While I had the dubious opportunity of playing behind many of the recording artists who provided the background music for my tween and teen years long after their careers peaked, there weren’t a whole lot of real blues guys I ever got to meet. JOHNNY WINTER came to jam with the band I joined after exiting graduate school. And I was once introduced to DOCTOR JOHN (if you want to call him blues) at a record company office. But otherwise I mostly picked in blues anonymity. But there was one guy I knew well before he became the stuff of legend.
Dorian Burton (not the guy I just mentioned) was a journeyman songwriter in the old school Broadway style who you might mistake for Little Richard. He crashed in a shitty rooming house and basically lived to drink liquor, smoke weed, write songs and suck cock (not necessarily in that order). Notwithstanding his subsistence lifestyle, Dorian had had a few hits and thus, publishers would answer their phones when he called – and wannabe songwriters wanted to write with him for his connections – if not his talent. I was one of them. Despite the fact that there were about four of us who competed for Dorian’s time, nobody got jealous – as he was so difficult to write with. We all understood that working with Dorian daily would have been madness.
So one day, I go up to Dorian’s hovel to write, and run into a new guy Dorian had just met. As co-conspirators in search of fame and fortune, we all related and were more than happy to listen to what each other had written. I cannot remember what Dorian and Johnny had just been working on and performed that day. I just recall being blown away by Johnny’s voice and authenticity. I wasn’t all that impressed by D’s other partners. But this guy was special. I went home that night and called a friend to say “I just met WILSON PICKETT’S doppelganger. This guy is the real deal! And he’s up in Dorian’s shithole trying to write a hit record with a drunk.”
Around this time, my father had a crappy office at 1650 Broadway, a space he’d rented to mount a comeback in the music business (an unsuccessful one). Rather than tote around my Gibson acoustic (which I used to write with in Midtown), I stashed it at the old man’s office. Living in a fancy boatyard on his yacht out on Long Island (where nobody steals), dad wasn’t especially vigilant about locking his office door in Manhattan. And you guessed it. Somebody walked in – and out with my precious guitar. Pops wasn’t convinced it was his fault (which I knew it was) but forked over $100 for me to replace a $350 instrument…and I bought a piece of crap to beat on with my partners. (Remember…my father mostly abandoned me for years in my youth so I was accustomed to the orphan treatment and was happy to get the hundred out of him.)
Having learned one lesson the hard way, I then learned the same lesson the hard way again when I opted to stash my $100 piece of crap in Dorian’s shithole where (as you might have guessed) that instrument was stolen as well. Now there’s a point to all these tales of thievery.
One day soon after the theft, Dorian calls to say that Johnny has a guitar he can sell me for $150. I get on the phone to tell Johnny I’ll give him a c-note if I like it. Johnny tells me to take a long walk off a short pier. Half an hour later he calls back. He’ll take the hundred. It turns out that his “hundred dollar guitar” is actually a brand new Aria Pro with a hard shell case that itself is probably worth a hundred bucks. And I mean…this instrument was pristine. Like it had never been played before. I asked no questions – if you get my drift. It is now over 40 years later. I still own that guitar! Mind you it’s a warped egg slicer by now and not worth its weight in firewood. But in its day, it wasn’t a bad instrument.
Johnny didn’t stay affiliated with Dorian for very long as he was a performer who could sing and play in clubs and earn a living on the circuit. Time marched on as it always does. Dorian died and I was playing with the SHIRELLES when one day, the bass player picks up a copy of The New York Times and shows me a picture on the cover of the paper’s second section, espousing the musical genius of the guy in the photograph. And it’s Johnny…as in JOHNNY COPELAND.
I exploded in laughter. “Dude! that’s the guy who sold me my acoustic for a hundred bucks! Johnny fucking Copeland. I knew that guy had it the minute I heard his voice. Looky there.” Well…Johnny got his 15 minutes of fame before dying of congestive heart failure at age 59. And deservedly so. I could listen to him sing all day.
And now to the title of this essay. One night Johnny, Dorian and I were hanging in D’s crap house. And Johnny was bemoaning his relationship with a female manager who was giving him the cold shoulder for whatever reason. Johnny was not happy: “The woman got all biznified on me! Now she biznified!”
My very own mother had ambivalent feelings about the many ways I found to make a living which required not one day of the formal education I’d had. And she could never quite resolve whether to laugh or cry at the many anecdotes with which I regaled her. But when I called her up the next day and hit her with my new favorite vocabulary word, it was over. Mom was a strict grammar student and teacher all her life. And she was about as vanilla as they come – but not above a word or expression with a ring to it. And “biznified” rung that bell!
And so it turns out that I did play with a legendary bluesman after all (Johnny and I did do one recording session together). It’s just that he wasn’t a blues legend at the time. Which makes it that much sweeter in retrospect.