BLUES SINGER SHEMEKIA COPELAND
Photography by Mark D McKinley
(December, 2002) - Shemekia Copeland has made an impression on the blues world. Shemekia delivers the blues with authority, and vocals, that demand attention. Her vocals, and wide assortment of material, could easily be described as the Perfect Storm. Copeland refuses to lend her voice to only one aspect of the blues. Showcasing varied intensity and vocal prowess, Copeland fits nicely amongst the ranks of seasoned blues musicians. One is known by the company one keeps, and this artist has certainly surrounded herself with good friends and talented musicians.
Shemekia Copeland released her second Alligator Records CD in 2000. Her Wicked effort is what soulful blues was meant to be. Shemekia grabbed the blues by the vocal cord and didn't let go. Wicked's opening song is the rowdy, It's 2 a.m., which eventually lures listeners into the moody, Up On 1-2-5. In a song co-written by her producer and lead guitarist titled Beat Up Guitar, Shemekia also demonstrates remarkable passion for Delta blues. Special guest [and friend] Ruth Brown adds some down-home seasoning on If He Moves His Lips.
Copeland's third CD on Alligator Records Talking To Strangers was released in September 2002.
December of 2002, Shemekia and I discussed her life, music, and the blues. I met Ms. Copeland one week later after her performance on The WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour in Lexington, Kentucky.
- Mark D McKinley [Mark's Online Music Source]
mogswebsite.com: You began traveling the country with your father at the age of 16. I'm sure it must have been very satisfying for him, having you be a part of his dream. You were able to experience his live performances, and even open several shows for him. Share an event, that stands above all the others, which turned your desire for singing into an absolute.
Shemekia Copeland: It was a series of events, a lot of different things happened over time. If you were on the outside looking in, you would say, "Oh maybe it did happen more gradually than I thought ", but to me, I thought it was a more overnight kind of thing. I'm just kind of looking at things in a different way than other people would, but I like to say that I got a calling, and when it was time to happen, it just happened.
mogswebsite.com: Aside from the music influences of your father, what are your fondest memories of him?
Shemekia Copeland: He was a really great dad. I had really great parents, and aside from the fact that he was a nationally known artist and musician, when you are a kid you don't see that stuff. So, he was just a really great father. You know my parents, my Mom and Dad both raised me to be a good person first and every thing else just kind of came later. I think that you need that when you are out on the road. It's important to know what you are and to have a strong mind. I think that those are the things that I remember most about that because if I didn't have a strong mind I don't think I would be able to be out here doing what I'm doing.
mogswebsite.com: With all the awards you've received, including four W. C. Handys, a Grammy nomination for your critically acclaimed Wicked release, what has been your biggest challenge in terms of handling success?
Shemekia Copeland: I'm a person that's just, I'm a real grateful person. I feel blessed and I feel honored for the wonderful things that happen to me in my life. So I'm not a person that takes success and says "Oh.. you know", I know that it can be here today and gone tomorrow. So I try hard not to let it get to my head.
mogswebsite.com: Do you think success arrived more quickly for you than you expected?
Shemekia Copeland: No, not really. I mean, I think that it has happened gradually over time. That first album hit me kind of quick. I didn't realize it was going to go so fast, but everything after that, I think it kind of slowed down a little bit for me.
mogswebsite.com: What are your expectations for 2003, with the recent release of your third CD, Talking To Strangers?
Shemekia Copeland: Well, I think it will be just like my other albums, it'll do better. The 2nd album did better than the first, and hopefully this one will do better than the 2nd.
mogswebsite.com: Which female blues singers have had the greatest impact on your life in terms of support and inspiration?
Shemekia Copeland: I believe, well lets just say I was on the phone talking to Koko [Taylor] yesterday and I spoke to Ruth [Brown] on Sunday, and I think they're the two I'm closest to.
mogswebsite.com: Robert Johnson influenced thousands of musicians. He had an influence on people in rock music, blues, even jazz, and his career was really quite brief. Has he played a role in the feeling you have about your music?
Shemekia Copeland: Of course. I mean, everybody that came before me, which was hundreds of artists, they came in and put their mark and their trace in something they left here for all of us newcomers to use and grow from.
mogswebsite.com: In my thinking it was probably a collective tribute, but was there a particular person in mind when your producer and guitar player wrote Beat Up Guitar? Or was that more of a tribute to the ones that came before you?
Shemekia Copeland: I think, I would say it was a tribute more to my Dad, but of course, it was a tribute all of them that came before us.
mogswebsite.com: But, it started out more of a tribute to your Dad?
Shemekia Copeland: Yes.
mogswebsite.com: Who are the modern day blues artists that you find inspiring?
Shemekia Copeland: Wow, that's tough. There's a young guy named Robert Randolph that's out now, a young black kid that's a slide player, and not only that, he just does a whole lot of other things, he's just amazing. He inspires me. You have the North Mississippi All Stars that are running around out there. You know, so there's a lot of stuff happening, I think we'll see more and more, too, as the time goes on.
mogswebsite.com: It's been commented on several times that you could probably do a concert even without a microphone. Does having such an ability, the way your voice carries, ever astound you?
Shemekia Copeland: No.
mogswebsite.com: Does it just seem natural?
Shemekia Copeland: For me it's just a natural thing, and like I said, I feel blessed. I don't even see what I do in the same way as other people.
mogswebsite.com: That ability itself comes down to a God given talent. Would that seem accurate?
Shemekia Copeland: I would say yes.
mogswebsite.com: What are your thoughts the moment you walk on stage and the band starts playing?
Shemekia Copeland: I'm usually praying, you know, for strength to get through the night. I try to take it one night at a time.
mogswebsite.com: What words of encouragement and wisdom can you offer an aspiring artist that's trying to make it in the business?
Shemekia Copeland: Well, I'll tell you what my Daddy told me ..."Never read the Press." You know, he said because if you read the press you'll start believing it, whether it's good or it's bad. If it's good you'll become cocky and arrogant, and if it's bad, you'll become bitter and you'll feel like the world is just a crappy place to live in, so I never read the press.
mogswebsite.com: Some very wise words.
Shemekia Copeland: It's true, I had to learn my lesson the hard way.
mogswebsite.com: Colors and textures are very important to the graphic artist, as well as the musician, when it comes to the presentation of either art form. What moods present the greatest challenge for you, as a singer, when it comes to expressing the texture of those moods through music?
Shemekia Copeland: Well, I would just say that I am young, I'm just coming from a different area, a contemporary blues artist, and I`m trying to make blues as a music, as a general music grow and evolve, just like all the other genre's of music have. So, here I am, trying to just take it to another level, and I think that there are many colors when you do that. There are so many colors when you listen to my albums that you can hear everything when you're listening to it.
mogswebsite.com: I think that is definitely one of the things about your CDs, you touch on the entire spectrum as far as the blues. Let's turn away from the blues, and can you tell me what your interests are outside the music world?
Shemekia Copeland: What are my interests outside of the music world? I'm a very romantic person. I like love, I think it's a beautiful thing. I would say I'm a hopeless romantic, who's always waiting for my knight in shining armor. And I like going out to hear music. I love spending time with my family. I'm a family person. I like spending time with my Mom and hanging out with her. I have a 6 year-old niece, and I like spending time with her.
mogswebsite.com: You're a very pleasant person to talk to.
Shemekia Copeland: Oh, thank you. I appreciate that.
(C) 2002 Mark's Online Music Source
Shemekia Copeland's new CD, Never Going Back Release Date: 02.24.09
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