Small world: Remembering a Johnny Cash concert 25 years ago

On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter – October 23, 2020

by Columnist Thomas P Blake

Small world: Johnny Cash concert 25 years ago

In early September, our next-door neighbors in Monarch Beach-Jake and Kresta Racker- invited Greta and me and our across-the-street neighbors, Alex and Colleen Torres, for a socially distanced happy hour in the Racker’s backyard. It was a spur-of-the-moment pleasant break for all of us after being isolated from people for months.

The Rackers, along with their son, Ethan—moved in nearly five years ago. They are ideal neighbors, friendly, fun, and considerate—but we had never socialized.

The happy hour conversation turned to Johnny Cash. Whenever the subject of Johnny Cash comes up, I always add my two-cents worth, having worked with Johnny for two years in the 1970s. I also co-produced an album with him.

Destination Victoria Station record album of Johnny Cash train songs

Jake said he saw Johnny Cash in concert only once. Jake remembered that he and his buddy Quinn from Utah saw Johnny perform at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s.

I had a vague recollection of seeing Johnny perform at the House of Blues but I wasn’t sure when it was.

After the happy hour gathering, I didn’t think much more about when I had seen Johnny at the House of Blues, until last Friday (October 16,2020), when Jake sent me a text.

His text included a picture of a ticket stub from the February 25, 1996, Johnny Cash House of Blues appearance, which his buddy Quinn had found in a drawer and sent to him. Jake had told Quinn about our Johnny Cash happy hour discussion.


I started to wonder: had I been at that same show? If I had, I probably would have written about it. At that time, I had been a newspaper columnist for less than two years, writing about “Middle Aged and Dating Again” for community newspapers owned by The Orange County Register, including the Dana Point News.

I had boxes of old columns in the garage. I found a manilla envelope from 1996. I started leafing through the articles and was thrilled to find the 89th column I had written, dated March 14, 1996, titled, “Dream of a date includes an evening enjoying the music of Johnny Cash.”

(Today’s column is number 4,143—give or take a hundred).

So, I had been to the same concert that Jake and Quinn had been to nearly a quarter-century before. The article stated that it was the 31st Johnny Cash concert I had attended.

The article also stated: “This was a special night for Johnny. At midnight, he turned 64. Earlier in the day, he and his wife became grandparents together for the first time.”

And this: Johnny mentioned at the start of the show, “Later, we’ve got a surprise for you.” The surprise: “Tom Petty and two members of the Heartbreakers joined Johnny. That’s like putting a supercharger on an old Chevy.”

I printed out a copy of the article and placed it on Jake’s front-door mat. He emailed a copy to Quinn in Utah. An hour later, Jake stopped by and said the article helped him and Quinn “fill in the details” they had forgotten about the concert. Facts such as The Freewheelers were the opening band and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were also there.

The Racker family has lived next door for five years. It took Jake and me that long to discover we both enjoyed the same special night at the House of Blues 24 years before.

Jake and Kresta framed the copy of the article I gave them along with the ticket stub and presented it to Greta and me as a remembrance.

Framed article from March 14, 1996 with concert ticket stub – now on our living room wall

The world is indeed small–even in the neighbors’ backyard.

A Reunion with Rosanne Cash

On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter –  March 13, 2020
A Reunion with Rosanne Cash, an elegant, long-time friend
by Columnist Tom Blake

On Saturday night, March 7, I had a reunion with an elegant, long-time friend. I’ve written about her before, after seeing her at previous reunions. This reunion was so special, I was moved to share it with readers.

Don’t get the wrong idea. My partner of 22 years, Greta, was at my side. And as a special treat to me, so were my sisters Pam and Christine.

The reunion took place at the intimate and wonderful Poway Center for the Performing Arts, located in the quaint city of Poway, California, 23 miles northeast of San Diego, and about an hour’s drive from our home in south Orange County.

