GREENFIELD — Many a youth dreams of leaving home, and then some day, returning in style to the sound of thunderous applause.
Singer and musician Gary West, who grew up in Wilkinson, will be living that dream as he and his band take the stage at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts. He’ll present his touring show, “For the Love of Cash,” a musical tribute to the music of Johnny Cash that will double as a fundraiser for a local homeless shelter.
West has been in the business of making music for 35 of his 50 years. A graduate of Eastern Hancock High School, he owes his start to his seventh-grade science teacher and fellow musician, Darry Hood, who now performs with Dr. Rock and the Rollers. It was Hood who arranged for a young Gary West — known then as Gerald Boger before he adopted his stage name — and his band, the Royal Aces, to play for the seventh-grade dance.
Story continues below gallery
Fast forward a decade, and West and the Royal Aces had toured the U.S. and Canada, eventually becoming the back-up band for Tommy Cash, brother to Johnny.
“It was Tommy who gave me my name,” West said.
Cash used to poke fun at the name of Gerald Boger, often drawing the syllables out in an over-pronunciation, he said.
“He said if I was going to be in the music business, I was going to need a different name,” West said.
One night during the show, Cash introduced him as “Gary West on drums.” The name stuck.
West’s life as a musician reads like a who’s-who in the country music business.
In 1988, he moved to Nashville and began playing with Grand Ole Opry stars such as Del Reeves and Little Jimmy Dickens. He toured through Europe with the Drifting Cowboys, the original back-up band for Hank Williams Sr., with steel guitarist Don Helms and fiddle-player Jerry Reeves.
When West returned to Nashville after touring, he played in the Opryland Hotel for six years. One night, backstage at the Opry, West was invited be a guest on “The Ernest Tubb Record Shop” on WSM 650, one of the longest-running radio shows in the world.
West got the idea for “The Love of Cash” about 10 years ago. West had always loved Johnny Cash and often played his music. When someone asked him why, he answered, “For the love of Cash.”
West found a personal manager in JoAnn Morgan and began working on recording a Johnny Cash tribute album. He has since recorded the same album three times, each time making changes in tempo and instrumentation.
According to West, he is not a Cash impersonator. There are so many of them out there, and truth be told, West often finds them to be “cheesy mockeries” of a great man and his music.
West admits to doing some country singer impressions, but if he sounds like Cash, it’s because sometimes, it’s impossible not to when singing some of his signature songs.
West said he tries to put his own style into the music while paying homage to the legend. He is particularly proud of his band’s version of “Folsom Prison Blues.”
According to West, Tommy Cash likes it, too.
“He says we’ve got this stuff down. We know it, and we love it like nobody else in Nashville,” West said.
For the first time in 31 years, West is coming home. His very next gig is in his hometown backyard of Greenfield.
West expects to sell out, in part because the concert benefits a good cause. Part of the proceeds from the concert will go to Hancock Hope House, the homeless shelter in Greenfield.
Hope House Executive Director Carl Denny is excited about the concert.
“Events like this are a way to get people talking about Hope House and the homeless in Hancock County,” Denny said.
And West’s opening act will pay tribute to the man who helped him get his start — none other than his old high school chemistry teacher and his band, Dr. Rock and the Rollers.
The show is at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Ricks, 122 W. Main St., Greenfield. Tickets are available at garywestmusic.com.