Thomas Gabriel has proven himself worthy of being the grandson of Johnny Cash as he keeps his legacy alive through his voice, sounding just like like his grandfather.
Living up to the name Johnny Cash isn’t easy, but Thomas Gabriel did his grandfather proud, following his footsteps in the music industry. Gabriel was the first grandson of Cash, allowing him to see the legend up close through his daily life. From the very start, it was no doubt that music would be in his path.
Gabriel shared the same dream as his grandfather. Young as he was, he would hit the road with Cash and take the stage with him singing, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“I was the first grandchild,” Gabriel recalled.
“My mother (Kathy) was very young, only 16 when she had me. So the grandparents, as they often do, stepped in to help.”
At the age of 11, Gabriel was already playing the guitar. By the time he hit 21, he had already written and recorded songs.
“Son, you sound a lot like I did when I was younger; work on those vocals,” Cash told him.
But as Cash saw potential in him, he also felt that his grandson had a problem for addiction; something the “Man in Black” artist struggled with in his career.
“He said the writing’s good, your vocals are good, but you need to work on it,” Gabriel shared.
“In the meantime, I want you to leave it alone and get a back-up plan.”
“He wanted me to be a cop. About a month later, I was in the academy. And I did it for the next eight years,” he added.
Gabriel worked hard and didn’t let go of his passion for music, trying to balance it with his work. The difficulty kicked in, and so he sought the help of something that later brought out the worst in him.
“I got into pills. I was working midnights, trying to run a business during the day, playing music here and there, and I started taking pills to stay up,” he shared.
But just as the pills kept him up, he needed a counter medicine to make him sleep. The effect on the drugs took a toll on him and steered him out of control.
“And because I was doing that, plus drinking, I ran myself into the ground and did some really stupid things. I got arrested for domestic violence. So I resigned from my job.”
Gabriel’s life went downhill from there, being dependent on drugs and alcohol, followed by multiple arrests. But when you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up; and that’s exactly what happened next.
Oxley, a businessman who admires Cash’s spiritual side, got in touch with Gabriel and offered to help him fix his life. He urged Gabriel to enter rehab, and so he did.
His first song after serving time in rehab was “126.96.36.199.”
“It was basically what I lived. It’s about a guy that messes up, gets on drugs, goes to prison, is gone for a good while, comes back, tries to do well, then goes back to prison.”
Relating to the song, Gabriel was able to record and do a music video for it, which later led to his first solo album, “A Long Way Home.” The album became a hit, and Gabriel found himself doing shows in different places.
Being in the darkest of places allowed Gabriel to excel to some extraordinary heights, paying homage to his grandfather through songs which he would play every once so often.
“I get to express myself which is very therapeutic for me, and it helps others to hear my message. At the same time, I get to sing a bunch of my grandpa’s songs and show tribute to him which feels good because in life he didn’t see a whole lot of that from me.”
Like Gabriel, Cash too had his fair share of downtime in his life. The legend was arrested seven times in his life for things he regrets. His most known arrest happened in El Paso, Texas in 1965 when he crossed over the border to purchase amphetamines at a low price.
Cash was also arrested for being drunk in public, having possession of drugs, driving recklessly, and picking flowers from someone else’s yard. Despite the many notorious decisions of Cash, he was still able to make a name for himself, not just in the music industry, but also in acting.
He appeared in TV shows and films such as “The Rebel,” “Five Minutes to Live,” and “A Gunfight,” among many others. With all the struggles in his life and the success in his career, the renowned name, Johnny Cash, will forever be remembered.