The Spirit of Johnny Cash coming to Peterborough July 12

  • Harold Ford live on Cowboy Church TV Broadcast April 28, 2019 with The OK Corral Band – Dr. Harry Yates and Dr. Joanne Cash Yates. Courtesy Photos

  • Harold candid soundcheck pic from Cowboy Church TV Broadcast April 28, 2019 with The OK Corral Band Dr. Harry Yates and Dr. Joanne Cash Yates production for over 30 years. Courtesy Photo—

  • The Spirit of Johnny Cash touring poster. The Johnny Cash Tribute band is playing the Peterborough Town House on July 12. Courtesy Photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/4/2019 4:04:54 PM

When Harold Ford takes to the stage with the other members of The Spirit of Johnny Cash he makes it clear he is a tribute artist and not an impersonator.

Speaking in a deep bass voice, and soundly incredibly like Johnny Cash, Ford joked in a recent phone interview that he would never perform as a Johnny Cash impersonator. “I wouldn’t do it if I had to do an impersonation. That would be too much work.”

It even sounds like something Johnny Cash would say.

Ford has lived all over the country. He has worked as a logger in the Northwest and trained for the Olympics as a weightlifter. But because of his voice and physical resemblance to Johnny Cash many urged him over the years to perform as Cash, he said. About 12 years ago he started doing just that.

“Out of respect for the Cash family I never say, ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.’ I say ‘Hello, from Johnny Cash.’”

The band is based in Upstate New York, the Saratoga Springs area, and includes Kelly O’Hurley as a June Carter Cash tribute artist, Archie Anderson on guitar, Chris Wisniewski on bass, Heath Cohen on drums and Les Wheeler on acoustic guitar and harmonica.

It’s so much more than just his voice and his looks, O’Hurley said of Ford.

“His humor and his personality,” match Johnny Cash’s she said. “Harold is just himself, but I swear it is so natural … It’s uncanny.”

O’Hurley joined the band about four years ago and also does PR for the band. She too says she is honoring Carter Cash when she performs and is not trying to impersonate her.

“We just do what we love to do,” she said. “It’s not an impersonation. It’s just an honoring.”

O’Hurley said the band is excited to play Peterborough for the first time and hope to return annually, depending on the response. For the past eight years, going on nine, the group has played Claremont and Rochester to sell-out crowds, she said.

“It’s almost like a religious experience,” Hurley said. “It’s like a whole experience we all share together, us and the fans.”

Ford grew up in Upstate New York, in the foothills country between the Berkshire and Green Mountains. Raised on the old American pioneer songs, at the age of four, he began singing duets and harmonies with his sister Dorothy. Ford and his sister would be accompanied by their parents, father on the banjo, mother on the piano.

“It all started when I was two years old going to sleep listening to my mother play the piano and it gets into your bones,” Ford said. “My mother was a concert pianist and the only time she had to practice is when she was putting us to bed.”

His love of music continued as he got older. “I would ride my bike ten miles to the drive-in – and they’d let us sit near the projector as long as we would stay out of the way – to see musicals like ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ I like all kinds of musicals.”

Ford says The Spirit of Johnny Cash is about conveying the deep truth that Cash lived by and wrote songs about.

“I really identify with Cash’s message and I’m friends with the entire family,” he said. “He wrote all of his songs out of how he felt and his personal experiences. I don’t know anyone that went that far in the entertainment industry doing that.”

Cash sang about the poor, about people working hard, family life, losing his brother and the plight of Native Americans.

“So basically he shared his life and his feelings with the whole world and when you saw Johnny Cash walking down the street you knew a lot about him. So that’s pretty special I think,” Ford said.

The Spirit of Johnny Cash has garnered respect from both the Cash and Carter families and has performed with members from both, O’Hurley said.

Ford is the only Cash tribute artist to ever perform on the Carter Fold Stage in Hiltons, Virginia, which is June Carter Cash’s hometown. “That’s a major honor. If they don’t respect you you’re not getting on that stage,” O’Hurley said.

Most recently, in April, he took to the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville and performed in a live broadcast of the Cowboy Church with Joanne Cash, Johnny Cash’s younger sister.

The Spirit of Johnny Cash is the only Johnny Cash band sanctioned by Johnny Cash’s estate and they have permission to use Cash’s entire musical catalog.

And Ford almost shared a stage with Reese Witherspoon, who portrayed June Carter Cash in the Joaquin Phoenix Cash biopic “Walk the Line.”

“Funny story about Reese, she wanted to do ‘Jackson’ with me because she liked the tone of voice, but she got arrested that night,” Ford said.

Ford and O’Hurley are working with the Cash family to make a film, starring Ford, that would pick up where “Walk the Line” left off.

“The family wasn’t happy with the first movie. They way overdid the drug part in the first movie,” Ford said. “The father never said things like, ‘the wrong son died.’ He never said that.”

Ford and O’Hurley are also currently working on several recording and video projects one of which asks the question “If Johnny had not passed away what would he be doing,” O’Hurley said.

Johnny Cash’s last album before his death covered modern hits such as Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus.” O’Hurley said there is another Depeche Mode song she would love The Spirit of Johnny Cash to cover.

And of course, the band stays busy playing out. “We play all over the country, we’re looking at Europe next spring. There’s a lot of cool things on tap.”

The Spirit of Johnny Cash hits the Peterborough Town House stage Friday, July 12, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 to $35 and can be purchased at

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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Peterborough, NH 03458


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