tampabay.com

The youngster who imitates Johnny Cash

By JOSE CARDENAS
Published May 6, 2007


"The Boy in Black," Feb. 3, 2006; links.tampabay.com

THE STORY: Lots of children learn to sing and play instruments at an early age. But little David Michael Kimes of Tampa cut his teeth on songs about "fightin', drinkin' and dying." That's because, with the encouragement of grandma Jimmie Lea McClure, Kimes adopted the persona of his favorite performer, Johnny Cash, and the stage name of the Steel Driving Man. The "Boy in Black" has been performing as "John Henry, " mostly for snowbirds in the region's mobile home parks. Grandma would homeschool him and take him on tour, but his parents want him to stay in school here.

FROM THE STORY: Jimmie Lea has down pat the story about how John Henry got started in music.

It was just up the road from the Shady Oaks park, in fact, at Barb's restaurant, where she was playing the standup bass with a band. He was 5.

"He said, 'Maaama, I'm hungry.'

"I said, 'Well, baby, if you want to eat you're going to have to sing for your food.'

"He stood up in the chair and he did Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.

"Took a break right in the middle and came right back on time.

"First time he had ever sang with a band."

THE REST OF THE STORY: The publicity from the story generated many offers. "They were all wanting me to come to their shows," John Henry said in April. He couldn't make it up to an opry house in Kentucky. But he played mobile home parks from St. Petersburg to Auburndale. In Auburndale, in Polk County, he performed with Goldwing Express from Branson, Mo. But sometimes he loses his focus on music. "Like I want to play sports and stuff, too," he said. "If you quit now, " countered grandma, "it's going to be hard for you to pick up because people are going to forget who John Henry is."

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: John Henry is still in school. He is 11, a fifth-grader at Bing Elementary in Tampa. But now he has a band called the Steel Drivers, and he has incorporated music by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. "He even did Little Jimmy Dickens, " McClure said. He is taking a break from performing. But the little man in black will be onstage again come winter, when retirees from up North flock back to local mobile home parks. "He tells me, 'Maaama, I want to be on American Idol, ' " McClure said. "I tell him, 'Baby, you've gone as far as you're going to go, '" at least until he is 18.