The country music world is in mourning this week after Bob Wootton, who served as Johnny Cash‘s lead guitarist in the legendary Tennessee Three for nearly three decades, passed away on Sunday. He was 75 years-old.
Born in Arkansas in 1942, Wooton moved to California when he heard Cash’s “I Walk the Line” for the first time in 1956. He then taught himself to play guitar in the unique style of Luther Perkins, Cash’s guitar player in the Tennessee Three.
Wootton joined the Army straight out of high school in 1961, where he served for three years, and during his time in the service he played in a band wth fellow soldiers, according to his biography from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. He settled in Oklahoma City, Okla., after his stint was up and began playing local gigs. Wootton attended a Cash performance in Tulsa in 1966, where he met Luther Perkins and had his picture taken with him.
When Perkins died in a house fire in August of 1968, Wootton traveled to a Cash gig in Arkansas, and when guitarist Carl Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant couldn’t make their flights due to a storm, he talked Cash into letting him accompany him onstage, where his note-for-note renditions of Luther Perkins’ parts convinced Cash to hire him on a probationary basis for a tour.
He stayed with Cash and the Tennessee Three from 1968 until Cash retired from the road in 1997 due to health problems, playing with Cash onstage all over the world and on albums including Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and the legendary At San Quentin live set. He also appeared on ABC’s The Johnny Cash Show every week from 1969 to 1971, and in later years also worked as Cash’s stunt double for television and movie appearances. He married June Carter Cash’s sister Anita in 1974, but the marriage ended in divorce.
In 1970 Wootton worked with the Tennesee Three on an album titled The Sound Behind Johnny Cash, the only album they ever released without the singer. After he stopped working with Cash, Wootton worked in security in Nashville and also as a tour bus driver, and he remained involved in various music projects, including solo shows that featured his second wife and two daughters.
Wootton’s obituary does not report a cause of death. He is survived by his wife of 33 years, Vicky, and daughters Scarlett and Montana.
Rest in peace, Bob Wooton!