Walk the line: Tamelcoff plays Johnny Cash
BY ALLISON BROPHY CHAMPION
James Tamelcoff III feels confident that he has mastered the music of the Man in Black.
“Absolutely,” said the 17-year-old singer and guitarist, a junior at Madison County High School. “I’ve been studying him for the past three years, how to play guitar like him, how to get that Johnny Cash sound. I’m the closest possible thing to Johnny Cash they’re going to get.”
The self-assured young musician will put his money where his mouth is this Saturday night as the star of, “Cash Unchained: the Music of Johnny & June Cash,” at the Culpeper State Theatre.
Tamelcoff, who goes by James 3, has been playing with his dad’s band, Cashless Society, since it formed in 2007 and he was just a young boy. He took guitar lessons for a couple of years, but otherwise has learned his craft by ear and by immersing himself in live performances.
“I always had a draw to music,” Tamelcoff said. “I took it serious from a young age. It’s a lot easier if you put in the work I put into it. I’ve had to play 250 gigs to get that State Theatre show. You have to be able to build that audience.”
He’s apparently been able to do that, too, as the $10 balcony seats for the Saturday night show are already sold out. In addition to being a high school student, Tamelcoff plays shows most weekends all over the place, including backing up Culpeper pop singer Alex Caruso and with Cashless Society as a pre-game opening act at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins.
“I’m a very versatile musician as far as my genre,” he said. “Rock, blues, country, rockabilly – I do it all to the fullest extent.”
Asked what makes him qualified to cover the songs of one of the most revered and influential artists of the 20th Century, the local performer said he’s put in the hours. “Johnny Cash is my No. 1 influence,” Tamelcoff said. “I have a way of being genuine to his style and his sound.”
In preparing for Saturday night’s show, he watched scores of live videos of Cash and listened to all of his music. Tamelcoff studied Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-nominated performance as the Man in Black in 2005’s “Walk the Line.”
Cash invented that oft-imitated “train sound” with his guitar as well as that rockabilly country sound that still stands apart, he said.
“Country music today – it all has a Johnny Cash influence,” Tamelcoff said. “I’ve played so many shows I just feel comfortable doing him.”
He’ll take the stage at the State Theatre Saturday night around 8:30, playing Johnny Cash music from the beginning to his final days. Tickets start at $20. Backing Tamelcoff will be Mike Hott on bass, Evan Goldsborough on guitar and Cyrille Barbier on drums.
Fellow Madison County High School student Clare Sukley, a 14-year-old freshman, opens for Tamelcoff at 7:30 p.m., performing the music of June Carter and the Carter Family, of Southwest Virginia, with her bluegrass band, Ransom Harmony. Also a lead singer and guitarist, the young female musician became interested in music after visiting Nashville as a 10-year-old.
“I just loved hearing all the music, and I knew right away I wanted to be on the stage,” Sukley said.
She formed her band, which includes sisters Frances on fiddle and Kati on mandolin and Olivia Cardine on banjo, a few months ago and they started playing bluegrass because it just felt right, she said. They didn’t know it at first, but they were drawn to and started playing Carter Family songs.
“I’ve heard them all my life and it’s really comfortable for me,” Sukley said. “I love the old music. My voice has a good fit for that.”
It’s relatable music, she added.
“They are really down to earth and people like that,” she said.
Johnny Cash and June Carter married in 1968 and remained so until her death in 2003. He died a few months later.
Get tickets to the upcoming Culpeper show in person at the State Theatre box office, (540) 829-0292 or online at culpepertheatre.org.
Allison Brophy Champion can be reached at (540) 825-0771 ext. 101 or abrophy@starex