Jim Ross on His Deeply Personal 'Under the Black Hat' Memoir & Why AEW Will Succeed
Jim Ross is the first to tell you that his more than 45 years and counting in the pro wrestling business have been a roller coaster ride.
The early part of the Hall of Famer’s career is told in the best-selling memoir Slobberknocker. Now, picking up where the story left off, the legendary voice of wrestling once again collaborates with author Paul O’Brien for Under the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and Beyond. The proud Okie poured his heart and many tears over a book dedicated to his late wife Jan, who died three years ago after a car accident.
The 68-year-old BBQ sauce entrepreneur, podcaster and now All Elite Wrestling broadcaster and senior adviser is humbled by the support from those who have already read it. For Good ol’ JR, it’s a support system that has become part of an extended family.
“To know that this audience has grown immensely and have appreciated my work over the years, it’s amazing. The book has a lot of familiar topics to cover here,” Ross said. "One is certainly my marriage to Jan and how important she was behind the scenes when I was in charge of talent relations at WWE. Selfishly, how important she was in my career and keeping me propped up when I was living life in the fast lane trying to do all my work.
“...There are some funny parts. There are some dramatic parts. There are some poignant parts. There are a lot of life lessons. There are some interesting stories about Steven Austin, recruiting Chris Jericho, signing the Radicalz, the original XFL. It covers a broad spectrum.”
Here, Ross goes into how hard the writing process was for him at times, his exit from WWE and his transition into AEW.
Were there points in the writing process where you weren’t sure you’d be able to finish the book? If so, what got you through?
Jim Ross: Jan’s spirit got me through. She deserved to have her story told, too. If people are interested in my story, they’re certainly going to be interested in hers because she wasn’t just my wife. She was my best friend, my biggest fan, my most positive voice day in and day out.
In pro wrestling, you don’t always get a steady diet of positive voices. It’s a very unique business where insecurity and paranoia can run rampant including me. I didn’t say I was exempt. This is showbiz. There is always that uncertainty. The most powerful weapon in wrestling is the eraser. The book needed to be written. Under the Black Hat is my last public hug to my late wife. I have buddies of mine who’d be on the road and their wife got a hold of the book first and wouldn’t let them have it because they said it was a love story. I never looked at it like that. I didn’t write a love story. I just wrote a truthful story that had love involved in it.
What I love about your story is that it transcends pro wrestling. Anyone can take something from it. Whether it’s dealing with grief, maneuvering through the shark-infested waters of business, battling through health issues like you have with Bell's palsy and more.
Writing the book was challenging, especially where I was talking about interaction with Jan because in all these situations. When we wrote it, I had to relive it. When we did the audiobook, which was the most daunting thing I’ve ever done in a business environment. These memories are so vivid I could still smell her perfume. I could smell that in my writing prominently when I was reading the book.
Of course, fans are going to find interest in the recount of your exit from WWE after working on-and-off there for 26 years. Do you feel this book is going to affect your relationship with Vince McMahon? Have you gotten any response on that front?
I haven’t gotten any feedback from that side, and I don’t expect to. I didn’t write a hatchet job book. I wrote a truthful book. I’m not plowing new ground here. Everybody knows Vince is challenging to work with. That’s not indicating to me that he is a bad person. He financially made me whole. I learned a tremendous amount about business in general, especially the wrestling business and its structure and organization and living your vision. My book is honest, and sometimes because of the honesty and the sensitive subject, it can drive up emotions.
Like the story about me waking up from a morphine high after getting released from intensive care and coming home and her watching a parody of me “Dr. Heinie ”on Raw and me sleeping through it. I wake up, and she is crying. And I don’t know why. I was almost afraid to ask her because her parents were elderly and thought she might have had a bad call. Those stories are just real. It all depends on your interpretation of it. Good, bad, indifferent, that’s for the reader to decide based on he or she reads and how you process that information.
Left to pick up the pieces after Jan died, you seem to have found your passion for wrestling again when you signed with All Elite Wrestling last year. You’ve always said you wanted to die of use, and not from rust.
