Jay Stephens: Abilene’s Very Own Johnny Cash

A bout of Bell’s Palsy, a few years back, changed everything.

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Jay Stephens at the West Texas Fair and Rodeo. Photo by Rosie Cheeks

When Jay Stephens sings, it’s impossible for anyone who has ever heard Johnny Cash sing to not do a double take. His voice is astonishingly reminiscent of the country legend in the same way that LeAnn Rimes was reminiscent of Patsy Cline in “Blue.” However, he hasn’t always had that sound. A bout of Bell’s Palsy, a few years back, changed everything.

“Before the Bell’s Palsy happened I didn’t have much, if any accent at all, besides using the usual Texas slang. (I) Sounded like someone from up north.“ Said Stephens. “It (was) an interesting change. The first time the vocal change really dawned on me was when my wife and I went out for karaoke after I had gotten better. (I) sang Johnny Cash’s “Big River” and everyone loved it. (I) slowly began to realize that the Palsy had added an eerily similar sound and accent that Mr. Cash had. I wonder if he didn’t have the same condition at one point since his voice is so unique.”

Stephens has amassed quite a following of fans. He started with karaoke and has progressed rapidly since. He competed last season on Abilene Idol and won second place. He played at the county fair and several other events since.

Jay Stephens with other contestants at Abilene Idol.

“His voice is amazing. His Johnny Cash tribute is spot on and he makes you feel like you’re actually watching Johnny Cash. I’ve been lucky enough to see him a few times and I’ve always been mesmerized by his beautiful voice.” Says Cherie Click-Gooden.

I’ve been singing for about five years now, started out doing karaoke and stuck to Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin tunes. I enjoyed that style of music. I know most of their songs by heart.” Said Stephens. “My wife bought me a beat-up 1950s True Tone acoustic guitar from a thrift shop in town shortly before we got married, I had played piano and viola years before then but took the guitar more seriously at that time.”

He wasn’t initially drawn to country music but has found that he prefers classic artists such as Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristopherson. I like taking other songs and genres of music and covering them as well if they work with the sound.” Added Stephens. The covers he has been working with aren’t what you would typically think of when it comes to the Cash-esque sound Stephens is known for. Some covers have been “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2.

Stephens has an active presence at Abilene events. It is rare a weekend goes by that he isn’t on stage. Watch for him to perform some songs he has written himself. Get out there and enjoy his music.

Sample his music using the links below and keep up with his performances via the Abilene Live Music Calendar.

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