Important Arkansan: Bob Wootton

Important Arkansan: Robert (Bob) Wootton, born March 4, 1942, in Red Branch (part of the town of Paris in Logan County). Wootton is a musician best known for having been Johnny Cash’s backing guitarist for 30 years. In addition to having played on most of Cash’s albums made after 1968, he has released music with other members of Cash’s band, the Tennessee Three. He has also worked as a driver for musical acts and as a stunt man.

Wootton’s family moved from Arkansas in 1950, first to California and then to Tulsa, where the young musician finished high school and worked as truck driver and bartender while pursuing music. In 1966, he saw Johnny Cash perform in Tulsa at Cain’s Ballroom. He met Luther Perkins, Cash’s guitarist. Two years later Perkins died in a house fire. Wootton saw an opportunity. Unable to contact Cash by phone, he traveled to Arkansas in September 1968 to see Cash perform in Fayetteville. A storm kept Cash’s lead guitarist Carl Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant grounded, and the equipment arrived ahead of the performers. With Wootton sitting in the front row, Cash—himself a guitarist of limited ability—was forced to go on stage with only his drummer. With no sign of Perkins or Grant, Wootton’s girlfriend asked June Carter Cash if Wootton could sit in with the band. Cash agreed, and he was amazed to find that Wootton knew note-for-note—in the style of Luther Perkins—every song he wanted to play. After the show, Wootton refused any money for the performance. He said the thrill of being on stage with Cash was payment enough. Two days later, Cash asked Wootton to play a show in Harrison and went on the road with Cash on a probationary period—which lasted until Cash stopped touring in 1997. Wotton played with Cash on Bob Dylan’s "Nashville Skyline" album and performed on Cash’s top-selling At San Quentin live album and worked every week on ABC’s The Johnny Cash Show, which aired from 1969 to 1971. In the 1970s and 1980s, Wootton also served as Cash’s stunt double in movies and television roles.

After Cash’s retirement from touring in 1997, Wootton worked briefly in security in Nashville. He also drove tour buses for bands such as the Smashing Pumpkins. Wootton did not participate in the recordings Cash did with the producer Rick Rubin in the 1990s and 2000s. After Cash’s death in 2003, Wootton and Fluke Holland hoped to obtain a settlement from the Cash estate. Unsuccessful, Wootton instead decided to tour with Holland, the other still-active member of the Tennessee Three. For several years, Wootton and Holland played and recorded classic songs from the Cash catalog, including “We Still Miss Someone” in 2005, seeking to keep the original Johnny Cash sound alive.

In 2006, Wootton was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. That same year, he recorded with Holland, “The Sound Must Go On,” which featured Cash songs. In 2008, Holland and Wootton stopped touring together, but Wootton continued to play and record. His stage act has featured his wife, Vicky (whom he married in 1983), and daughters Scarlett and Montana, who are also musicians. Calling himself “The Man behind the Man in Black,” in 2012, Wootton released the album “Guaranteed Cash” with the Minnesota-based band Six Mile Grove. As of 2014, Wootton lives in Nashville. Learn more at the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.[Pictured: Cash and Wootton on stage, date unknown; image via]