“About six years ago, I had an epiphany of sorts.” Tony Suraci, aka the Highwayman, explains how he came to front such a complicated show. “For a long time I performed Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings songs,” he emails from Fallbrook. “And then one day, it just crystallized in my mind that I should put together a tribute act that honored these four.” And so he did just that, with a backup band and himself in the role of each. As a performance, it is seamless, impressive, considering how different each singer is and how close to each one Suraci can get. No — he nails each of them.
“There’s actually a fifth voice in the Highwayman Show. Merle Haggard sings with Willie on the song ‘Poncho and Lefty,’ and, yes, I do Haggard’s voice on that one, too.” How, exactly, does one train for such an endeavor? “I have been mimicking my whole life.”
In their time, which was roughly from 1985 to 1995, the Highwaymen were a so-called outlaw-country supergroup that consisted of Jennings, Nelson, Kristofferson, and Cash. But outlaw country dates back to the 1950s, say some, and may have started with Elvis. Suraci, who resembles none of the five (other than vocally), claims Willie Nelson as his personal favorite. He writes about how some songs have a performance burn factor, that he’s gotten tired of doing certain Bad Company tunes in years past. “But, Willie Nelson’s ‘Angel Flyin’ Too Close to the Ground’...I still love it every time.”
Suraci writes that he’s been woodshedding on some new Johnny Cash material. “For the first time, the public will hear me sing ‘Man in Black,’ ‘I’ve Been Everywhere,’ and ‘City of New Orleans.’ This show at the Belly Up,” he claims, “will be the highlight of a lot of hard work and dedication to the outlaw-country movement.”
Lee Koch of The Voice also performs.
The Highwayman: Belly Up, Sunday, February 10, doors 6:30 p.m. 858-481-8140. $13 advance/$15 day of show