Doc Severinsen was never one to tone down either his wardrobe or his words when he was the longtime bandleader on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson.
So when he was asked about a controversial tell-all book on Carson by Carson’s longtime attorney, Henry Bushkin, it should be no surprise that Severinsen didn’t hold back.
“I know Henry Bushkin and I knew Johnny Carson,” Severinsen said this week, choosing his words carefully and making what appear to be his first public remarks about the book. “And the idea that anybody would ask any single person to write a book about Johnny Carson and have it be Bushkin is beyond disgusting.”
Severinsen, 86, spoke by phone from North Carolina, where he is touring with his big band. He is scheduled to bring his show to Buffalo next week.
He pointed out that Bushkin – whom Carson jokingly referred to as “The Bombastic Bushkin” in multiple monologues – became estranged from Carson after the King of Late Night accused him of negligence and malpractice.
“I didn’t have any personal problems with him except it seems that he was released from Johnny’s employ over a matter to do with some questionable behavior,” Severinsen said. “There may have been an agreement, something like ‘Sign this paper and go away.’ I have no business going beyond that.”
He went on to reflect: “I feel he might be desperate for money or something, or someone said to him, ‘Did you work with Carson? You did? Why don’t you write about it in a book?’ That says it all.”
Severinsen and his band will perform Friday morning and next Saturday with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at Kleinhans Music Hall for a show called “Solid Gold Doc.”
“Johnny will figure to some extent to this show,” said Severinsen, who was the BPO’s principal pops conductor from 1992 until 1999. “How could he not? You think for one minute I would do concerts any place – that I would be coming to Buffalo to conduct your beautiful symphony orchestra, if it weren’t for Johnny Carson? I’d be in a home somewhere.”
Severinsen paints a very different portrait of Carson than Bushkin did. The last time he performed with the BPO, in 2005, he shared with The News fond memories of the TV legend.
“He was a classy guy,” Severinsen said, on that occasion.
He also credited Carson, who died in 2005 at the age of 79, with helping him craft his image.
“One night, I had on something wild. And Johnny, he just went for it,” he said. “He went after it verbally, and just tore me up. So it happened again and again. And people got to expect it.”
Speaking Thursday from his hotel room in North Carolina, Severinsen added to that praise, recalling Carson as a pleasure to work with.
“He was a good boss because he was a fair boss,” he said. “He didn’t snoop in there about what you were doing. If you repeatedly did something that he didn’t feel was right, he’d call you in and talk about it. He was fair. He was very fair, and he knew everything that was going on. As Henry Bushkin found out.”