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The Tennessee Three
Genres Country, Rock'n'Roll
Years active 1955–present
Associated acts Johnny Cash
Rodney Blake Powell
Bob Wootton
Vicky Wootton
Scarlett Wootton
Lisa Horngren
Former members
Johnny Cash (deceased)
Luther Perkins (deceased)
Marshall Grant
Dave Roe

The Tennessee Three was the backing band for renowned country music and rockabilly singer Johnny Cash, for over 40 years until Cash's semi-retirement in 1997. From his early stardom with Sun Records until his last years as a performer, Johnny Cash chose to work with only one band and depended upon it for the unique sound that would come to be recognized by millions of fans as "the Johnny Cash sound."

The band began in the mid-1950s as The Tennessee Two, consisting of Cash's friends Luther Perkins on electric guitar and Marshall Grant on upright bass. Perkins was the creator of the band's famous steady, simple "boom-chicka-boom" or "freight train" rhythm.

Originally called the Tennessee Three, Sam Phillips of Sun records suggested that the band be called Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. There was also a third member of the group, 'Red' Kernodle, who played steel guitar during the first audition. The member was so nervous that he stood up and left, not wanting to hold back the group.

In 1960, drummer W.S. Holland joined the group, which was then renamed The Tennessee Three. Holland is credited as the first country drummer, in the early 1950s, and had collaborated with Cash on some previous recordings, as well as having played with Carl Perkins and the Perkins Brothers Band.

Luther Perkins died in a house fire in 1968. Authorities were uncertain whether it was suicide or foul play. Cash believed Perkins fell asleep with a lit cigarette.

Bob Wootton then joined as the group's guitarist, and continued Perkins' unique sound that had defined so many of Cash's records. Wootton had been a Cash fan for many years and already knew how to produce the proper Cash sound.

In 1971, the group recorded an instrumental album dedicated to Perkins: The Tennessee Three: The Sound Behind Johnny Cash.

Marshall Grant left the group in 1980, and since then others have joined the group, so it now contains more than three members, with Wootton and Holland remaining as the group's anchors. The band became The Great Eighties Eight after Marshall left.

In the early 90's the band consisted of Bob Wootton (guitar), W.S. Holland (drums), Dave Roe (upright bass), and Earl Poole Ball (piano).

In 2006, the group's career was revived by then-manager Trevor Chowning, and they recorded and released a tribute album to Johnny Cash titled "The Sound Must Go On."

In August 2007, the band make their first appearance in Scotland since the 1990s at Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, Inverness-shire. A planned Tennessee Three concert in January 2008 commemorating the 40th anniversary of Cash's Folsom Prison performance was scrapped after disputes between prison managers and the concert promoter.

In January 2008, Wootton announced on his mySpace page that Holland had decided no longer to tour with Wootton, although both men would continue to perform individually as "the Tennessee Three." In an interview, Wootton said that Holland decided to dissolve the partnership after Wootton backed out of playing the Folsom anniversary concert.

Wootton continued his 2008 touring as the Tennessee Three with drummer Rodney Blake Powell, upright bassist Shawn Supra, Vicky and Scarlett Wootton to appreciative crowds across the globe. The band continues to tour throughout 2009.


  • Johnny Cash — lead vocals & guitar, 1954–2003
  • Marshall Grant — bass, 1954–1980
  • Luther Perkins — electric guitar, 1954–1968
  • W.S. Holland — drums, 1960—Present
  • Bob Wootton — electric guitar, 1968—Present
  • Carl Perkins — electric guitar, 1966–1974 (played second guitar with the band and lead in August 1968 after Luther died)
  • Jerry Hensley — electric guitar, 1974–1982
  • Earl Poole Ball — piano, 1977–1997
  • Larry Butler — piano, 1972
  • Larry McCoy — piano, 1973–1976
  • Bill Walker — piano, 1973
  • Tommy Williams — fiddle, 1974
  • Gordon Terry — fiddle, 1975–1976
  • The Tennessee Trumpets: Jack Hale Jr, and Bob Lewin — trumpet & french horn, 1978–1989
  • Lisa Horngren
  • Rodney Blake Powell — Drums, 2008–2009
  • Shawn Supra — Upright Bass, 2009

Walk the Line

In the 2005 film biography of Johnny Cash, Walk the Line, the band members were portrayed by the following actors. True to their supposed characterizations described earlier, Perkins was played as stiff and expressionless onstage, while Grant was played as animated and gregarious:

The film contains a subtle foreshadowing of Perkins' fate, in a brief scene in which Perkins falls asleep with a lit cigarette in his mouth. Cash retrieves the cigarette and stubs it out. Cash later suggested that this was how Perkins's house had caught fire.

Promotion for the DVD release of Walk the Line by FOX Television included a history-making screening of the film at Hollywood's famed Arclight Cinema wherein actors in the film and their real-life counterparts performed a set of Cash's music prior to the screening. Original Tennessee Three members, Bob Wootton and W. S. Holland were among those to perform as well as serve on a speaking panel after the film. Also in attendance was Jane Seymour, wife of the film's producer, James Keach.

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