Years ago, Doug Allen Nash and his band were entertaining U.S. military troops on stage in South Korea when the singer and songwriter got the idea to create a Johnny Cash tribute show.
“I said, ‘Hey, listen to this Johnny Cash song,’ ” Nash remembered. “And these young guys -- from 18 to my age, 35, 40 -- they were going crazy.”
Nash spent six years performing for soldiers in 87 countries around the globe, he said. But it was at that moment, at that place, he realized the impact of “the man in black.”
He put together the Johnny Cash tribute show and later added the songs of another American icon, Neil Diamond.
Nash, a Nashville recording star in his own right, is bringing the “Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond Tribute Show” to the Empire Arts Center on Saturday, Oct. 19.
The show also features The Nash A-List Big Band, a group of eight musicians who accompany him.
“Johnny Cash is the definition of Americana,” said Nash, reached by phone as he traveled north from Louisiana earlier this week.
He hesitates to name his favorite Cash song.
“There’s too many to mention,” he said, but he may be partial to “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” by Kris Kristofferson, and “Man in Black.”
“Everybody loves Johnny Cash -- from 18 to 81,” said Nash, noting that the music resonates with people of all backgrounds. "He lifted up the common man, the downtrodden man -- Native Americans, it didn’t matter what group.
“And Neil Diamond songs are fun -- ‘Crackling Rosie,’ ‘Red Red Wine,’ ‘I’m a Believer’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’ -- they’re great, catchy songs with great lyrics," said Nash.
At his Grand Forks show, he’ll be performing several Diamond ballads, including "Play Me" and "I Am, I Said."
On the back wall of the Empire stage, video images that capture moments in the lives and careers of Cash, Diamond and Nash will rotate.
The visual elements include an “intimate look” into the Nashville studio run by John Carter Cash, son of the late June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash, he said.
Nash wrote the song, “June,” that he dedicated to June Carter Cash and recorded at Cash Cabin Studios in Hendersonville, Tenn. The song was inspired by words Nash heard in a PBS documentary about the couple.
“He loved her tenderly,” said Nash, who will perform the song during the Grand Forks show, which runs two hours with intermission.
Not an ‘impersonator’
Nash captures the essence of legendary performers Cash and Diamond -- his vocal range, baritone, is the same as theirs -- but he is telling his own story, he said.
“I’m not an impersonator,” he said. “This is not like a Las Vegas tribute show.
“I will look like Johnny Cash, with my hair back, and I do his signature moves. But you can’t duplicate Johnny Cash.”
He also dresses and “channels” Neil Diamond, he said.
“It’s a respectful tribute. There’s a ton of current and old music," he said of the show, which he describes as nostalgic. “It’s a feel good show.”
Nash infuses his performances with patriotism. He’s proud of his membership in the Sons of the American Revolution and his family’s history of military service, he said.
“If you want to see a show that’s pro-American, proud-American, this is your ticket," said Nash, adding that he is a descendant of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Growing up on a farm in northwestern Illinois, Nash came from a musical family and started a band at age 12.
That same year, his parents took him to see Johnny Cash perform in Davenport, Iowa.
“It was a free concert for a pastor,” he said. “Of course, he filled the stadium.”
“The first song I ever learned, one of the first songs I accompanied myself on, was ‘Fulsom Prison Blues,’ ” he said.
Nash was about 20 years old when he met, by chance, the country music legend, Johnny Cash and two of his daughters, in the Copenhagen airport.
“Being a young farm boy, I walked up to him,” he said, and the two began talking about music and songwriting.
“He was so kind and so gracious,” Nash said.
Grand Forks connection
Nash’s slated performance at the Empire came about through his friendship with Debbie Silverman Krolik, a Grand Forks native who lives and works as an entertainment publicist in Chicago. Krolik is the daughter of Thelma and Dr. Louis Silverman, who practiced many years in Grand Forks.
She encouraged Nash to include Grand Forks in his schedule, which he did, slotting it in right after his Oct. 18 performance in Minneapolis.
“Doug’s enormous gifts as a singer, musician and dazzling entertainer have audiences applauding his show-stopping concerts in theaters, resorts and casinos from coast to coast, including the legendary Caesar’s Palace on the Las Vegas Strip and The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Nashville’s Opryland Hotel and the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City,” said Krolik, who has been singer Tony Bennett’s publicist for many years.
Nash also was invited to headline “The 20th Anniversary Johnny Cash Concert” about two years ago at Hollywood’s famed Viper Room, she said.
At his core, Nash “is a country boy at heart,” Krolik said. At his farm in Illinois, “he likes to put on one of his cowboy hats, boots and jeans, and saddle up for a trail ride when time permits in his busy touring schedule.”
Nash is looking forward to entertaining the audience here, he said.
“It’s a personable show. I want everyone to have a good time; I want people to forget their troubles, to walk out of there feeling better than when they walked in," Nash said.
If you go
What: Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond Tribute Show
When: 7:30 p.m., Oct. 19
Where: Empire Arts Center, 415 DeMers Ave.
Tickets: $26, or $50 for VIP package, including prime seating, pre-show meet and greet, photo, and CD. Purchase by calling (701) 746-5500 or online at www.empireartscenter.com