ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 26, 2002
By Steve Newton
There are a number of things that can boost an up-and-coming recording artist’s career; one of the most effective might be having Robert Plant call you “the next Tina Turner”. Blues vocalist Shemekia Copeland, 23, had no complaints when the shaggy-maned former Zepman made that terse comparison. “I thought it was really cool,” she says, on a cellphone from the street outside a Chicago radio station.
Those who require more than a recommendation from an aging rock god might consider the opinion of the Village Voice, which called Copeland “nothing short of uncanny”. Or they could check out her exceptional new CD, Talking to Strangers, which was produced by Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack, who also played keyboards throughout, cowrote five tunes, and shared lead vocals on the standout track, “The Push I Need”.
“He was real good friends with my father,” notes the Harlem-born singer, referring to the late Texas blues-guitar great Johnny Copeland. “Over time he had been watchin’ my career pretty closely, and when we asked him to do the project he was real eager to do it. He brought over 40 years of experience into the studio, so it was great working with an artist like that.”
Although she’d been singing around the house since she was three years old, Copeland didn’t actually make a serious move toward the microphone until she was 16, when her father—having been diagnosed with a heart condition—started taking her on the road with him. “I got a calling,” she relates. “That’s the easiest way to describe it, man. It really happened overnight.”
Although Copeland opened many shows for her father, the only time she recorded with him was on the Rolling Stones tribute album, Paint It Blue, when she sang background on her dad’s version of “Tumblin’ Dice”. But she does remember, as a small girl, hanging out in the studio when her pop hooked up with Albert Collins and Robert Cray for the 1986 Grammy–winning blues tour de force, Showdown!
Three years after Copeland Sr.’s 1997 death from heart-surgery complications, she had her own album, Wicked, nominated for a Grammy. It didn’t win, but the powerful singer—who opens for Buddy Guy at the Commodore on Friday (September 27)—wasn’t upset when Taj Mahal took home the hardware. At least, she wasn’t disappointed for herself. “Oh God, no!” she declares. “First of all, I never thought I’d even be there, you know, this early in my career. I was disappointed, however, that Koko Taylor didn’t win.”