Jack Knox, my longtime friend and booking agent and who is also a great singer/entertainer with the band, “The Continentals” from Lowell, Massachusetts, had a good connection with Glen French. Every night, Glen booked the talent for the Seashell Stage Concerts in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.
It was a beautiful venue on the beach with the stage facing the main street, and it was directly across the street from the Club Casino Ballroom.
The Casino Ballroom introduced a Vegas-style showroom with food and cocktails, 1,600 chairs and tables and a 144-foot bar, which back in the the 70’s and 80’s was the longest bar in New England.
Because of its limited capacity, Jim Goodwin, the new manager, had the brilliant idea of booking a gamut of stars to build the Casino’s reputation within the industry, with the vision of eventually grabbing bigger stars to come perform.
In booking performers, Jim soon garnered household names such as Roy Orbison, Wayne Newton, Tom Jones, George Carlin and Ray Charles. He also landed U2, Huey Lewis and Tina Turner before they rocketed to super stardom. The Club Casino targeted an adult crowd with its upscale cabaret atmosphere and I so wanted to be part of it.
I was hired to do 2 shows at The Seashell across the street in the early evening of September 29, 1985. It was a fun summer crowd and there were a lot of people. So that night, I had the sound man boost the master volume on the sound board so I could involve people across the street in the show as well.
I don’t know how Jack did it, but he managed to get Jimmy out on the terrace right at the moment I had the beach and both sides of the street waving their arms in the air, singing “Sweet Caroline” at the top of their lungs.
Jimmy turned to Jack and said, “Tell Paul he can be the support act for Johnny Cash this Thursday and Friday night.”
JOHNNY CASH? WHAT? Everything I had ever worked so hard for in the past brought this moment to fruition, as Johnny was the first International Legend that I had the opportunity to work with.
Thursday night, just before I walked back stage, Jimmy called me to the bar. He introduced me to Mickey, a man sitting on the bar stool next to him. He said, “I can’t put you on the show for a second night without Mickey’s approval.”
Mickey eyeballed me with a serious look, and nodded, but he never spoke. “If Mickey likes you,” Jimmy continued, “you’re on. If he doesn’t, you’re all done!”
Talk about pressure… I thought Joe was Johnny’s Road Manager or something.
Security walked me back stage. The Club house lights dimmed as the music faded and you could hear the audience gasp and silence themselves.
As I waited in the dark behind the stage curtain, I only remember feeling two things: Like I had to pee and pass out (not necessarily in that order.)
Then, the spotlight hit the curtain. I took a deep breath and somehow, I managed to open the curtain to walk onstage.
I did have a little surprise for Jimmy Goodwin though, as I had previously “planted” my guitar with a friend in the audience. So I walked up to center microphone, welcomed the audience and told them all to give themselves a big round of applause for coming out to the Casino Ballroom. Their excited cheers and applause filled the room.
Then I said, “I’d like to introduce the opening act for Johnny Cash tonight. It’s his first time here at the Club Casino and his first time opening for Johnny Cash, so please make him feel welcome… LET’S HEAR IT FOR PAUL… WAYNE!”
As the audience again cheered and applauded, all of them were looking towards the center curtain, but no opening act came out.
That’s when I motioned for my friend to hand me my guitar from the audience. I carefully hung the strap around my neck, plugged the guitar cord into my Fender Stratocaster, looked at the audience and said, “Thank you very much!”
The audience laughed as they realized I was introducing myself, which really broke the ice. Jimmy and his “important friend” were laughing at the bar. I felt relieved and just had fun with my audience for the next 30 minutes. Standing ovation… they must have really liked me.
Needless to say, Johnny Cash was amazing. As he was singing and talking to the crowd, we all had the feeling as if we were all old friends that he had invited over to his house for a few beers. He left the stage about halfway through and turned things over to June Carter Cash.
June sang some of the Carter family’s famous songs, like Wabash Cannonball, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, and Wildwood Flower. The Carter family was the first vocal group to become country music stars, and were among the first groups to record commercially produced country music. These people are legends!
After the show, Jimmy Goodwin was still sitting at the bar with Joe. It turns out Jimmy had a little surprise for me too. He said, “You’re in… You can open for Johnny Cash tomorrow night as well, good job Paul!” Then Jimmy laughed while he said, “By the way, Mickey is my next door neighbor and he really liked your show too.”
I was a little confused. Later, I said to Jimmy ,”You made me think that Joe was some big time agent or Road Manager for Johnny Cash… why would you do that?”
Jimmy said, “If you can’t work under pressure, then I don’t want you performing at the Club Casino.” My radiant smile showed him my appreciation.
Friday night rolled around and I was on the Club Casino stage for the second night working with a Country Legend. This night, Mom and Dad were in the audience.
Dad was a huge Johnny Cash fan, so I asked Johnny’s Manager, Lou Robin, if my Dad could meet Johnny Cash at some point. He said, “You really did a great job last night, so let me see what I can do.”
My opening went very well again and I just happened to be sitting to the side when Johnny walked backstage after June began her set.
It was then that I saw the backstage entrance curtain creek open and Lou Robin, Johnny’s manager waved me to come back stage. I said, “Come with me Dad.”
I hadn’t told Dad what I had planned because I didn’t want him to be disappointed if it didn’t happen. So he thought he was just going out to my dressing room with me.
We went through the curtain and instead of going into my dressing room, Johnny’s Manager opened the door with the STAR on it…and behind it was none other than JOHNNY CASH. He towered over the both of us, as he must have been at least 6 foot 2 inches.
Johnny reached out and shook Dad’s hand, and making eye contact said, ”You must be really proud of your boy!” Dad just smiled and thanked him.
There’s more…. Peter Flynn, a friend of mine, and also a big Johnny Cash fan, just happened to be the Sheriff of Plymouth County at the time. Peter knew I was booked with Johnny, so he gave me a Sheriffs’ Badge and Certificate so I could make Johnny Cash an honorary Sheriff of Plymouth County, Massachusetts.
I told Peter I couldn’t promise anything like that, as I didn’t know if I was even going to be able to meet him. He understood and said, “Do the best you can.”
Not only did Johnny graciously receive the Sheriff’s Badge, which he let me pin on his shirt and accept the Certificate from Peter Flynn, but he also took pictures with me in his new job as Sheriff. It was then he told me a little personal story.
“You know Paul,” Johnny said, “there was a time when the police weren’t so nice to me. I remember one time when I was driving along, and as I recall, I MIGHT have had a couple of beers…”
We laughed and he continued, “Well, the cops pulled me over and asked me to get out of the car. They pushed me up against the side and put the cuffs on me… and I kept telling them, ‘I know the governor of Tennessee… I KNOW THE GOVERNOR OF TENNESSEE…’ and the cop looked at me and he said, ‘This here’s Alabama boy… you’re a long way from Tennessee!’”
We had a great laugh at that.
I was to learn over the following years that from Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson to the Oak Ridge Boys, Charlie Daniels Band and The Judds, if they were country stars and you were in the show with them, they treated you like family. And that’s the way Johnny Cash treated me and my Dad that night.
Thank you Johnny and June – for all of the music you gave the world and for letting me and my family be a small, but important part of yours.