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It’s always weird when I’ve gotten an autograph from somebody that dies soon after. There have been many people I could’ve gotten signatures from, and I decide not to put the effort into going to the venue -- and they die a few months later. And I regret those. One of the most regretful of those moments comes when I worked as a DJ at a radio station and I brought winners backstage at a concert. It was Joe Cocker and Stevie Ray Vaughn. We were told by the promoters that we would only be allowed to go into one of the dressing rooms. The winners didn’t have a preference, so they asked me who I’d rather meet. I decided Joe Cocker. I didn’t realize Vaughn would die in a helicopter crash about a year later, or that I’d end up meeting Cocker countless more times over the years.
A different situation happened the other day. I heard that artist Gary Burden died at 84. He’s a guy that’s been art director on some big albums -- Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” and The Doors “Morrison Hotel,” My Morning Jacket, the first four Eagles albums, as well as lots of icon covers for Neil Young. Now, I had spent a pretty penny buying a Morrison Hotel album autographed by Jim Morrison. I then spent about 25 years getting it signed by everybody on that album. Obviously, the other Doors are on it. But I got John Sebastian, who played harmonica on “Roadhouse Blues.” I got it signed by Lonnie Mack (who died a few years ago). With him, I went to his website and they were selling autographed CDs. I contacted them and asked if I bought a few CDs and other things from the website, would he also sign my album. They said he would, and I sent it to them (not something I’d normally recommend, as that’s not a piece you want lost in the mail).
I got it signed by Ray Neapolitan, who played on it, and was Cocker’s longtime keyboardist. The man who took the cover photo was Henry Diltz. He’s done album covers for over 200 artists, and when I interviewed him for a story, I had him sign it. The local news even showed him holding my album as he said, “I’ve never autographed anything The Doors also signed. I’m honored.”
The one person that hadn’t signed it was the “art director” -- Gary Burden. Now, I’ve had a lot of luck with a much more talented Burden -- Eric Burdon, the singer of The Animals, ogne of my favorite 60s bands. I’ve gotten him many times, and at some point, I’ll do a blog about all the weird moments I’ve had with him.
When I contacted Burden and told him that my Morrison Hotel album is signed by everyone on that album except him, he responded that he’d be glad to sign it. He gave me an address to send it to.
About one hour later, I got an email from him. It was rather rude, and he was saying, “I didn’t realize what I got myself in to. I just did some research on you, and found out you’re an autograph dealer. I didn’t know this was something you were doing to make money off of me. I wish I would’ve never told you I’d sign the album.”
I then Googled myself. Something I had never done before. After all, I wanted to see what it was he saw that turned him off to doing this. The first thing that popped up was a story I did for Autograph about Michael Jackson and how much his autograph was worth (I believe it was right after he died). So, I sent a message back to Burden telling him that I’m not an autograph dealer, and that I was a collector and also a writer. I told him The Doors were my favorite band, and this is one of my favorite albums. I also told him that by getting his signature, the album would actually be worth less. Now, I didn’t say that to be rude. It’s just a fact. A Doors album signed by the band...is worth significantly more than that same album signed by a bunch of names nobody knows, that were associated with that album. I went into details about an argument I had on this website, about somebody that thought a baseball autographed by the Yankees with Babe Ruth is worth less than Ruth by himself. He was wrong (I believe). No hardcore baseball fan, would rather have Ruth by himself, as oppose to a Ruth signature on the sweet spot of a baseball, and a few other Yankees around it. Unless one of those players signed over Ruth. That would be a shame (just as when Michael Jordan, after being a jerk to me in the locker room, signed his name over Dominique Wilkins...but that’s another story for another time).
Burden then sent me back an email telling me that I needed to think about seeing a psychiatrist, and that nobody sends emails that long, and that he didn’t even bother reading it. I do admit, I send long emails. But I’d rather be thorough when I’m explaining something to someone. He ended by saying, “Send me your damn album, I’ll sign it, since I already promised you I would.”
So, I sent that album. I also enclosed a Steppenwolf album I loved, that he did the cover for. He sent them back. He initialled the Morrison Hotel, but didn’t sign the Steppenwolf album.
Burden actually won a Grammy Award for “Best Boxed Set Packaging” for Neil Young Archives, although it’s his 1974 Young album “On the Beach” that was my favorite.
Burden has worked on albums, and I always loved that art work was such a big part of vinyl. Something that got pushed aside when CDs came out, and now that people download songs, it’ll really be pushed aside.
I appreciate what Gary Burden did for album cover art, but I don’t appreciate how he treated me. Neil Young, upon hearing of this death, said he had a heavy heart. I wish I did.