[All Elite Wrestling president] Tony Khan has been a breath of fresh air in my life. He made hiring me a priority inasmuch as I signed my contract and went on the payroll the day after my WWE contract expired. The WWE contract did expire. I wasn’t fired. I decided I didn’t want to renegotiate because I wanted to stay busy.
I’m in the back nine of life, and you want to maximize your minutes in tenfold if you can. I didn’t want to sit home. I didn’t want to be that guy sitting on the sidelines wearing a visor and carrying a clipboard. I wanted to play. Tony Khan wanted me to play in a big way. I am senior adviser of AEW, which he and I discuss a lot of things. He is a rampant fan. He is as educated a fan as I’ve ever been around ever. His recall is extraordinary. He was quoting something the other day on Mid-South [Wrestling], and he wasn’t even born.
How does the atmosphere compare to other places you’ve worked?
It’s refreshing with AEW. It’s entirely different from what I’ve been accustomed to because it’s very nonpolitical, intimate. The atmosphere that those in charge create is one of positivity. We laugh, have fun. We’re just a bunch of wrestling fans that are finally getting the opportunity to really express our voices. I love doing commentary, and since I started in October, I’ve heard Tony Khan on my headset maybe two or three times to remind me of something. Not to correct, don’t say this or that. Just information.
It’s been really cool. It makes me feel younger. I enjoy going to work. I’m not flying right now going places because Tony wanted me to stay home because I’m in the high risk group. I appreciate his concern, but it doesn’t mean I’m not contributing and helping out when I can. It has been a blessing in JR’s life.
With the environment we’re in right now thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, somehow wrestling is still finding a way to be produced. What has the last few weeks been like as far as having to change course and push through to put on programming?
There is a small group that is doing a tremendous amount of work. What I watched on Wednesday night as far as the camera angles, the lighting, the audio, the things that make a TV show good that we often take for granted was spot on. For the little crew they had, the smaller ring, the smaller venue, no fans.
It’s amazing to me that we’re getting anything done. You have this young and creative arm of AEW led by Tony Khan doing things that aren’t done by the book, but they are writing their own book. I know there will be plenty of first-run content on Wednesday nights going forward for several weeks. I’m sure there will be some interesting features. There are a lot of things you can do. This is the hand that is being dealt. I think AEW is making the best out of the situation.
They are committed to having new products on television every Wednesday night. I’m sure at some point in time the matches they have in the can will run slim, and then you got to go to Plan B. I don’t know what Plan B is because I don’t know what Plan A is of this damn virus. I go to the grocery store and then to my warehouse to sign books.
This is a whole departure for me for someone who has traveled forever. I’m detoxing in that regard. AEW is going to continue just fine. We’re building some nice momentum and have been before this virus hit. I know we will step up again because these young creative minds never rest.They don’t have political issues like with this guy winning or that guy winning. I really love chemistry. That’s going to make this company successful in the long haul in my opinion.
With this book finished, are there any other literary ideas you’re looking to explore? Do you see your story being adapted into a movie?
My agent, Barry Bloom, is shopping both books. He has gotten some interesting feedback, but nothing firm. Right now is a good time to get the books in the hands of creative decision-makers because they’re not producing things right now and not on set. They’re not on location.
So much of our lives are going to be changed forever due to the coronavirus...I have ideas all the time for books. I had an idea for people to submit off their favorite slogans or cliches that I’ve said. Then contract with a good cartoonist and make a book with stories phrased around the saying.
The most obvious book is going to be JR’s AEW story. We got to get some deeper roots first and see where we go with all of this. I enjoy writing. Paul O’Brien is one the most brilliant writers I’ve talked with or been around. Becky Lynch is a big Paul O’Brien fan, too.
I think at my age, though, the more active I keep my mind, the better off I am. You see too many in my age group have given up. JR’s never going to retire. I even refrain from buying golf clubs because I don’t want to play more often. I want to work. Working is keeping me young.
AEW Dynamite, Wednesdays, 8/7c, TNT
Under the Black Hat is available everywhere, including on Jim Ross’ website