And why do I refer to it as a reunion? Because I’ve known this woman for 43 years, met her when she was about 21. Her name is Rosanne Cash, a multi-Grammy Award winner, and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

And if her last name has a familiar ring, it’s because Rosanne is the eldest daughter of the late Johnny Cash. That connection is how I met her.

In the mid-1970s, when I was the marketing director for the boxcar and caboose Victoria Station restaurant chain, I hired Johnny and worked with him for two years. He was our company spokesperson and sang our radio commercials. I also co-produced the Destination Victoria Station record album with Johnny Cash.

Needless to say, on the album, Johnny did 99.9 percent of the work; I just approved the songs that were featured on the album. He did the singing.

In July 1989, my sister Pam and I were photographed with Johnny, at Humphreys by the Bay in San Diego, a cozy concert venue next to the water with a plethora of yachts berthed alongside.

                    Tom                    Johnny Cash          Pam Blake Peters

July 19, 1989,  at Humphreys by the Bay – San Diego

When I published “Middle Aged and Dating Again,” my first book in 1997, Johnny endorsed the back cover with these words:

“In the 20 years I have known Tom Blake, he has become an authority on dating and relationships.”

I’m not sure how Johnny knew that, but I happily accepted his endorsement.

Because my sister Pam was with us last Saturday night, I printed out a copy of that 31-year-old photo of us with Johnny and gave it to Rosanne backstage after the show Saturday night.

Handing the above photo to Rosanne

Minutes later, a new photo was taken of Pam, Chris, Rosanne, me and Greta.

             Pam         Christine     Rosanne     Tom      Greta

March 7, 2020, Poway Center for the Performing Arts

In the last ten years, Greta and I have seen Rosanne, along with her husband/co-writer/producer and arranger John Leventhal, in concert five times, including last Saturday.

When Leventhal saw us backstage Saturday night, he said, “And who are you guys?” I surmised that Rosanne hadn’t briefed John that the Blake clan would be visiting backstage.

                 John Leventhal and Tom’s sister Christine

The Poway Center for the Performing Arts is a fun place in which to see a concert. It’s small, 797 seats. The ushers are pleasant, friendly and helpful. Michael Rennie, President and CEO of Poway OnStage, greeted us warmly and was accommodating by leading us backstage after the performance.

Check out their website for upcoming shows: And, unheard of these days, the parking is free!

The audience was mesmerized by Rosanne. Her voice is clear and beautiful. Her stage presence and mannerisms are gentle and polished. Her songs are personal, sang as if she’s telling a story that she experienced.

Leventhal is a master guitar player and joins in on limited vocals. He and Rosanne have been married 25 years. They have fun together on stage. They played without an intermission for 90 minutes.

It’s evident that Rosanne loves the United States; she mentioned unity for our country several times. My sisters were deeply moved by her performance.

She sang “Ode to Billie Joe,” as beautifully as Bobbie Gentry did, when Gentry made it a hit in 1967. At the song’s conclusion, Rosanne said, “That song was recorded 53-years-ago, and people are still trying to figure out what Billie Joe was throwing off the Tallahatchie Bridge.” Her comment triggered a huge laugh from the audience.

Rosanne’s rendition of “The Long Black Veil” was spellbinding. She sang “Tennessee Flat Top Box,” which her dad wrote, and she performed “Sea of Heartbreak,” an old Don Gibson tune.

She ended the concert with her 1981 hit song “Seven Year Ache.”

The applause brought she and hubby John back for an encore; she sang “Wayfaring Stranger” from the Ken Burns 2019 Country Music documentary, a tune her father had also made popular.

Add a future Rosanne Cash concert to your bucket list, it will be one of the most enjoyable 90 minutes of your life.

