Budding blues artist Copeland (the younger one) takes stage | AspenTimes.com
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Budding blues artist Copeland (the younger one) takes stage

Stewart Oksenhorn

Shemekia Copeland probably believes pretty strongly in angels. She seems to have enough of them guiding her, and she has certainly had her share of good fortune in her burgeoning music career.Copeland is the daughter – “just 19 years old,” as the blues standard goes – of the late Texas blues guitarist Johnny “Clyde” Copeland, who died in 1997 after a long battle with heart disease. Chances are good, however, that pretty soon, Johnny “Clyde” will be known as the father of Shemekia.The younger Copeland’s debut album, “Turn the Heat Up,” on the Chicago-based Alligator blues label, has become the biggest-selling blues album in the States. Sparkling reviews are following her everywhere she performs, from “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” to top blues clubs and festivals around the country.Tonight, Shemekia – pronounced as if the “i” weren’t there – makes her Aspen debut at the Double Diamond. Coming with Copeland is her band – bassist Eric King, guitarist Arthur Neilson, drummer Barry Harrison and keyboardist Doña Oxford – and her No. 1 guiding angel, the spirit of her father.”I was always close to him,” said Copeland, whose career began in earnest when Johnny “Clyde” began taking her on tour with him, and eventually had her opening his shows. “I always say I never get on stage without him. His spirit is so strong in me. And what I do is so much a reflection of him. He’s with me everywhere. I can’t go anywhere, even 5,000 miles away, without people telling me how much they loved my dad, and how much they loved his music.”Shemekia may have gotten her inspiration, and love for the blues, from her father, but her musical abilities are far removed from her father’s take on guitar-driven, Texas-style blues. The younger Copeland is a powerful, huge-voiced blues belter, in the mold of Etta James and Irma Thomas. While her father may remain her biggest influence, she has been taken under the wing of the collective blues community. Two female blues singers in particular – Koko Taylor and Ruth Brown – have not only been musical influences, but part of the coterie of angels giving Copeland a hand.”These women are so sweet and down to Earth, they’re like your mama, anybody’s mama,” said Copeland, whose mother, Sandra, handles her business affairs. “And the guys, too – Gatemouth Brown and Joe Louis Walker – they call me and check in on me to see how I’m doing.”Blues greats – and soul legends, and r & b icons – were a big part of Copeland’s life long before she started taking the stage at age 15.”Come to think of it, no,” said Copeland, asked if she ever listened to the popular music of the day when she was younger. “I was always into blues, gospel, old soul and r & b. I’d go out and buy Stax records or old Atlantic records. I’ve always been the oddball.”When I was younger and my friends asked me what I listened to, I had to lie. When you’re 11 or 12, you don’t hang out and tell people you listen to Otis Redding and Etta James. Now people know when they come to my house or get in my car, they’re gonna hear the blues.”Copeland grew up in Harlem. “That made me feel really prepared for the rest of the world,” said Copeland, whose soft, teenage speaking voice belies the enormity of her singing voice. She moved to the northern New Jersey suburb of Teaneck five years ago, but her life, since the May release of “Turn the Heat Up,” has been spent primarily on the road.”But I’d been on the road so much with my dad, since I was 16, so I had a real taste,” said Copeland, who first took the stage at the age of 8 at the famed Cotton Club in Harlem. “I’d open his shows and that was the greatest gift anyone could give me.”


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