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Henry Vaccaro, Sr. Interview 2013
On September 27, 2013, Mr. Henry Vaccaro, Sr., a personal friend of Johny Cash, was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his relationship with The Man in Black for the Johnny Cash Infocenter. On behalf of myself, and the entire JCI team, thank you Mr. Vaccaro, for taking the time to share some stories about John Cash!
Interview by: Jeff Emond
When did you first meet Johnny Cash, what was it like?
I first met Johnny at a reception following a show at Garden State Arts Center here in New Jersey in 1973. I was formally introduced to him in 1976 at a similar reception. I was in the construction business but had just invested in [the] Kramer Guitar [company]. That next day Johnny introduced me to Bob Wootton at their hotel. I took Bob and Marshall to the Kramer factory only 5 miles away. They were so impressed that night on stage [that] Bob, Marshall and Jerry Hensley all played Kramer instruments. Bob and I really hit it off and I invited he and Earl Poole Ball to Bimini Bahamas on a fishing trip. Bob enjoyed it so much that he told Johnny about it so the following year Johnny, John Carter, Bob and I went back to Bimini on one of our several trips together.
How did you get started in the guitar business?
I started in the guitar business when a young man came to my office and wanted to rent a vacant warehouse building that I owned. I was so impressed with the guitar with an aluminum neck that I invested, eventually becoming the largest stockholder and Chairman of the Board. In 1987 Kramer was voted on by Guitar Player as the top guitar in the country.
You were a witness to Johnny Cash received the Shalom Peace Award. Do you know any details on the work Cash did to get such a prestigious award?
In 1986 Johnny was Roasted at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis where he received the Shalom Peace Award from the Jewish National Fund for his work in promoting peace around the world. Johnny made a movie called Gospel Road in Israel.
Can you tell me how Johnny helped revive your religion?
I was a usher in Bob’s wedding party in Philadelphia, Mississippi. After [the] wedding, Johnny, John Carter and I flew back to New Jersey in a learjet. While on [the] plane it was thunder[ing] and lightning; [and the] plane was shaking when John turned to me and asked what church I went too. I told him that I didn't go to church, [and] he asked why. I told him [and] he said there is a God up there you should go back to church. [To] make the story short, I did go back to church and the last five times that Johnny Cash ever came to Asbury Park he went to church with me.
Johnny Cash was deeply involved with Asbury Park, lived there for a time, and recorded a concert there--can you tell us about his involvement in Asbury and “The Great Lost Performance”?
Johnny and June were limited partners in the Berkeley Carteret Hotel restoration and maintained an apartment there from 1985 until 1993. Johnny did several concerts at the Paramount Theater just across the street from the hotel. Johnny did a ceremony for the local VFW and the MIA's. The lost performance I paid to have recorded along with a man named Clark Ensley. On his own, several years later, Clark put out the CD and added his wife's vocals even though she never performed with John.
Cash was your business partner at some point. How did that professional partnership begin?
The business partnership began while on the movie set [for] "Murder in Coweta County,” filmed in Georgia. While on Johnny’s bus I showed June pictures of Asbury Park and the vacant hotel that I was buying. She fell in love with it and told Johnny [about the hotel] when he got on the bus. We talked and he wanted to be part of it. That's how it all started.
Is there any advice or words of wisdom that you remember Johnny giving you, or any comments he made that really stick with you to this day?
Words of wisdom. In 1993, I went bankrupt [and] Johnny invited me to spend Christmas and New Years with he and his family in Jamaica. We had a long talk one day and he said, “Henry, remember this: The only thing that went bankrupt was your wallet." He pointed to my head and my heart [and said,] “[A]s long as that brain is working and that heart keeps pumping you will be fine and will come back bigger and stronger than before.”
If you had to pick one song, and one album of Johnny Cash’s, what would be your favorite picks?
Favorite song: "Ways of a Woman in Love.” Favorite album: Live at Folsom Prison. Other top songs: “Flesh and Blood,” “Forty Shades of Green,” “Far Side Banks of Jordan,” and “Meet Me in Heaven.”
What encouraged you to write your book, “Johnny Cash is a Friend of Mine,” now, several years after Cash’s passing?
I always wanted to write a book about my memories of him. But I am not a writer. So I hired an author, but he wanted [$50,000] to write the book [and] at that time, three years ago, my business was very slow and I didn't have the money. So my son purchased a camera and said, “Dad, talk into this and tell your stories.” I did, and for several weeks I sat and talked. After finishing we found [an] online a service that would type [what is said] in a word document. We hired them and soon all my stories were down on paper. I never had a computer in my life, so at age 70, I [got] a computer and typed, one finger at a time, the entire book from that transcribed document. [O]nline we found an editor for two grand who we hired. The editor sent back [a] marked up manuscript which I revised [and] sent out to several artist agencies and book publishers [but] none would print it as I was not an experienced author and they felt it was a "niche book.” My son found this company called Createspace, owned by Amazon, [and] we sent them the book including photos. Next thing I know I am an author.
For more information on Mr. Vaccaro’s book "Johnny Cash Is a Friend of Mine" (which contains more stories and personal photos of Johnny Cash) please visit his Facebook page, Johnny Cash Is a Friend of Mine.