He had the back of the Man in Black.
For nearly 10 years, Ron Hoxmeier’s job was to be the bodyguard for country music legend Johnny Cash. It was a role that took Hoxmeier around the country and allowed him to
meet some of the biggest singers in the business, including Willie Nelson, June Carter Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings.
Not a bad gig for the son of a Nebraska farmer who moved to Eden Valley in the 1940s after three years of drought left them high and dry.
Hoxmeier, now 73, remembers his father telling him that he saw a license plate that read “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Well, after so many droughts, that seemed like a good place to be, so he loaded up the family and moved northward.
Hoxmeier graduated from Eden Valley High School in 1958, and he knew one thing; he did not want to be a farmer. He landed a job in the Twin Cities driving truck for a company that hauled explosives to the Twin Cities Arsenal.
Then a friend by the name of Tom Sawyer (insert Huck Finn joke here) told him he should come work with him at the old Met Stadium as a beer salesman.
Well, that was too much step climbing for Hoxmeier, but he did land work with a security company who was providing security for the 1965 World Series between the Twins and the Dodgers.
It just so happened that the security company also was in charge of handling some music concerts, including a gig by one Johnny Cash.
Hoxmeier met Cash at the height of Johnny’s bad-boy days. It was before Cash married June Carter, whom Hoxmeier credits for saving the country star’s life.
Cash took an immediate liking to Hoxmeier, who stood 6-foot, 4-inches tall and loved to shoot the bull. Cash called Hoxmeier “RJ,” after his first and middle initial, and Hoxmeier called Cash “JR.”
Hoxmeier remembers that Cash started telling him to run all kinds of errands for him.
Hoxmeier told Cash, “I don’t work for you,” reminding him that it was the security company who paid him.
“You work for me now,” Cash told Hoxmeier, who hired him on the spot to provide security for a 13-day Midwest Tour that including visits to Rochester, Duluth, Madison, Milwaukee, Des Moines and Mason City.
“I was at the right place and the right time,” Hoxmeier said.
That first year was not easy as Cash was still into drinking and drugs.
“I was with him in ’67 and the guy was just terrible. But then June came around.”
Hoxmeier said that if June Carter had not appeared, he would not have been able to last as Cash’s bodyguard.
“Cash came up to me one day and said, ‘RJ, I got married two days ago,’” Hoxmeier recalls. “That woman saved his life.”
That does not mean Cash cleaned up immediately. In addition, it does not mean that Hoxmeier’s job was not without its difficulties.
He was fired more than once by both June and Johnny, but for different reasons.
“June fired me once and Cash fired me twice,” Hoxmeier said.
One incident that led to Hoxmeier’s dismissal occurred at the Grand Ole Opry. Cash was drinking in a bar nearby called Tootsies with Waylon Jennings and Roger Miller. Hoxmeier was nearby when June Carter Cash came up to him and asked him where Cash was. Hoxmeier told her and she ordered him to go get Cash. However, when Hoxmeier tried, Cash told him “I’m paying you to drink. I’m buying.” So Hoxmeier sat down and drank with the boys.
“We didn’t get out of that bar until 7 the next morning,” Hoxmeier said, adding that Cash had to be on stage by 2 p.m.
June Carter Cash was furious and fired Hoxmeier on the spot, telling him he was being paid to keep Cash out of trouble, not drink with him.
When Hoxmeier told Cash of his dismissal, Cash re-hired him immediately.
To say it was a difficult job to walk the line between June and Johnny would be an understatement.
Hoxmeier said Cash would miss several shows due to drinking and drugs. Many times June Carter Cash would take the stage, apologize for her husband’s absence and tell the crowd that if they wanted to leave they would get their money back. If not, she told them, she would do a show for them. Hoxmeier said few people left because June Carter Cash was such a great performer in her own right.
An interviewer could spend days listening to Hoxmeier tell stories. One after another roll off his tongue. Like the time Cash painted the hotel room he was staying in completely black. Hoxmeier just shakes his head thinking of the damage Cash could do on the road.
“Stuff comes back to me about the times on the road,” he said. “He was 90 percent clean when I was with him, but he would have his bouts.”
Some stories are tragic, others are uplifting. Two involve a long-time guitarist for Cash.
