Angelo Lucchesi, a Memphis liquor salesman credited with helping popularize the legendary Jack Daniel’s brand, died Friday, Dec. 6 of natural causes at Baptist Medical Center. Lucchesi, a legend — especially in the Memphis area — was the first salesman for Jack Daniel’s. He would have turned 93 on Christmas Eve.
Lucchesi was known as a kid with smiling eyes who grew up on Florida Street and made history with the world-famous beverage.
Until the recent release of the distillery’s Sinatra Select, Lucchesi held the distinction of being the only person to have a bottle of Jack Daniel’s named for him — 90 Proof on his 90th birthday.
Nearly 60 years ago, company head Lem Motlow had the bright idea to hire its first salesman. That was 1953.
“I asked him for a job,” recalled Lucchesi. “He didn’t much want to do it because he said we don’t have anybody yet. I said make me the first. You couldn’t hardly give it away … had to beg to get business in Memphis.
“I went to Kentucky. I went to Chicago. All that.”
Lucchesi, an Italian kid out of Memphis with one arm. He lost the other arm as a boy in a meat grinder accident.
At 33-years old, Lucchesi, an Italian kid, was married and happy. But he was also very worried about whether the sales gig would work out. Fortunately for him, a lucky star fell in his lap. Sinatra, Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, loved Jack.
Over the years, the two became close friends. If Jack Daniels ever had a shortage, the company made sure the liquor store he traded with in Palm Springs had five cases every month.
“Nashville was part of my sales territory,” Lucchesi told VegasMagazine.com on a trip to Las Vegas in 2012. “A guy’s uncle I knew, Jimmy, was Frank Sinatra’s right hand man. One day (Jimmy) said he found out Sinatra was at the Copacabana and couldn’t find any Jack Daniel’s.
“I saw our national sales manager, who loved Sinatra, and talked to him. Two weeks later I was sitting in the den with my wife; the phone rings and (a voice says), ‘Hey, I love you for the rest of my life.’ It was Mr. Sinatra. He said to me, ‘Kid, I am going to give you two numbers. Keep these close to your heart. If you ever need me, just pick up the phone.’”
Back then Jack Daniels was selling 100,000 cases a year.
When his own bottle was released years later, Lucchesi joined Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller Jeff Arnett as the only other person with the true authority to sign their name to any item that bears the Jack Daniels’ name.
As WHBQ Fox-13 in Memphis said, “the Mid-South lost a legend.”
Funeral Services have been entrusted to Memorial Park Funeral Home in Memphis. Visitation was set for Dec. 13 from 4 to 7 p.m. at St. Louis Catholic Church. The funeral mass and celebration of life is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14, also at St. Louis Catholic Church; interment will follow at Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis.
—From staff and wire reports