Sometimes the name says it all. In the case of a band that hails from Cologne, Germany, Bluegrass Cash, there’s certainly no mistaking the intent. Founder, bandleader, lead singer, and rhythm guitarist Martin Voogd, fiddler, mandolin player and harmony vocalist Paul Bremen, bassist, fiddle player and high tenor harmony singer Rainer Diekamp, banjo player and harmony singer Steffen Thede, and, the band’s most recent addition, singer Kikki Géron, are firmly committed to bringing the legacy of the legendary Johnny Cash ever-forward, coupled with the drive, determination, and pure vitality that bluegrass inevitably instills.
“I would describe our sound as a unique new approach based on the famous Johnny Cash ‘boom-chicka-boom sound,’ with influences that are way deep in bluegrass,” Voogd says. “At some points, there’s even a jazzy feel.”
Voogd traces the origins of the band to an event in Cologne called the Cologne Bluegrass Bash, which he has attended regularly since 2017. “There I found, one after another, these fantastic musicians,” he said. “And some warmhearted people.”
Aside from the obvious influence of Johnny Cash, Voogd said the group has plenty of other shared interests, including Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, the Louvin Brothers, Hank Williams, George Jones, honky-tonk, hillbilly, and rockabilly. “I also need to mention that Paul is a composer/arranger who also loves classical and jazz,” he adds.
Last year found the band playing out fairly regularly. In October, they played the last of three album release concerts in the famous venue called Blue Shell in Cologne. This past June, they did a mini tour of Germany’s Osnabrück region. They were scheduled to perform at the Bluegrass Jamboree, an event traditionally featured artists from the US and Canada, but COVID forced its postponement. Nevertheless, prior to the pandemic, they did have the opportunity to share the stage with several notables
“The Bluegrass Jamboree allowed us to perform with a German bluegrass legend Heiko Ahrend and the no-less-legendary Sacred Sounds of Grass as well as the equally famous Blue Grass Boogiemen,” Voogd continued, adding that they’re already booked for the Bluegrass Festival Birkenried this coming year.
Given their frequent appearances in Germany, it’s little surprise that Voogd mentioned Bluegrass Cash has gotten a warm welcome at home. “We received one good review after another,” he notes.
The band also has a pair of albums to their credit. In October 2021, Bluegrass Cash recorded their self-titled debut, which was pressed on vinyl, but delayed nearly a year until the end of September 2022. It’s presently available on Spotify.
Late last year the band recorded a few songs for a 10” mini LP with Kikki, their new singer. Voogd said they hope to release it in the spring.
“In the beginning, we wanted to focus on originals only,” Voogd mentions. “Later, as we grew into our own new sound, and I stopped imitating Johnny Cash, we allowed ourselves to do later material from his famous American Recordings series like Mary of the Wild Moor, where we more or less emulated the Louvin Brothers version. That song can be found on our first album. And we have a very nice version of In My Life, which is on Johnny’s fourth and last American Recordings album. However, we’ve not yet recorded it ourselves.”
Needless to say, the band’s reverence for their namesake runs quite deep.
“We are the first band worldwide that is dedicated to doing the songs Johnny Cash performed at some point in his career — on record or on stage — with a bluegrass flavor,” Voogd insists. “Of course, there are other, well known artists who occasionally do a Johnny Cash song in a bluegrass style, but we don’t consider ourselves hardcore bluegrass.”
He adds, “I respectfully stay away from a song like [Johnny Cash’s later song] Hurt. Up until this point I don’t feel mature enough to perform a song with such deep feelings.”
When asked, Voigt offered several reasons why bluegrass enjoys such international popularity.
“Well, without a doubt, the 2000 Coen Brothers Film, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, was a milestone that attracted millions to this old time/bluegrass music overnight,” he reflects. “And it’s never faded since. Still, again and again, youngsters find their way into this upbeat folky music.”
He pauses and then adds a final word of gratitude. “Last but not least, I’d like to honor my lovely wife, Dorrit Bauerecker, who never failed to support me in all possible ways.”
That’s what we’d call sharing the sentiment.