way to have them hear that and yet not try to be an impersonator.”
Whenever Ford uses the line, he has a quick follow-up. He tells the audience he’s also Harold Ford.
“I never spent 5 minutes trying to impersonate him,” Ford said. “It’s all natural, but it is a real high, a real pleasure to see how much people get out of it. They get right into it, they’re so enthusiastic. That’s a really good feeling and I’m really thankful for being able to do that.”
Learning the man
The former woodsman has researched Cash’s life. If he’s going to be singing and looking like Johnny — Ford, a weight-lifter, stands over 6 feet tall, just like Johnny — he wants to know a few things about the man.
“I think it’s almost necessary for me to know a lot about him,” Ford said. “I helps me know what he did and why he did it, and people also want to know different stories about different songs. I never studied him trying to impersonate him; I studied him out of curiosity to really absorb what he was like, what he felt and what he thought.”
The show includes some Ford solos. The Saratoga appearance will mark the first time Ford has played a Cash-style original — “Junk of a Truck,” co-written with Cambridge’s Jerry Simon — in public. The Ford-Cash band includes Sten Isachsen on lead guitar, Mitch Throop on stand-up bass and Peter Maine on drums.
June’s tunes, too
Ford loves his duets with Laura Lucy.
“She really adds a lot to the show, we do songs like ‘Jackson’ and ‘Times A Wastin,’ ‘Darlin’ Companion,’” Ford said. “She does some of the Carter Family songs, ‘Keep on the Sunny Side,’ ‘Wildwood Flower.’ We spent a couple days in southern Virginia with the Carters last summer before we did our show in Nashville, and they treated us like family. They were just great.”
Ford loves performing in Cash’s style. He knows the man’s music is still appreciated.
“I think the songs and the lyrics came from the heart,” he said. “It was honest and sincere, nothing fake about it. He wrote about how he felt and the way he saw the world through his eyes.”
It has helped that members of the Cash family have seen Ford on stage and approved his performance. Tommy Cash, Johnny’s younger brother, saw Ford in Tennessee.
“I got some nice compliments from him,” Ford said. “He said, ‘I don’t know how you do it, but you’ve got my brother’s fingerprints and he would be honored.’”
Ford has left the forest life, but still spends as much time as possible outdoors.
“I used to make cords with my steel chain saw, now I make chords with my guitar,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun up there with the guitar ... if I had to choose between the two, I love what I’m doing.”
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected]