By Sally Deering
If you grew up in New Jersey it’s likely you knew somebody who had a friend whose second cousin had a brother-in-law whose uncle was connected to “the Mob.” Born in Jersey City and raised in Union City and then Secaucus, Jon D’Amore had family members who were “connected”. An accomplished musician and songwriter, D’Amore kept mental notes of a Las Vegas casino caper that went down back in the day and tells the fascinating and sometimes nail-biting story in his new book, “The Boss Always Sits in the Back.” Here’s an excerpt:
“This is my story, based on actual events, of living on the fringe of what some people call ‘the Mafia.’ You see, several members of my immediate family were connected. Connected simply means that through blood, honor or business…you have a direct connection to the Cosa Nostra, the Mafia, Our Thing, La Famiglia, the Mob. And those members of my family made a very comfortable living for many, many years through this affiliation. I thought about becoming more involved when I was in my early 20s, but at the time it was the mid-1970s. I was a professional musician and having too much fun living the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. I was living every dream of most of my high school and college buddies (and at the time… that mattered!), so why would I want to cut my hair, wear dark suits and ties…and take the chance of getting whacked? Instead, I decided to watch da guys from the sidelines.”
Funny, irreverent and a natural storyteller, D’Amore has made Los Angeles his home since the mid-1990s, but he has remained connected to his Jersey roots. He returns to Hudson this month for special appearances at the Secaucus, Jersey City and North Bergen libraries where he will read excerpts and sign copies of “The Boss Always Sits in the Back,” On a recent afternoon, D’Amore took time out of his busy schedule to talk with Riverview Observer about his controversial new book.
`RVO: Can you tell our readers what “The Boss Always Sits in the Back” is about?
JD: The book is about some guys I knew from Hudson County who pulled off one of the greatest scams to hit Las Vegas and after it was exposed it changed gambling laws across the country forever so that a scam like this could never happen again. It tells a story of the human side of these people and at the same time it describes the demise of what can be considered ‘the Mob,’ because it certainly isn’t what we knew it to be from the 1940s through the late 1970s.
RVO: Why did you decide to write a book about the Mob?
JD: The things that happened in this book started in 1975 when I was a musician. When I had heard about what these guys were doing in Vegas, I thought it would make a fantastic story. One thing I always believe to be true is that these guys are part of our history. Like it or not, there isn’t a culture that hasn’t come to this country that didn’t have to do what they needed to do to survive as a family and as a culture. It’s part of our society. These things I heard about I knew it needed to be written about and that these people needed to be immortalized, because of what they were doing. These guys, and I say ‘these guys’ with love and respect, did amazing things when you think that none of them had a college degree, or even prior to 1970, a large number of them didn’t have a high school diploma and some of the things they did were worth writing about. I knew I always wanted to write this story but the timing wasn’t right. I needed to wait. There were loose ends that needed to resolved – people needed to be incarcerated or released.
RVO: Weren’t you a bit nervous about naming names?
JD: I changed the names of everyone except my family. Everybody who is still alive and who I am still in contact with, I told them that I wrote this story and they all ask the same question: ‘Who’s going to play me in the movie?’
RVO: Have there been any movie offers?
JD: There’s been a lot of interest. I wrote the screenplay and I have people contacting me wanting to talk business. We’re just waiting for the right person to get a $25 million movie made. That’s the budget of this project.
RVO: How did you go from being a musician to a writer?
JD: Because I had been taking guitar lessons since I was seven, by the time I was 14, I could read any kind of music chart put in front of me and that gave me impetus to write songs. I’m not saying any were blockbusters or hits, but I learned how to write lyrics that were good. In the Jersey club bands I played in, the songs I wrote were good for the time we were doing them. I always wrote to a degree, just not books or anything that was publishable until 1976. At the Herald News an editor found out I was a traveling musician and gave me the opportunity to write a weekly column called “Jon D’Amore on the Road.” When I was touring, I got to tell about being a musician on the road. I got to review albums, concerts. I got out of the music business in 1985 and I made it into the corporate world and by the 90s, I was traveling all over the country as a corporate executive doing presentations for large groups. I was in the insurance business but I never sold a life insurance policy in my life. After a decade in the corporate world, I was unhappy with what I was doing. I loved the people who were benefiting from what I did, but I’m not really a corporate guy.
RVO: What made you decide to become a Californian? Did you have ties there?
JD: My father had two cousins who had established themselves in the restaurant business in Los Angeles from the 1930s to the 1970s, so when I was a kid, we came out here to visit. I don’t remember this, but I was told that when I was just an infant the actor James Dean, who was a frequent customer of my cousin’s restaurant, picked me up and held me in his arms. Six weeks later he would be killed. I always had a connection out here and I always knew I would live here.
RVO: You have several book signings scheduled including May 16th at the Secaucus Library. How does it feel to come back to your hometown a published author?
JD: In all honesty, it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to go back. From first grade to eighth grade, I attended school in Union City and from ninth grade to high school graduation I went to Weehawken High School. (Back when I was living in Secaucus, there wasn’t a local high school and we went to Weehawken.) At the book signings, there will be people I haven’t seen since then. I was the guy who played all the high school dances. And you know whose footsteps I’m following? You know who else was famous from Secaucus who came before me? The Tidy Bowl Man, the guy who did all those Tidy Bowl commercials. That’s the guy I’m following.
If you go:
Jon D’Amore will read excerpts and sign copies of his new book
“The Boss Always Sits in the Back” on the following dates in Hudson:
Wed, May16, 7 pm
Secaucus Public Library and Business Resource Center 1379 Paterson Plank Road
Thursday, May 17, 6 pm
North Bergen Free Public Library
8411 Bergenline Avenue
North Bergen (201) 869-4715
Mon, May 21, 6 pm
Jersey City Free Public Library
Five Corners Branch
678 Newark Ave. Jersey City, NJ 07306 (201) 547-4543
For more information, or to purchase the hardcover or paperback of “The Boss Always Sits in the Back,” visit www.thebossalwayssitsintheback.com. (hardcover $22; paperback $13)
Boxing Promoter Al Certo (2nd from left) along with Boxers: (l) Joey Giardello, next to Al Certo the great Jack Dempsey and Willie Pep
Photo Below: A young Jon D’Amore future author holding a fake machine gun at a friends wedding