The boy in black: Seattle teen channels Johnny Cash
Seattle teenager Vince Mira has an uncanny ability to channel Johnny Cash. The 16-year-old celebrates his first full-length release, recorded at the cabin belonging to none other than Johnny Cash and June Carter, at Showbox at the Market on Saturday, Nov. 1.
Seattle Times staff reporter
CD release party featuring Vince Mira with the Roy Kay Trio, The Dusty 45's, Can Can Castaways, Stone Gossard's Hank Williams Khoir, Baby Gramps, Emery Carl and The Antiques, doors open at 8 p.m. Saturday, Showbox at the Market, 1426 First Ave.; $12 advance and $15 at the door (206-628-3151 or showboxonline.com).
On the Internet
Vince Mira's site: www.myspace.com/vincemira
Johnny Cash and June Carter's cabin site: www.johncartercash.com/page5/page5.html
He started out as a street musician, serenading tourists at Pike Place Market. Two years later, he's recording with Johnny Cash's son, touring with Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard, playing Washington festivals like Sasquatch and Bumbershoot, and opening up for the Presidents of the United States of America on New Year's Eve.
And Vince Mira is only 16.
This Saturday, Mira celebrates his first full-length release — recorded at the cabin belonging to none other than Johnny Cash and June Carter — at Showbox at the Market.
With Converse sneakers and a pompadour that towers inches above his forehead, he's a contemporary mix of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Throw in his Mexican-Italian-Native American roots, and he's got a style all his own. Mira's self-titled album reflects this mix, with a Spanish version of "Ring of Fire."
The second-youngest of seven children, Mira grew up in Los Angeles, Texas and Washington. At 11, his mother bought him his first guitar.
"It was some cheap guitar, but I was so excited about it," said Mira.
He learned some Spanish music, the Beatles and Buddy Holly and started singing. His older brothers were into rockabilly, but Mira was intrigued by their two Johnny Cash albums.
"He stuck out the most," said Mira. "His lyrics are great. Who else can write about shooting somebody in Reno and get away with it? Who else can speak their mind like that?"
At that point Mira didn't try to sing like his idol, whom he simply calls "Johnny."
"He has a sound that is so great," said Mira. "Anybody can sing the Beatles, but if you sing Johnny's music, everybody will boo you, if you can't do it."
Mira tried one day. Imagine a meek teenager personifying Johnny Cash, bellowing out old soul. It's jarring.
"I put this song on and sang along with it. I guess it sounded OK," said Mira. "It's weird. It just happened. I didn't have to prepare for it."
At 13, his mother suggested he try out his act at Pike Place. He started with some Spanish songs and added Cash pieces.
"It was nerve-racking," said Mira. "I was shy back then."
Then the owner of Pike Place club The Can Can walked by one day.
"I'm generally in a hurry, but he caught my attention," said Chris Snell. "I was expecting to see someone quite a bit older."
Snell immediately found Mira's mother and asked if her son could join his variety show at the club. They first worked on stage presence — the reserved teenager would simply sit on stage and immediately go into his set. But weekly shows opened him up, and he started to feel more comfortable. And news of the talented teenager spread, filling his Tuesday night audiences at The Can Can.
It was then that Snell sensed potential — having worked in the Los Angeles entertainment arena for years — and wanted to help Mira make a record. So, he gathered Mira's parents and had a big meeting. Mira's father, a mechanic, was worried about the life of a young performer.
"I told them that Mira would make as much money as a regular job," said Snell. "I promised him that we would take care of him, that Vinny would take part in the family obligations as well as make money. It's just a different kind of job. And in the end, we shook hands and agreed."
Snell had two dreams for Mira — to perform at Folsom Prison and to make a record with John Carter Cash. While Mira was still playing at Pike Place — his spot was atop the stairs by Left Bank Books — by lucky happenstance, a fan passed along a business card. The card said Folsom Prison Warden. The warden had witnessed Cash's performance at the prison, as a security guard.
"I was really excited. I had the card inside my wallet for a year," said Mira.
Mira handed the card to Snell, who began calling. They had a performance set up but had to postpone due to riots. But schedules permitting, a concert will happen in the near future, said Snell.
The Cash connection was a result of Snell's persistent calling as well. He found a number online and e-mailed Cash through a MySpace site. A month later he got a response, and pleaded with John Carter Cash, saying he wouldn't call unless he truly believed in Mira's potential.
And so a partnership began — working together on Mira's EP, "Cash Cabin Sessions," out earlier this year and on the upcoming self-titled album. Snell invested his own money and his mother's money into the albums. And, last month, they recorded in Johnny Cash's and June Carter's cabin in Nashville, along with guitarist Jamie Hartford (from the "Walk the Line" movie) and Johnny Cash bassist Dave Roe.
Mira balances this all with school. He used to attend Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way (where American Idol contestant Sanjaya Malakar attended), but he is now home-schooled. And he doesn't mind missing high-school activities like prom, preferring to travel. Plus, his mom travels with him, and every Tuesday night at his shows, a whole posse of family comes to listen.
Snell also had his friend Mike Vermillion, from the Seattle rock band Vendetta Red, work with Mira on a couple of solo songs. They hit it off and added originals to Mira's upcoming album.
But, Johnny Cash is simply a launchpad for Mira — he doesn't want to be just a cover artist.
"He is not regurgitating," said Snell. "It comes from a deeper place. He is singing it as if he wrote it."
And as Mira gets older and travels more, he said, "Who knows, I may change my style as I play more music and get inspired."
Marian Liu: 206-464-3825
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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