Smile Politely

Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash Make Legitimate Rose Bowl Run Sunday

Most of the time, “bastard” is a word that’s meant to convey shame and embarrassment, but Mark Stuart, lead singer and guitarist for Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, wears his bastard status on his sleeve. The band, which originated in Stuart’s hometown of San Diego but is now based out of Austin, blends a lot of the Man in Black’s rootsy, choogling rhythms with Stuart’s more atmospheric lyrics. It’s a potent, if illegitimate, blend, and one that you can experience for yourself firsthand Sunday night at the Rose Bowl Tavern in Urbana. The show starts at 8 p.m. with openers The Hillbilly Jones, and tickets are only $10 in advance. This is the first touring band to come through the Rose Bowl in recent memory, so don’t miss out.

When I reached Stuart by phone, he was making last-minute preparations to set out on tour from his Austin, Texas, home. BSOJC had their first tour date in Oklahoma City last night, and Stuart was talking about “her,” so the interview began thusly:

Smile Politely: Are you married?

Mark Stuart: No, I have a girlfriend, she comes with us to sell merch. She’s a honky tonk girl, she’s from Austin and was raised in the Broken Spoke, so it works out good. Were in the honeymoon stage right now.

SP: What sort of venues do you normally play in? The Rose Bowl is a honky tonk, for lack of a better term.

MS: We like playing in honky tonks and little country bars if we can find them. We play anything from them to 500-600 seat theaters, but the little honky tonks are my favorite, they’re what I love and they’re what the music is best suited for. Larry at the Whip said [the Rose Bowl] is a cool place, and that it has an authentic vibe.

SP: Is your latest record (Mile Markers) in stores?

MS: It should be in stores, as much as anything is in stores these days. It’s in the tastemaker stores; there are about ten stores in the country that everybody knows about, and I think everybody else just buys their music online. We still sell the most albums at shows, that’s where we get our music to our fans the most, and that’s how we can tell whether we did a good job or not. When you sell albums at the show, you also get your money then. If you wait till the record company pays you, it’ll be a while.

SP: Have you always played original music, or did you play more Cash covers at the beginning?

MS: We started out as a band that plays original music. It’s not uncommon for someone in the crowd to get irritated because we’re not playing Johnny Cash covers. It’s usually some asshole who’s upset that we’re not playing “One Piece At A Time” or something. We’ve always been a band that plays original music.

SP: “Long Black Veil” was on your last album, so I was just wondering if the Cash stuff was slowly phased out?

MS: I always loved that song;, the version I knew first was on my mom’s Joan Baez record. Lefty Frizzell had a hit with that before either of them. On the new record, we added a duet of me and Billy Bob Thornton singing it, if you want to hear a couple of drunk guys singing “Long Black Veil.” He found out we were recording at a studio in Los Angeles, and Billy Bob is a big country music fan, and he asked if he could stop by. I told him he couldn’t just stop by, he had to sing something. He was totally cool, a really funny, down-to-earth guy. He was kind of down in the dumps at that point, because it was when he was breaking up with Angelina Jolie. We joked that we got dressed up and shaved for nothing, because we thought we were going to get to meet her, and then when he got out of the car, he was by himself.

SP: How large is your touring band?

MS: We usually tour with a small band, because all that will fit in the van with all our crap is five people. I’d like to be able to take a pedal steel player and a fiddle, but I can only pay so many people, and I want to play a lot. I’ve been without a full-time job since 2001. The guys on this tour don’t do anything else but play music professionally. When I’m not touring, they take shows with other Austin-based groups.

SP: How do you like Austin?

MS: I like it so far. The summers are warmer than in San Diego. I like the city, if you play honky-tonk music, it’s the place to be.

SP: Have you been to Champaign-Urbana before?

MS: We’ve been there a few times. The Highdive and Cowboy Monkey are the two places we’ve played. The town is cool, hip. Larry and the Whip in Farmer City are great, they’re fans of real music and a lot of fun. I can’t say enough about them.

More Articles