You might call him a trendsetter. Before, mixology became a word. Before, liquid nitrogen became part of cocktails. Before microbreweries. Before, bartenders became the star of the show. Before it all, Wilson County native James Cason was calling the shots and pouring on the fun.
Cason’s storied career began 50 years ago by accident. “I was asked to work at a wedding reception at Lebanon Golf & Country Club. When I got there, they gave me a jacket and asked me to pour champagne. But they didn’t tell me not to give it to the kids.” Cason says with a hearty laugh.
Even though a few children had their first taste of alcohol that night, he caught the attention of Lebanon Golf & Country Club Manager, Larry Swafford, who thought Cason was a natural. Swafford convinced him to bartend at the club full-time. “That first night, I made $5. And $5 in 1970 was A LOT. So, I decided that this was the job for me, and I haven’t looked back.”
Growing up the 5th of 18 children (his mom had TWO sets of twins in the same year!), James dropped out of Baird’s Mill School after the 8th grade to help the family.
He worked at various jobs in Wilson County before that evening spent pouring champagne changed the trajectory of his life. As Wilson County’s first licensed African American bartender, Cason had dreams of moving to a different state to expand his knowledge and grow in his career. Today, he’s happy those plans didn’t work out. “A long time ago, I wanted to move to Atlanta or Washington,” he continues, “But the Lord directed me to stay here, and it’s been wonderful.”
Married for 55 years, Cason and his wife Katharine have two children and four grandchildren. When he’s not crafting cocktails at Sammy B’s Restaurant or singing in the choir at Lebanon’s Primitive Baptist Church on Sunday mornings, he tends to a small herd of cattle on his farm in south Wilson County.
It’s been five decades since Cason began his impressive career and lucky for everyone who’s had the privilege to watch him mix a cocktail while sharing a funny story, he’s not showing down anytime soon.
“It’s the people that keep me coming back. I’ve met so many good people. I’ve had customers who became friends and took me under their wing and gave me an education in business. It’s hard to beat the life I’ve lived.”
Cheers to you, James Cason! Wilson County appreciates you!