Marshall Grant, groundbreaking bassist for Johnny Cash, dies at 83 

Unlike many musicians who perfect a groundbreaking style, Marshall Grant achieved artistic immortality almost by accident. As bassist for Johnny Cash's Tennessee Two in the 1950s, Grant devised a minimalist approach to rhythm that helped define rock 'n' roll. Along with guitarist Luther Perkins — another unschooled Memphis musician — Grant supported Cash on a series of indelible recordings.

Born in Bessemer City, N.C., in 1928, Grant moved to Memphis in 1947. He landed a job as a mechanic at Automobile Sales Co., which advertised itself as the world's largest DeSoto-Plymouth dealership. In 1953, Grant — a budding guitarist — met Perkins, another Automobile Sales mechanic. Soon after, he began playing with Cash, whose brother Roy also worked at the dealership.

Although Cash had already been writing songs, none of the three was an accomplished musician. Perkins scratched out rhythms on his Fender, while Grant's bass lowered the boom on each measure. The trio took Cash's song "Hey Porter" to Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, who released it in 1955. The group's recordings of "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" became hits — and like Elvis' Sun sides, they blur the boundary between rock and country.

Deputized as Cash's road manager, Grant stayed with him through years of success and craziness. They parted ways in 1980 — there were money disputes — but reunited in later years. Grant also managed The Statler Brothers, wrote an autobiography and eventually settled down in Mississippi. He died on Aug. 7 in Jonesboro, Ark., after rehearsing for a show to raise money to restore Cash's Arkansas birthplace.

If the originators of Cash's "chick-a-boom" style are gone, their music lives on. As Grant told writer Gary James in 2008, "We really wanted to sound like those Nashville musicians, but thank God we couldn't sound like them."

Email editor@nashvillescene.com.

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