Interview with Jan Flederus

Question: Jan, the fan club turned thirty in August 2001. How did it all begin?

Jan Flederus: Well, it all started in 1959. At the time I was living in Arnheim with my parents, when an uncle of mine gave me my first radio. Every Friday I would listen to a Country Music programme on Radio Luxemburg, and what I liked most were the voices of Johnny Cash, Hank Snow and the Carter Family. But it was only 12 years later that I bought my first Johnny Cash record. In 1971 I was living in Lelylstad and working in Dalfsen, so I had to commute every week. And then one day while I was taking a break in Zwolle I bought The World of Johnny Cash. I had always liked the voice of Johnny Cash, it always talked to me, had a special meaning. I took the record home and asked my dad, who was working for the Dutch army in Zeedorf at the time, to go to the local shop to order every Cash record available. You know, they were selling the records for only 3 pounds each. In September of that year my dad brought home about thirty Cash records. They became the foundation of my own collection.

Question: What was the reason for you to start a fan club in 1971?

Jan Flederus: Well, having one record just wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more. When I saw pictures of other albums on the back of the cover of the one I had, I called CBS in Haarlem and asked for a discography and a biography. And I also inquired about a fan club in Europe. There was none, so I received the permission to found one. And that was the beginning of it all.

Question: When was the first time you did you see Johnny Cash on stage?

Jan Flederus: That was 26th of February 1972 in Amsterdam. The day before I had already watched him on television. The show was called Grand Gala du Disque Populaire, and Cash was the closing act. It was also his birthday and he received a cake about two meters high. The next day he performed at RAI and February 27th. He did a show at the congress center, and I went to see both concerts.

Question: When did you actually met Johnny Cash for the first time?

Jan Flederus: That must have been in 1974 or 75. I really can’t remember when it was.

Question: But since then you’ve met him quite often, haven’t you?

Jan Flederus: From the mid-seventies on I went to most of the concerts in Europe until the nineties when I slowed things down a bit.

Question: Of all the tours you’ve followed, which one did you enjoy the most?

Jan Flederus: I think it was the October tour 1981 in England and Scotland. Together with some friends I spent two weeks with the Johnny Cash show then. They were recording the footage for the Christmas Special of that year, at the zoo, on the ship and in the little church were you can actually see the back of my head. And if you watch closely, you can see my little back on board of the ship. We really had a wonderful time back then.

Question: You also went to Montreux in 1984…

Jan Flederus: Yes, I spent one week there, talking to Johnny and June, having dinner with them was really great. And of course I also met Willie, Waylon and Kris.

Question: Do you have any idea how many concerts you have seen over the years?

Jan Flederus: I really don’t know. I have about a hundred tickets and sometimes I sneaked in without a ticket, so guess all in all it must be somewhere around 150 shows I’ve seen. I went to Germany, England, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium to see Johnny Cash in concert.

Question: What is your favourite concert?

Jan Flederus: I especially liked the Gone Girl tour in England in 1979, but all the concerts in the seventies were really great. Each show was about three hours long: there was the Carter Family, the Statler Brothers and Carl Perkins. Later the shows became shorter. Another unforgettable show was the one in Böblingen in April 1981, with Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis as surprise guests.

Question: There must be a lot of memories around these tours. How about sharing one or two with us?

Jan Flederus: Well, I mostly recall funny stories. With Johnny Cash it was always fun. One time in Scotland, we went to a restaurant where we had very good fish. When I went to the men’s room I met Johnny Cash there and we went back together to the restaurant. There were three doors and I knew I couldn’t go through the one in the middle, because there was a table standing on the other side. But Cash just opened the door and knocked down a chair and a glass of wine. Then he placed me in front of him, because he needed a fallguy and he said to the others, “he did it!” Everybody had a big laugh.

Question: What about the story when you sat down on his feet?

Jan Flederus: It was 1978 or 1980 in Münster. Cash had invited me backstage and as you know, I am blind, I wanted so sit down next to him. I didn’t know that his feet were resting on that chair so I sat down…on his feet. At another concert, Preston ’84, they told me that Cash was expecting me backstage. So I went to his room. Again he laid his feet on a chair. Later my friend Anita Giller, who passed away in 1990, told me that he had a big hole in one of his socks.

Question: After having followed Johnny Cash’s career for more than thirty years, you must have a favourite song or album?

Jan Flederus: My favourite records would be Hello, I’m Johnny Cash and Happiness Is You. I think he made his best albums in the late sixties and early seventies. My favourite songs are Far Side Banks Of Jordan and Sunday Morning Coming Down. I prefer the slower songs.

Question: You have been president of the fan club for thirty years now, and you’ve probably brought together the biggest collection of records, CD’s, posters, T-shirts and books in the world. What has become of this collection.

