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Friday, June 20, 2008

Mike Does a Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash may have been the first, but he was certainly not the only performer to go behind prison walls to entertain. There was also Mike.

As I was writing earlier this week about Vernon Presley’s time in Mississippi’s Parchman Penitentiary, Mike was reminded to tell me about his Parchman experience – as a visitor, not a resident.

In the late ‘70s, Mike was playing with saxophone great, Ace Cannon. Mike has a lot of great memories about working with Ace. ( Some are funny, as in the attached link; some are crazy; some are special like playing in Barbados and the band being given the Prime Minister’s beach house for the duration of their stay. But then there was Parchman.

Mike only remembers being there once, but Ace’s band performed for inmates and guests at Parchman’s annual rodeo. It seems that many state prisons conduct yearly rodeos which they believe are beneficial for a variety of reasons.

Parchman has a very dark history so it must have been unsettling to enter those walls for any reason. What Mike remembers most, however, was one rodeo event. Most of us have seen at least clips of cowboys taking down a calf and roping its legs together in a speed event. Mike had never seen anyone take down a horse.

(Disclaimer: We know that PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – hates rodeos as well as circuses and zoos. The Plunk Chronicles takes no stand on the event being described and presumes that no horses were injured.)

With that said, the event could best be described as horse-downing. Inmates were in teams of two. A horse would be let into the arena and two inmates would follow. Mike’s immediate reaction was that those guys were about as big as the horse. They must have been pumping iron for years to develop arms that big.

Each Schwarzenegger-like duo chased a horse around the arena until one guy got the animal in a neck hold. The other inmate simply bit the horse’s ear and down went the horse. The speediest pair won.

And Mike thought to himself, “I’m sitting here inside Parchman prison watching the Hulk in stereo nibbling on horsey ears. Maybe I can sleep it off.”

More About Ace

In the 1950s, Ace played with the Bill Black Combo and, in addition to performing live and recording, they appeared on the era’s top tv shows including the Ed Sullivan Show, Show, American Bandstand and the Merv Griffin Show.

In 1962 Ace recorded the instrumental smash "TUFF". Since that time he has recorded 67 albums and 46 singles.

In 1986, he was asked by Dick Clark to join the All Star Band for the Country Music Academy television special.

The Grammy-nominated sax player has been inducted into the Smithsonian Rock and Soul Hall of Fame, the International Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. Ace is still performing. Check him out at

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