Gary James' Interview With
Janis Joplin Tribute Artist
Biz Oliver

Out of Montréal, Canada comes Biz Oliver doing her tribute to Janis Joplin. This is different. You don't hear about too many Janis Joplin tribute acts.

Q - Biz, besides yourself, are there other women who are doing Janis tributes?

A - There is a really good one in Australia named "Full Tilt". She's really good. There's another one here (in Canada) that does one, Kristen Blonden. When I see these acts on YouTube, it doesn't do anything for me. Maybe 'live' it would be better. It's not getting close to the passion. They're sort of imitating. If you are paying tribute to somebody, I'm told there is a difference between being an impersonator and doing a tribute. But if you want to impersonate, which is what I'm attempting to do, that's why I think this particular act in Australia is the only one I've seen that's great. It really gives you the impression you are listening to Janis Joplin.

Q - If I say to somebody they are an impersonator, they get upset. That's why the word tribute is used.

A - (Laughs). Well, you're paying tribute, you're paying homage to the artist and their whole work and if that's what you are doing you better know all the songs they did because somebody is going to come out from the audience and say, "Do you know this?" And you better know it. The audience is the expert. I attempt to be the expert at the Janis act. Well, I mean, it's a work in progress, you know? (Laughs).

Q - Do you work pretty regularly?

A - Well, I do it in different band combinations, but it's fairly new. This has just been up and running really not even for two years yet. We had our first summer last summer. It's really hard to keep any bands together, let alone a tribute to Janis Joplin, but it's more of a summer thing. My manager gutted out his van and we have like a hippie van, a blue van and it says "Janis". It has my website on it. That can run really only in the summertime. If we want to take a trip out East, we'll take the van.

Q - How did you get this name Biz? Is that a nickname?

A - Yeah. It's a nickname. Mom gave it to me because I'm always busy.

Q - How did you get into this Janis Tribute act? Do you have your own band? Do you use tracks?

A - I don't use any tracks, but that's what I want to get into eventually. I went to Australia and tested the market a bit with the Janis thing. You do have to use tracks when you're on a cruise as a guest entertainer. That's what I'm doing right now. I'm getting my tracks together so that I can do that solo. You also have to have music so that you can give it to the band. If the band is good enough, you let them play. If not, you use your tracks. (Laughs).

Q - Do you have a regular band that travels with you?

A - Yes, The Kozmic Gold Boogie Band. We don't have a horn section yet. I cover the keyboards. I do all the keyboard work. The drummer I have used to play with Kenny Pearson, who was actually in Full Tilt Boogie, that had all the Canadians in it. Her last band when she died. My drummer played with Kenny Pearson who lives in Montréal and he's friends with Kenny. Kenny was reportedly the last person to see Janis alive. He drove her to the Landmark Hotel where she died. He couldn't talk about that for years. It's only recently and he doesn't talk to everyone about it. It really choked him up that it happened. He's still very sad about that, Kenny the organist for Full Tilt.

Q - What were you doing before this Janis tribute? Were you in a "cover" band?

A - I was in an Eric Clapton tribute band called Slow Hand. Eric kept getting me to do Janis. Then, I just decided to do Janis. I was supposed to go to Morocco with him and I just said, "No, I'm going to do my own band." We had played at a few casinos. Then I found a manager. But I'm looking for a manager now to do more of the solo thing. I'm sort of hunting around for one. I've got a manager for the band but now I'm approaching Grayboy Entertainment, which is an Australian entertainment company, or agency I should say, that provides entertainment for the cruise ships in Australia.

Q - So, you're hoping for a lot more work in Australia?

A - Yeah. I'm probably going to branch out because I also impersonate Carole King. Like a lot of impersonators, they'll do a few people. I do Carole King. I do Aretha Franklin. Because I love Janis so much, I'd love to do something called Diva Express, which is sort of a play on Festival Express which is a train that went across Canada and it basically promoted a lot of different bands. It was like 1970, right before she died actually.

Q - I understand Janis and Carole King. But Aretha? That would be some makeup job, wouldn't it?

A - Yeah, well. I don't do the makeup job. It's the same style of clothing at least we are talking about. Late '60s, early '70s look. I'm not going to change the color of my skin. That would be interesting. That would be a new one.

Q - Did you by chance ever see Janis Joplin in concert?

A - No, but I've talked to people who have and one person said they were at Woodstock and they saw Janis perform.

Q - In October (2013) it will be 43 years since Janis died. You know the old saying, "out of sight, out of mind." Do people ever come up to you and say "Who are you supposed to be?"

A - Never. Why would they? I'm wearing a boa. I wearing her glasses. I wearing all the hippie stuff.

Q - Janis doesn't seem to get the attention that Hendrix or Morrison get. That's why I ask.

A - There's a lot of kids who do know about her. If they don't, they're very interested as soon as they hear about her. I guess she doesn't have a lot of original songs to really propel her into the public domain per se, but a lot of the cover songs and the way she did them are so unique that anyone who has ever heard of her can't forget her. If you have heard of her, once you do, you don't want to stop. By word of mouth, people are passing down the legacy of Janis Joplin more than publicity and hype. People start to talk about the old days and the festivals. Kids love festivals now. They're just as big as ever. "Live" music is big. It's not gonna die out. She was a legendary live performer. She was something to behold and people didn't forget her. And it's through the storytelling and the folklore and the legends that her style is passed on, not through the media as much. You're right. There hasn't been a re-inauguration of her stuff like Jim Morrison.

Q - Once you left the Clapton tribute, how long did it take you to get the Janis tribute together? Was it expensive?

A - One pair of glasses I remember I bought on eBay. I got into a bidding war. I went up to $225. It was ridiculous, but I bought them. Some of the stuff was expensive, but it's not hard to dress like that. It's not like KISS or something, well maybe it is. A boa is pretty cheap. You can find them anywhere. And just wear some hippie clothes and that does the trick.

Q - Are your clothes tailor-made?

A - No. A lot of it I get online.

Q - Did you have to go out and recruit members for the band?

A - Well, my ex-husband is the guitarist, so I had a live-in guitarist. Took a bass player from the Clapton band. The drummer has played with a lot of big names. He was really convinced. He said, "You really look like her. You sound like her." He really wanted to get in on the act.

Q - Did you learn anything about Janis that you didn't know before you started?

A - Oh, definitely. I learned a lot about the different bands she was in. I couldn't thank YouTube more for all the footage they now have. I realized what a special lady she was. She had composure. I just learned a lot.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.