For 30 years, guitarist Robert “Bob” Wootton was an integral part of Johnny Cash’s band, playing guitar in the Man in Black’s backing group, the Tennessee Three, and performing on the majority of Cash LPs made after 1968. Wootton, who released music with other members of the Tennessee Three, also worked as a stuntman and driver for additional musical acts, including Smashing Pumpkins. Wootton died April 9th in Gallatin, Tennessee. He was 75.
Influenced by guitar great Merle Travis and Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadour’s band member Billy Byrd, Wootton replaced Luther Perkins in Cash’s band in 1968, shortly after Perkins perished in a house fire. One of eight children born in Red Branch, Arkansas, to coal miner Rubin C. Wootton and his wife, Noma Lucilla Moore Wootton, the youngster learned to play guitar from his father, who also played mandolin. The family moved to Taft, California in 1950, a short distance from Bakersfield. In 1956, after hearing Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” he taught himself to mimic Perkins’ distinctive playing on that early country-pop crossover hit. The family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1958. After Wootton graduated from high school in 1961, he joined the Army, where he served in Korea and continued to play music, forming a band called Johnny and the Ramrods with his fellow soldiers. Upon his return to Tulsa, where he worked as truck driver and bartender, he saw Cash perform live at the legendary Cain’s Ballroom in 1966.
A few weeks after Perkins’ death, Wootton, unable to reach Cash by phone, traveled to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to see Cash perform. A rain storm left then-Cash band members, guitarist Carl Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant, unable to make the gig, so Wootton’s girlfriend asked Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash, if Wootton could sit in the singer and his drummer, where he wowed the entertainer with his guitar-playing ability. Cash then invited him to sit in at a show two days later and joined the tour on what was initially a probationary basis. He served in Cash’s band until 1997, when the iconic performer retired from touring.
In addition to playing with Cash on Bob Dylan’s influential Nashville Skyline album, Wootton was featured on the At San Quentin live album and was a weekly TV fixture on ABC’s Johnny Cash Show. In 1970, with the show a ratings success, Wootton and the other two members of the Tennessee Three released The Sound Behind Johnny Cash, an LP of instrumental renditions of classic Cash tunes. Wootton was also employed as a stunt double for Cash in various film and television appearances. He married singer Anita Carter, the sister of June Carter Cash, in 1974, although the couple later divorced.
After Johnny Cash passed away in 2003, Wootton and Tennessee Three drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland toured together, playing original Cash hits. He continued to perform and record on his own after 2008, and also with his wife, Vicky – whom he married in 1983 – and daughters Scarlett and Montana, all of whom survive him. His most recent album, Guaranteed Cash, performed with Minnesota-based band Six Mile Grove, was released in 2012. Wootton was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2006.