At just 15, 'Juanny Cash' touted as the real deal

At just 15, 'Juanny Cash' touted as the real deal »Play Video
SEATTLE -- A sidewalk singer from the city's Pike Place Market has made it big and he's not yet old enough to drive.

Vinny Miranda is but a teenager, but if you close your eyes and listen to his voice, you might think you're listening to a performance by the music legend Johnny Cash.

That's how young Miranda became known as "Juanny Cash." And as Juanny, he performs every Tuesday at the Can Can Kitchen and Caberet Club, singing ballads that were written before he was even born.

But Miranda didn't always play on a well-lit stage at a well-known club. His career began in Pike Place Market where, crowded with other voices, Miranda began playing for loose change.

"He likes to play guitar and sing. So I encouraged him to come and sing," said his mother, Lupe Miranda.

And Miranda wasn't always on a path to becoming Juanny.

"I used to sing Spanish music, and I started doing some Johnny Cash and people reacted to it more than the Spanish (songs)," he said.

Growing up, Miranda's older brothers played Cash's songs repeatedly. Years later, Miranda did the same at the market. His audience grew until one person pushed him over a tipping point in his career and pushed him towards Juanny Cash.

Miranda said he just happened to be playing at the right place at the right time, thanks to mom.

"I wasn't going to sing. I was going to leave, but my mom said lets sing here one more time," he said.

And during that one last song, Miranda caught the ear of someone who would later become significant -- Chris Snell, the owner of the Can Can.

"You see musicians out on the street everyday you come into work," said Snell.

But Miranda's voice stood out above the rest because in the voice of the Todd Beamer High School student, Snell heard the deep melancholy hum of Johnny Cash.

Miranda has since been performing at Snell's club every Tuesday night for free, performing as the Hispanic alter ego of Johnny Cash.

It's as if he channels Cash's voice, but the subject of Cash's songs - cocaine-fueled murder, hard prison time and love lost - are many galaxies away from the grasp of most teenagers, including Miranda.

But Miranda defends the years of hard life he hasn't lived, and Cash himself only sang about.

"I'm sure he never shot anyone in Reno, so, I never did either, so," he said. "It was something he felt, and liked to sing about, and it's something I'll sing about, too."

So how old is he? He can't buy liquor. He can't vote. He doesn't even have his driver's license.

"I'm 15. I still go to school," he said.

He may only be 15, but he's already got himself a manager. After hearing Juanny perform times over, Snell decided having perform at his club wasn't enough and signed on as his manager.

Miranda recently took a break from school to record an album at a studio Cash himself used years ago.

"I went to Nashville. I recorded my first album with John Carter Cash, his son. He's producing my CD," Miranda said.

Snell, who accompanied Miranda on the trip, describes the visit to Cash's studio as a once-in-a-lifetime treat.

"You walk in and it's like history, like he's in the walls," he said.

Snell hopes Cash's history repeats itself. He's hoping that this time, Juanny's resonant voice will spread country music into the Hispanic community.

"I think he's going to be a superstar," he said.

But the next step might put Miranda on a less formal stage made famous years ago by Cash himself.

"We've talked in Folsom Prison, and they're interested in having him do the CD release there," Snell said.

"I have no idea where it's going to go, but I'm ready whatever comes," Miranda said.

Miranda enjoys singing the songs of Johnny Cash, but is also working on making a sound he can call his own. He has recorded three songs he wrote with the help of a local musician.

Miranda's first album is expected to be released next February.