Only the glasses give him away. Standing in the kitchen of his rural Wellington home, Terry Lee Goffee is the spitting image of one of country music's most revered icons.
"Hello, my name is Johnny Cash," Goffee says, his deep Southern inflection eerily approximating The Man in Black's burlap, world-weary timbre.
"I sung for murderers and drug addicts, common folks and presidents. I guess you could say that I've come a long way from Kingsland, Arkansas."
About 850 miles to be more precise. Granted, the man standing before us in black jeans, a button-down black shirt, and a Toyota-sized belt buckle isn't Johnny Cash, but you'd have to look twice to be sure. With his sturdy jaw, burly frame, and dark shoulder-length hair, Goffee's resemblance is betrayed only by those black-rimmed glasses. He's getting fitted for contacts this week.
They'll arrive just in time for the debut of Train of Love, Goffee's elaborate two-hour tribute to Cash, which premieres July 18 at the Concert in the Park in Madison. Half stage show, half concert, Train of Love combines 31 Cash chestnuts with Goffee's first-person narrative of the singer's colorful, controversial career.
Backed by a three-piece band, Goffee delivers a sample of the show from the dining area of his home, where a huge Newfoundland, an excitable boxer, and Goffee's wife are the only audience.
"You know, I've often said that I don't dance, I don't wear tight pants, and I don't tell jokes, but I do know about a thousand songs," Goffee recites before plucking through such Sun Studios-era Cash classics as "Cry Cry Cry" and "Hey Porter," peppering his performance with every kind of Cash mannerism, from his icy, heart-stopping glare to his penchant for wielding his guitar like a rapier. Goffee's monologue is cheeky and fact-filled, dispelling some Cash myths the performer addressed in his second autobiography, Cash. (An example: Despite his many prison songs, Cash has never done any hard time, though he did spend about seven days in county jail in the '60s, after getting caught crossing the border with methamphetamines sewn into the lining of his guitar case.) Goffee purchased Cash three years ago in Tennessee, and it was from the book that he gained his inspiration for the tribute. Having been a lifelong Cash fan and possessing the same kind of sonorous delivery, Goffee was a natural fit to play the man.
"I can remember, as a teenager, taking my dad's old 45s and LPs and just stacking them on the record player -- usually when nobody was home -- and standing there and singing along to the songs," Goffee says. "I probably memorized every 45 and every album cut that my dad had in his library. The emotion really comes through in Johnny Cash's voice. When he sings a song, you just feel like he believes every word he's singing, and he imparts that to the listener. The listener believes that he believes it, and it kind of becomes a part of your sensibilities as well."
Goffee's love of Cash -- and country music in general -- led him to pursue a career in music. And he's had some success of his own: He's performed at the Grand Ole Opry, released a half-dozen records, and filled his home with scores of music awards. He also landed a gig as the music and promotions director for Oberlin's WOBL radio (1320 AM), where he's been a popular personality for four and a half years.
A year ago, Goffee began dedicating two to three nights a week to writing the script that forms the basis of Train of Love. He began rehearsing early this spring and has since obtained the blessing of both Columbia Records, which owns the rights to much of Cash's back catalog, and the publisher of Cash's autobiography. The result is one of the more entertaining music shows we've seen in some time: a fun, absorbing ride that Goffee plans to take national, should early performances go well and the few remaining hurdles be cleared.
"There's still a possibility that we could run into some obstacles down the road. Columbia Pictures apparently owns the rights to the Johnny Cash story. Whether or not they would consider this to be something that infringes on their rights, I don't know," Goffee says before continuing with an ornery chuckle. "But then, I said to somebody, 'Hey, I'm going through with this anyway.'
"And they said, 'Well, that's great, because that's probably the way that Johnny Cash would have done it.'"