Jan Flederus: Yeah, I guess I had the biggest collection with way over a thousand LP’s, six hundred singles, eighty EP’s and 30 78 rpm’s. In the late 1980’s Cash had planned to settle down in Branson, Missouri. He wanted to build a theatre and museum, like the House of Cash in Hendersonville where he lived. So his manager Lou Robin wanted to by my collection for this museum. We had already talked prices, when the constructor who should have built the theatre went bankrupt, leaving Cash with a lot of unpaid bills. So he dropped his plans for Branson and that is why he didn’t need my collection any more. Later I sold everything to a friend in England who had to promise me to keep the collection, so it wouldn’t get split up. We had to drive to England twice to get everything to him.

Question: You have already mentioned the fact that you are blind. How did manage to keep up the good work for the fan club?

Jan Flederus: I really don’t know, but honestly, you can’t do it all by yourself; perhaps you could if you weren’t blind and had lots of time. In the beginning I could still see a little bit, so it wasn’t that hard. Our magazine consisted only of one page. Later we made two pages and folded them. In 1981 we issued the first magazine in DIN A4 . Over the years a lot of people have helped me, my first wife Elvira, Anita Giller during the eighties, then Frank, Susan and Antje, who had to give it up because they just didn’t have the time any more. Today, Frank, Norbert and Karl-Heinz are the ones that help me and my two children of course. I spend about two hours every day doing all kind of things for the club.

Question: How did the club change over the years in regard to its members?

Jan Flederus: It always changes. We started at zero, at the end of the seventies we had about two hundred embers, mostly from Holland. In the eighties more and more Germans found us. Today we have about three hundred paying members, half of them coming from Germany, eighty from Holland and the rest from all over Europe and overseas.

Question: The club has held over 50 meetings now. What is your favourite among them?

Jan Flederus: I recall one club meeting in Rotterdam in 1975 or ‚76 when we had about 200 people. We always try to hold two meetings a year, one here in Dalfsen and the other in Germany or in Southern Holland.

Question: Johnny Cash isn’t touring any more. How does this affect the work for the fan club?

Jan Flederus: For the fan club it doesn’t really make that much difference. With thre release of American Recordings in 1994 we gained a lot of new members, some of them only staying with us for one year. The last concert I’ve seen was the one in Düsseldorf in April 1997. But Johnny Cash is still very much present in my life. He’s still recording, although he’s taking things a little more slowly now. My feelings for him and his music haven’t changed. The shows in later years weren’t always perfect, but his voice and his personality were there and it always gives me a feeling of warmth and comfort to hear him sing. Johnny Cash has always been a special human being and always will be.

Question: So you think that the fan club can go on doing what he’s done over the years?

Jan Flederus: I believe that the fan club will last for many years to come. The number of members will probably go down, but that’s o.k. with me. There’s always the music. It will stay forever. Just think of all the unreleased recordings and videos, like the ABC shows e.g. I think there’s a lot more to come from the man himself.

Question: And there’s always something to do for the fan club?

Jan Flederus: Of course. Look at our club magazine, it’s grown bigger and bigger over the years. There’s always some news. And we have our own project like the highly acclaimed CD discography.

Question: Jan, do you have any special message to our members?

Jan Flederus: Well, not excactly a message. I think it would be great if more people were willing to do something for the fan club, like collecting newspaper clippings or writing an article for our magazine, or help in other ways.

Question: We’ve already talked about the changes in regard to the members. Is there anyone who’s been with the club right from the beginning?

Jan Flederus: Yes, there are some members who are with us for more than twenty-five years at least. But sadly a lot of them never show up at our club meetings.

Question: The next meeting will be held November 3rd in Dalfsen. There we will celebrate our 30th anniversary. Tell us something about the programme.

Jan Flederus: We have aked Texas Heat from Cologne to play for us again. We will have a big tombola. We have more than a thousand records and CD’s for sale, videos, posters and so on. I hope that many members come to see us then.

Question: Please allow us one personal question. You have moved six times in the past 10 years. Why?

Jan Flederus: Well, for twenty years from 1971 to 1991 I have lived at Campferbeekstraat in Dalfsen, as a lot of you know. Sometimes at a club meeting more than twenty people have slept under my roof. In 1983 my wife Elvira left me and I really didn’t feel at home there any more, although in 1985 my children moved in with. Then I began playing goalball in Zwolle, so I thought it would be better to live there too. But there it was definetely to noisy for me. In 1994 I moved to a small cottage in the woods, but it was too small. When I had guests, they had to sleep in the garage or in a tent. Four years later I fulfilled an old dream of mine and bought a farm, where we actually held one club meeting in 1998. But the buildings weren’t in good shape and so I had to give it up after three months. Then I lived in a semi-detached house for more than a year, before I found myself a new home in Hoonhorst. But soon the work in the garden became too much for me. Now I live in a small bungalow near Vecht between Ommen and Dalfsen. But I’m still searching for a home where I could live I in peace and quiet, where there are no neighbours for miles around. I don’t need much space, I just want to be left alone.

Question: The Fan Club has turned thirty, Johnny Cash will celebrate his 70th birthday next year, what are your personal wishes for him?

Jan Flederus: First of all I wish him good health, so that he can enjoy spending his time with his family and friends. He should think of himself now and not work so much.

(recorded June 30th 2001 in Dalfsen)