Her website:

This article appeared in an edited version of the online edition of the San Clemente Times newspaper on March 18, 2020. Scroll to page 17


On Life and Love after 50 reaches age 26

On Life and Love after 50 reaches age 26. Thanks to all the Champs for helping to make it happen – August 9, 2019

by Tom P Blake

Dateline – Dublin, Ireland

Greta and I arrived in Dublin, Ireland, yesterday. We are on a 30-day trip. The first third of our trip will be traveling by bus with a tour group visiting many areas and cities in Ireland.

Then, in 10 days, we fly to Amsterdam and board a Holland America cruise ship, the MS Rotterdam, for a 20-day trip to Scotland, Iceland and Greenland. I will fill you in as best I can on the trip details in future eNewsletters.

But, in today’s article, I wanted to say thank you to all my Champs. Because of you, my writing career has entered its 26th year; I will explain how you’ve helped.

When my first “Middle Aged and Dating Again” newspaper column, titled, “Home Alone with Only Dog for Company,” was published, July 7, 1994, I had no idea how long my writing gig would last. I was writing from a recently divorced man’s point of view on the difficultly of middle-aged dating.

Before being hired, my two editors at the Dana Point News, Dixie and Sherrie, required me to submit four ready-to-be-published columns, which they said would be “put in the can.”

Honestly, when they said that, I seriously thought the columns might be put in the toilet. The editors quickly reassured me that “put in the can” meant they would be the first four columns used—a month’s worth.

At that point, I didn’t know if my writing career would last more than a month. I wasn’t sure if my readers would run out of questions, comments or interest. A columnist who writes a “Dear Abby” type of column, as mine has kind of evolved into, cannot maintain momentum without input from readers.

Back then, which was before the Internet, newspaper readers responded by leaving voice messages on answering machines and writing letters.

As the Internet grew, newspaper readers responded less to printed articles. So, I started an online eNewsletter around 2003 called “Finding Love after 50,” which put me more directly in communication with my readers; it was easy for them to just hit reply on their computers.

After a while, to create an alternate source of income, I charged $15 per year for the newsletter.

But, about 10 years ago, I wanted to expand the scope of the eNewsletter to beyond just dating issues. I changed the name to “On Life and Love after 50” and decided to stop charging for it.

Because I felt a deep connection with my eNewsletter readers, I wanted to adopt a name for you. After all, many of you have been brave enough to share your thoughts, experiences, opinions, knowledge, stories and emotions with people, most of whom you’ve never met. You were more than just readers.

Your comments open the doors for me for column ideas. I appreciate your trust in me; you’ve taught me a great deal.

One day, as I listened to Jackson Browne singing, “The Load Out and Stay,” the name hit me. In that song, Browne pays tribute to the roadies who load and offload his equipment when he is on tour.

He sings, “…when it comes to moving me, you know you guys are the champs…” And, that’s where the name Champs came from. The link to that song is at the end of today’s eNewsletter.

I am blessed to still be writing for newspapers, again thanks to you Champs for providing me with the material. I write for three newspapers in Southern California and six in Pennsylvania and use what you’ve sent me for the papers as well.

In this era dominated by online social media, print newspaper columnists are a dying breed. Newspapers are closing their doors in droves.

In a quarter century of writing, I’ve inked approximately 4,000 newspaper columns and eNewsletters. So, my uncertainty in 1994 about lasting for more than a month as a writer, turned out to be silly, but, of course, I didn’t know it at the time.

And I certainly, back then, could not foresee that I would publish four books, and make appearances on the Today Show and Good Morning America.

Thanks, Champs, for helping make all of that possible.

I’ll try to give you an Ireland update next week. Now, where is that Guiness Stout factory. I hear their beer is pretty good.

The link to the classic 1978 performance of The Load Out And Stay (it’s 9 minutes and 24 seconds long) Remember to hit “Skip Ad”
Reminder: The Meet and Greet show will go on this month at Tutor and Spunky’s Deli in Dana Point, Thursday, August 22, 5 to 7 p.m. Our lovely Champ, Maria, will oversee the event. Please lend her a hand.