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April 24

Sounds Like Johnny Cash: Who’s Closer? The Grandson or the Street Musician?

This sounds crazy but Johnny Cash’s musical legend isn’t just a memory. His old records aside, it seems that his voice has been resurrected into two unique individuals with exceptional talents. They both sounded exactly like Johnny Cash.

Meet Thomas Gabriel

He’s the oldest grandchild of The Man in Black, and son of Kathy, Cash’s daughter to his first wife, Vivian Liberto.

His mother was still in her teenage years when she had a child, so little Thomas spent a great deal of time with his grandparents. That means a lot of traveling, new places to go, and watching your grandparents perform onstage.

I called it ‘The Fish Bowl’ growing up. We were in the bowl looking out to see all these faces every time we pulled into a new city, you know.

In the early ’90s, Thomas Gabriel put together his first EP and took it to his grandpa. Johnny Cash complimented him for his work and with words that he’ll never forget.

“Son, you sound a lot like I did when I was younger; work on those vocals.”

But knowing what the music industry was like, the seasoned Country legend told his grandson to have a backup plan. He suggested becoming a law enforcer. The then 21-yer-old Thomas thought that funny as he always gets in trouble with the law. He, however, took his grandpa’s advice. He went to the police academy and soon became an officer.

Sadly, it did not go well as his grandfather had hoped for. The young Cash was swiftly drowned into substance abuse, became an addict, did unlawful things, and spent the next seven years of his life in prison. His time in prison gave him space to reflect on his mistakes and he started to work again on his music.

Pardoned in 2013, Thomas Gabriel tried to rebuild his life, but still struggled with addiction. He went to rehab but still had challenges staying clean and sober until his meeting with Brian Oxley, a retired businessman who admired Johnny Cash’s spirituality.

Oxley offered Gabriel the chance to pursue a career in music but only after he finishes his rehab. Gabriel complied and after a year, Oxley got him out and the two started to work on a music project. Here’s one of his songs from his first independent album, “A Long Way Home.” Gabriel said that it’s basically the song to describe what he’s been through.

I love performing live. If I sing one of my songs, I put everything that went into creating it into the performance. If I am singing one of Johnny’s songs, then I channel how I felt when I heard him do it.

Meet Jesse Morris

Playing at BART stations, Jesse Morris became known for his exemplary impressions of Cash songs. Due to the uncanny similarity of his voice to the late Country singer, Morris was named as San Francisco’s Punk Rock Johnny Cash.

Besides performing on the street of San Francisco, Morris also worked as a bouncer of a minibar. He and his band, The Man Cougars, also did gigs on clubs where they play their own songs and some Country hits by Merle Haggard,and of course, Johnny Cash.

While people praised his musical potential and was getting attention on social media, Morris, sadly, took his life in November 2011. He hanged himself once and survived. Those close to him revealed that he’d been long struggling with depression and anxiety attacks. Little did they know that Morris would soon again attempt to commit suicide.

Both his family and local community mourned his loss. He could have gone far with his talents.

Watch Jesse Morris singing Johnny Cash’s version of “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” If you happened to pass by that train station’s fare gate without looking at the street singer, you sure would have thought that it’s a recording.

“There was a frankness and honesty in the way he delivered songs and could turn a phrase,”

Nic Pope, Different Fur Studios

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Johnny Cash


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