One was the tragic death of Luther Perkins who was a guitarist and a member of Cash’s band, the Tennessee Three. Perkins was an iconic figure whose guitar licks were credited with creating the signature “boom-chicka-boom” style that would become Cash’s trademark. He died tragically in a house fire after falling to sleep with a lit cigarette. He is buried in Hendersonville Memorial Park in Tennessee near the graves of John and June.
Then there was the hiring of a young man in the audience of one of Cash’s shows named Bob
Wooten. Because of a flight cancellation, Cash was left on stage with only a drummer. He asked if anyone in the audience could play guitar. Wooten, a life-long Cash fan, raised his hand. He had studied that boom-chicka-boom style and stunned the audience – and Cash – with his playing. Wooten would go on and play for Cash for the next 30 years.
Paging through just one of Hoxmeier’s photo albums is like seeing a Who’s Who of country music legends. In one picture, Cash is walking outside Folsom Prison, where he performed for inmates. Hoxmeier came along for security, but his services were not needed on that day.
“There were more men with guns there. They didn’t need me.”
Speaking of guns, after an incident at his Jamaican home that involved shooting and a threat to Cash and his family; Cash insisted that Hoxmeier carry a gun. Hoxmeier absolutely did not want anything to do with that, but Cash insisted and purchased him a nickel-plated 38-caliber handgun.
Hoxmeier said he never loaded more than one bullet in the gun at a time, because he was afraid to use the gun. He never did fire it.
Being on the road was tough on Hoxmeier, who wanted to be with his wife Judy and their children, back in Minnesota.
“I was always trying to get out of going places because I wanted to be home with my family. My wife didn’t like me on the road, but I had a loyalty to Cash and Carter.”
Therefore, whenever Cash would head out of the country, Hoxmeier begged to stay behind. So, he didn’t travel to Kenya or the Holy Land or Europe, Instead, Cash hired “a big Italian named Antonio” who weighed some 300 pounds.
However, when he came back to the States, Hoxmeier was summoned.
“He always called me the ‘Preventer,’” Hoxmeier said of the man who became a dear friend.
Hoxmeier said he made a lot of money providing security for Cash. He was paid by the hour and the hours were long.
“He made a lot of money and I made a lot of money,” said Hoxmeier, who today resembles Hank Williams, Jr. with his white hair and full beard. He wears dark sunglasses and a cowboy hat to complete the look, but no cowboy boots. His shelves of size 13 boots gather dust, no longer fitting his feet.
Hoxmeier decided to quit his job in 1976. “June understood,” he said. Cash, well, maybe not so much.
When June Carter Cash died in 2003, Hoxmeier attended the funeral and saw Cash for what would be the last time.
Cash said to Hoxmeier: “RJ, I’m glad you came down.”
“I wish I had never seen him that way,” Hoxmeier said. Cash was gaunt, in a wheelchair with tubes sticking out of him. He was suffering from several ailments, including diabetes.
However, when Cash died fourmonths later, Hoxmeier insisted it was from a broken heart.
“They loved each other so much.”
Later that same year, in 2004, Hoxmeier lost his wife, Judy to illness. She had been in hospice care for almost two years.
Hoxmeier hit a rough patch, drowning his sorrows in liquor.
He had purchased four acres in the Minnesota countryside and built a home for Judy and himself with money he earned during his stint with Cash. But after Judy’s death, 30 years of memories in that home would not allow him to stay there.
He moved back to his childhood hometown of Eden Valley, where his mother was living, as well as a brother who was still on the home place.
Then, on New Year’s Eve 2010, while at a dance in Manannah, Hoxmeier met the woman who would save his life.
“She’s my June Carter,” Hoxmeier said of Jan, his wife of the last 2 1/2 years.
“I asked her to dance and she turned me down three times,” Hoxmeier said of that fateful night in Manannah. Eventually Jan agreed. “I thought he was very interesting,” she said with a smile.
Jan’s children told her not to marry Hoxmeier because of his past with Cash, but she saw past his past.
“It’s hard to find love twice in life,” Hoxmeier said. “I’m a lucky man.”
Ron Hoxmeier with his wife Jan have found love twice and Ron considers himself a lucky man. Hoxmeier lost his wife Judy in 2004, following an illness and hospice care. Ron met Jan at a New Year’s Eve 2010 dance in Manannah, and he claims she is the woman who saved his life. Staff photo by Mike Nistler.