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Although I was born on a San Francisco military base, I spent my formative years in a small farming and ranching community in southeast Colorado– about 50 miles east of Pueblo–called Ordway (or “Boredway” as I affectionately refer to it). Eleven hundred was the approximate population. We didn’t live on a farm per se, but our next door neighbors kept actual cattle in their backyard and my mom kept horses at a stable on the outskirts of town. Both my sister Roxanna and I were active in 4-H for a solid decade. I wasn’t necessarily very adept at it, but I barrel-raced one of my mother’s steeds when I was seven or eight. Neither my sister nor I were extremely involved in the livestock end of 4-H, but she did show a sheep one year and I definitely had a few rabbits. One of them was even white.

When it came to FM radio in The Arkansas Valley, there were three primary genre options: Classic Rock, Top 40 and Country. My earliest musical memories are of country. Willie Nelson’s is the only voice that really stands out from that time period. Radio wasn’t exactly fond of Johnny Cash in the eighties, but there is a good chance I heard “Highwayman”, by a super-group including Willie, Waylon, Kristofferson and Cash, at one point or another. “Highwayman” is unique in that it’s one of the only country tunes alluding to the decidedly non-Christian concept of reincarnation.

Two weeks out of every middle school summer break were spent at an educational program in Greeley known as S.E.P. (Summer Enrichment Program). Photography, Astronomy and Zoology are a few of the subjects I studied there. Social studies were the ones that mattered though. Some of my closest friends and girlfriends then were the ones I met at S.E.P. Jill is still a part of my life (albeit via Facebook). So is Amanda. One in particular–Ryan Hambsch– had an older sister who worked for a record label. I will never be ashamed of liking Michael Jackson in fifth grade, but Hambsch was the first person to turn me onto underground or alternative rock such as Sonic Youth and Social Distortion. And Social Distortion turned me onto Johnny Cash, via their cover of “Ring of Fire.”  I played that cassette until the tape snapped.

MTV’s program 120 Minutes facilitated my first conscious visual exposure to The Man in Black.  “Delia’s Gone,” the debut single from Cash’s Rick Rubin-masterminded comeback, was set to a black and white and sepia clip featuring Kate Moss. My curiosity was certainly piqued, but I wasn’t sold until he reinvented Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” (with a little help from friends Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) on the American Recordings follow-up. I could never purge that moment from my memory, even if my life somehow depended on it. Hearing such a dramatic makeover of a tune I was already aurally familiar with literally exploded my mind. For the first time in my life, I paid cash for Cash.

This Friday, February 26, would have been Cash’s 78th birthday (posthumous album number two, Ain’t No Grave, is apparently scheduled for release this week). DJ Ginger Perry and I plan on celebrating Wednesday night at Interstate Restaurant (901 W. 10th Ave). Velvet Elvis might even make a cameo. Witness a man called Orange pay homage to The Man in Black. Just don’t expect him to wear a wig.

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