Sherwin Linton made his first guitar out of a yardstick and a cigar box. In 1965, he graduated to building his own double neck guitar out of a Fender Jazzmaster. After 59 years of performing, the precision remains: Linton has never missed a show.
He holds a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not World Record for that. He’s also the only musician to have been inducted into both the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame and the South Dakota Music Hall of Fame. There’s a reason Linton is known as “Mid-America’s Country Music Legend.”
Recently, the 75-year-old Midwestern country singer spent two years helping craft a documentary about his life and work, to be released in October.
Produced by Pioneer Public Television in Appleton, Minn., Sherwin Linton: Forever on the Stage recounts Linton’s multi-decade career in a comparatively short span of 90 minutes with a collection of film clips, photos, and live performances. The documentary features interviews with Linton’s wife—country singer Pam Linton—and musicians Tommy Cash, Paul Metsa, and Marty Stuart.
A versatile entertainer with an untiring love of performance, Linton is what Stuart calls “a true friend to country music.” Like his career, Linton’s fan base has transcended generations, ranging from his own age group to modern-day hipsters.
Linton said sifting through memorabilia for the documentary allowed him to look back on his childhood, according to a news release. He said he has enjoyed teaching young people about music and life.
“It has been said in so many ways that our future is in teaching our next generations,” he said in a press release. “Having been deeply involved with Pioneer Public TV in assembling the pieces for this documentary, I am hoping that legacy will be the common thread throughout the production.”
As a teenager living in Watertown, South Dakota, Linton hosted his own rock n’ roll and country radio show and played in a band. His 1980s Christmas spoof song, “Santa Got a DWI,” became a holiday hit. He has recorded 26 albums and often plays tributes to Johnny Cash. The Man in Black himself was so impressed with Linton that at the South Dakota State Fair in 1975, Cash removed his boots and gave them to Linton.
“I could never fill your shoes, Johnny,” said Linton.
“Oh, yes you can,” replied Cash.
Linton now plays with his current band, The Cotton Kings, 200 days out of the year. One of those performances brought Linton to the Lake Harriet Bandshell in Minneapolis this summer, on his 75th birthday. Musician and author Paul Metsa introduced him: “His encyclopedic knowledge and love of the history of American music, combined with his ability to play those styles and being a true country gentleman, makes Sherwin one of the finest musicians I have ever had the pleasure to know.”
Sherwin Linton: Forever on the Stage will premiere Oct. 5 at the Palace Theatre in Luverne, Minn., and Oct. 12 at the Heights Theatre in Columbia Heights. Advance tickets to both screenings are available via Pioneer Public Television. On Oct. 10-11, Linton and his band will perform their aptly-named tribute Hello, I’m Not Johnny Cash at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.
Hailey Colwell is a journalism major at the University of Minnesota and a co-director of Theatre Corrobora.