few weeks before we were scheduled to play a festival date behind
Earl King in northern Minnesota the promoter called to ask if we would
also consider playing with Johnny Copeland. We immediately agreed
to play the show.
I had talked to Johnny's manager a few years earlier about Johnny
flying in and working with us and was laughed at. "Johnny never
goes out without his own band" we were told. Apparently Johnny's
health had deteriorated to the point where it was difficult for him
to get in the van for all the miles necessary to tour so he was only
accepting fly dates (usually with his band.) We were not going to
get a rehearsal before the show so Johnny's management chose about
a dozen fairly simple songs for us to learn. We got together in the
dressing room before the show to discuss any problems we might have
with the songs and put together the set list.
appearance was shocking. The once virile "Texas Twister"
seemed to have shrunk and his skin had a dusty, grey pallor to it.
We found out his wife had learned certain life saving techniques and
was with him constantly. She gave him the respect of not hovering
over him but kept a watchful eye on him nonetheless. Everyone in the
band was quite worried, after all we had been on stage with Thunderbird
Davis when he had his life-ending coronary and had no wish to experience
a similar event with Mr. Copeland. We
opened up the set and, when it was time to call up Johnny, he was
supposed to come out and sit on a stool to play the set once he settled
in. He came out playing and singing strongly and his wife, in the
wings, motioned for him to sit. He smiled, played a couple more verses
standing up, than reluctantly sat down. The entire set was a constant
battle: him feeling the music and standing up, her wanting him to
conserve his energy and sit down.
Up to the Blues," "Flying High" and "Black Cat
Bone" were enthusiastically received by the crowd. Johnny really
started feeling it on "Promised Myself," he just couldn't
sit down. He honestly seemed to get healthier as the set went on!
It was "Life's Rainbow" though that Johnny poured everything
he could into. A slow song (what we used to call "ice cream changes"
because they're so sweet and everybody loves them) that kept building
in intensity until it was almost unbearable. I think Johnnie was happy
with the show, both he and his wife were very complimentary afterwards,
and there was talk of doing it again as soon as we all could get together.
Unfortunately Johnny's health problems proved insurmountable and he
died on July 3rd, 1997 without us ever getting another chance to make
on Johnny Copeland