Studio: Leif Bondarenko


Leif Bondarenko is the bandleader and lead singer of CashBack, a Johnny Cash-focused band with deep roots

in the Birmingham music scene.

Written by Brett Levine; Photo by Thomas B. Diasio

Levine: CashBack honors The Man in Black, but it is much more. Can you share a little about what makes

CashBack so special for you?

Bondarenko: For me, CashBack is inspiration, not imitation. I don’t have any desire to be a Johnny Cash impersonator. We’re offering something different. I’m a bandleader that loves playing Johnny Cash songs. I’d describe our approach as sincere. I think of it this way—if a member of the Cash family were to happen to hear us playing somewhere, I’d like them to think that we were honoring his memory.

Levine: This is the first time you’ve been a frontman. And, your setup is really pared down. How has that changed your approach?

Bondarenko: I started singing Johnny Cash because I had a deep voice—it’s that simple. But I’d never really performed like this. I’ve got my drum kit down to a bass drum, a snare, and a single cymbal because I’m playing standing up. That’s it. But when you hear us, we have a full sound. CashBack has grown from a three-piece to a five-piece over the past year. Playing with Eric Onimus, Gary Edmonds, Adam Guthrie, and Tommy Bowen is easy, fun, and exciting. Sometimes I even get to step out from behind the drums entirely. Jimmy Finney steps in, and I can duet with Carole Griffin on some June and Johnny songs. Carole and I have shared the stage together all the way back to our Sugar LaLas days.

Levine: What would you like Birmingham to know about CashBack?

Bondarenko: We’re here (laughs). No, of course it is more than that. What’s so special—and so challenging—is what any performer goes through, which is persevering. One of the things I love about CashBack is having the opportunity to use the music I’m playing as one way to define myself.

One Response to “Studio: Leif Bondarenko”

  1. Many thanks to Brett Levine and B-Metro!

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