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Johnny Clyde Copeland plays an exciting, hard and tender style I think most people will like. I love his music and the way he plays it, I just relate—most of all to this song, “Flying High” (also check out the last song on the playlist, number 73). Even though it’s an E boogie, if you try to play along, you’ll find he’s tuned to F. He got so much sound out of that box!
This is his first release, a rock ’n’ roll 45 from 1958 (see his live version from 1984 at 51 on the playlist).
This version of “It’s My Own Tears That’s Being Wasted” is from 1964. He recorded it several more times but he never did it better than this (compare it with the version from 1986, number 2 on playlist, no criticism of that by the way). Another favorite of mine, want to learn this one some day.
While he always maintained contact with his Texas roots and friends, he moved to New York in 1979, and that was when and where his recording career took off. A lot of the musicians on his albums were New York jazz players, especially the horn players. I think the drummer and bassist were in his Texas band and moved with him, but this statement is based on my memory of something I read a while ago (can’t find it now, don’t even remember the article).
I wasn’t having an easy time finding high-quality videos of music from the studio albums that I’m familiar with. While preparing this post, however, I checked out the YouTube topic created for him and found 12 albums/playlists represented—including some lovely dynamite. I haven’t had the chance to listen to all of it, but I found two albums I know, his Texas Twister (1984) and Showdown, with Albert Collins and Robert Cray (1985). It looks like I have some catching up to do with the other ten, I was drawn to the one named Flyin’ High and I wasn’t disappointed there. But the best (to me) by far is Introduction to Johnny Copeland. It contains the oldest music here, several songs are from Houston Roots, an album I’d highly recommend, including this.
“Rock Me, Baby (part 1)” is from Houston Roots; and this is the only recording I’ve been able to find online, not just on YouTube—if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be using it. The ending is cut off and this is only part 1 to start with.
The playlist is a mix of things from recordings and concerts. Because I’m working at home this week, I lack the ability to drag videos to organize them, so things are more scattered than I like (it won’t happen again for a while).
The first song on the playlist is a studio recording of one of his most popular, “Cut Off My Right Arm.” His 1984/1986 album Texas Twister is partially represented by the songs numbered 58 through 73 (the link will explain the song order and why I listed two dates, the songs in this playlist follow the 1986 release closest); Stevie Ray Vaughan appears on “Don’t Stop by the Creek, Son” (number 67). The other song that SRV plays on this album, “When the Rain Starts Fallin’,” can be found on the 1996 compilation Texas Party! (Texas Party also appears at number 21 on the playlist). Stevie Ray Vaughan also appears on the songs numbered 6, 7, 16 and 20. In fact, number 20 is SRV’s “Cold Shot” and Johnny Copeland is his guest. “Tin Pan Alley” is an old song by Bob Geddins, so I don’t know who this performance belongs to (but Stevie Ray Vaughan covered it numerous times).
Johnny Clyde Copeland is probably best known as one-third of the Grammy-winning 1986 album Showdown! with Albert Collins and Robert Cray (number 12 on the playlist). On that album, they mention another Texas bluesman, Hop Wilson (see new section below), who wrote and was known for “Black Cat Bone” (6th song on Showdown). He also appeared on the Stones blues tribute album, doing a nice job on “Tumblin’ Dice” (number 18 on the playlist), which also won him some acclaim with the rock audience.
Texas Party! (a compilation album from 1996) is number 21 on the playlist—check the link in the title if you’re interested in finding which other songs are with Stevie Ray Vaughan (some are from Texas Twister, but there are a couple additional ones).
Number 53 on the playlist is a version of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” It’s okay, and interesting to be able to compare it with the original. Passport was a pickup band for him—they usually play jazz.
When he wasn’t touring, he regularly played at the Lone Star Café, Tramps and Manny’s Car Wash (kept thinking I’d go “next week” but no, I never heard him play live).
Toward the end of his life, he was battling cancer and played at some of the benefits that were held to help him cover his healthcare costs. Shemekia Copeland is his daughter, she also played at some of the benefits (and she just had a baby on Christmas day, 2016), but I couldn’t find films of them or even of the two of them plying together; if you should find any, please add them to the comments or let me know, thanks!
This is with his band at a memorial show, playing “Excuses, Excuses” (compare to his, number 71 on the playlist, from Texas Twister).
Shemekia Copleand doing her father’s “Ghetto Child” (number 10 on the playlist).
She also does his “Devil’s Hand” (number 4) and “It’s My Own Tears.”
Here’s one of her own songs that I really like, “Never Going Back to Memphis” (I’m going to include her in the Contemporary Blues Musicians, part 3—yes, that’s a real thing, something we’ll see more of in 2017).
The following links are informational—no music, just discographies and music for sale.
Copeland Special (1981) is his first album, and among the ones I like best. The saxophone players are New York jazz players known for their avant-garde leanings, but they go straight back to their R&B roots with such ferocity, it sounds like something they’d been wanting to do for a long time.
Houston Roots (1988) is a compilation of songs from the early to late ’60s, such great stuff, but I wasn’t able to find out find out who plays on it.
I don’t often recommend specific records here, but because it’s so hard to find good recordings from the studio albums online, the links in this paragraph lead the recordings at Amazon (obviously, there are lots of other vendors, this is just to give you an idea). Copeland Special; I’d say scoop up the ones offered for $12 and $25, but leave the other one for a drunken businessman. Houston Roots; as I’m writing this, all three disks are a little bit overpriced but not too bad, and this is an inspiring collection.
I haven’t been watching to know if this is temporary, but there are very few albums represented on Amazon at present. If that remains so and there aren’t any reissues, the prices are just going to continue to climb. (I’m not saying to buy them as investments, my main thought is that if you want to hear them, don’t wait.)
Harding “Hop” Wilson also has a YouTube channel where all the stuff associated with him gets put by way of algorithm. Yay! Here’s his glorious Houston Ghetto Blues from there. He’s a steel guitar and harmonica player who I mostly know from his “Chicken Stuff”…
…and “Black Cat Bone” 45s, things of timeless beauty.
~PARTY MUSIC FOR A HAPPY, HEALTHY, PRODUCTIVE 2017
Intro is 8 bars of single eighth and quarter notes up on the first three strings; except the double stops in the 7th bar (the first letter before the slash is on top).
G Bb G Bb G | F (hold for a bar) | G Bb G Bb G | F (half note) Eb | C C Bb Bb | AA A Ab Ab | G C/Ab B/G | A C C C
That leads into an odd C blues, not really sure about the chords…yet.
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