Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2016
In This Issue
Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Ana Popovic. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including music by Danny Marks, Thomas Schleiken, Moreland & Arbuckle, Dylan Wickens & The Grand Naturals, 60 Grit Band and The Chicago Kingsnakes.
Our video of the week is Ana Popovic.
We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
From The Editor’s Desk
Hey Blues Fans,
The voting for the 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards ended this past Monday with over 6,700 votes. Every vote counts and a casual look at the results indicates that a couple of the categories look like they may be decided by a handful of votes.
We are busy tallying up the results and preparing for the Blues Blast Music Awards show on September 23rd at the Fluid Event Center in Champaign, IL when all the winners will be announced. It is going to be a great show including performances by Too Slim & The Taildraggers, Peter Karp, Dave Weld & The Imperial Flames, Bob Margolin, Shaun Murphy, Fiona Boyes, Jonn Del Toro Richardson, Shoji Naito, Big Harp George, Markey Blue, Dave Muskett Acoustic Blues Band, Danielle Nicole, Andy T-Nick Nixon Band, Anthony Geraci & Monster Mike Welch, Andy Poxon & Little Ronnie, Henry Gray, Bob Corritore, Guy King, Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges, Jon Spear Band and the Corey Dennison Band. This gonna be one BIG Blues party!
It is a show you don’t want to miss! Tickets and complete information is at www.TheBBMAs.com!
And while you are there be sure to check out our General Admission VIP Tickets. No waiting. no line, you can use the VIP entrance and it includes an official 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards t-shirt, poster, and official 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards pin for only $50. (Every year, we run out of official t-shirts, so this is your best bet to get one!)
Our good friends at the Boundary Waters Blues Fest in Ely, MN have a great show for you this weekend. The music starts tonight at the Kick off Party festuring The Roadhouse Band. The fun continues on Friday with performances by Virgil Caine, Chainsaw DuPont, RAMM Band with Paul Mayasich, Brian Naughton and DownTown Charlie Brown.
Then on Saturday August 20 they feature Ross William Perry, The Roadhouse Trio, The Mark Cameron Band, Dealin’ and headliner Larry McCray. Tickets and complete information are at www.elyblues.com.
Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!
Blues Blast made it out to Blue Monday at the Alamo in Springfield, IL for a show by Too Slim and the Taildraggers. Tim Langford and crew played an hour and 45 minute blues rockin’ first set that included tunes off of their current album Blood Moon.
Blood Moon is nominated in the Rock Blues album category in the 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards. Tim and the band will be performing at the Blues Blast Music awards on September 23rd.
Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6
Danny Marks – Cities In Blue
Danny Marks is somewhat of a fixture in the Toronto and Canadian blues scene. He hosted a popular TV series on HIFI TV which covered many of the regional varieties of blues across North America. You could call this album the companion piece to the TV show. Yes, it’s a concept album, not the most common of endeavors in blues music.
As such, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, at least lyrically. Musically, it is strong all the way through, and for the most part, Marks hits the key elements that define each city’s sound. Distinct echoes of T-Bone Walker, along with Marks’s smooth guitar and the sweet touch of Julian Fauth on the piano, all backed by a swinging horn section make “Kansas City Shout” a stand-out track.
“Heading Down To New Orleans” features the unique chord progression, and the percussive emphasis on the first and third beats of a bar which define the Nawlins sound. Made me want to climb on board a paddle steamer and head down river.
It’s tricky, lyrically, when doing a tribute to cities not to fall into the trap of simply inserting some of a particular city’s most famous landmarks or streets into the song. Marks does get caught up in this a little bit, especially with “Hey, New York Town!”. You can understand what he’s going for, but “City so nice, they named you twice” and “The city that doesn’t sleep, cream of the crop, top of the heap,” is just too much borrowing of clichés. Too bad, because the music is great and the background singers really kick it up.
My favorite songs on the album are the ones that don’t have a particular city style to emulate. “Belt Line Blues” is about a boy and his mother living a hard life. It is written in that most difficult musical styles to pull off well – the one-chord song – and Marks makes it work measure after measure. “Once I Was Crazy” could have been written and performed by WC Handy, with elements of the Saint Louis sound tempered with Western Swing rhythms, great melody and a muted trumpet you want to follow all the way home. The last of these non-journey songs is a gospel-inspired gut bucket howl that truly harkens back to the Mississippi Delta where the blues began.
What makes these tracks work so well is that while all the city songs are about the blues, these three ARE the blues. Marks is a gifted songwriter and musician so I would have preferred to hear him writing lyrically gritty, real blues songs in the style of each city’s music rather than a blues travelogue about them.
But this is a nuanced, musically varied album that is steeped in the blues, and it is very refreshing to be reminded that blues does not have to be standard 12-bar blues. I found this album growing on me the more I listened to it. The music is strong enough for me to put aside my quibbles with his lyrics in a few songs.
The one thing I have to mention is that the track “Land Where the Blues Began” uses an auto tune effect on Marks’s vocals. This doesn’t appear to be intended to correct pitch (Marks can hit notes without any problem). No, I think it may be an attempt to take a very traditional Delta song and make it “relevant” to new listeners. But it will do nothing to attract younger listeners and is likely to put off more traditional fans. It’s a gimmick that does not work. This is still a good track, in spite of the annoying auto tune, with nicely picked acoustic guitar and some authentically good dobro.
This song circles back nicely from the opening Texas Swing style of “Houston to LA”, showing off Marks’s ability to write and play in many of the most popular shades of blues. This is definitely an album I’ll keep loaded on my phone.
Reviewer Lex Dunn is a writer and musician living on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He has fronted blues bands in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax and looks forward to his next venture on the Island. He is passionate about music in general and the blues in particular.
Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6
Thomas Schleiken – Echoes
Blind Lemon Records – 2016
15 tracks; 60 minutes
Blind Lemon Records is a small German label that specialises in acoustic blues music and this is Thomas Schleiken’s third solo release. The title of the album reflects trips to the deep south of the USA as well as some of the greats of this style of Piedmont blues: Skip James, Elizabeth Cotten and Mississippi John Hurt from whom Thomas seems to draw particular inspiration. Thomas plays all guitar parts and sings and is joined on several tracks by Regina Mudrich on violin and Thomas Freund on harmonica and harmony vocals. The beautifully produced CD booklet has some excellent photos taken by Thomas on his trips down south, contains notes on each song in German and English as well as giving details of the instruments played, tunings and capo positions.
There are several lovely solo guitar instrumentals, none better than opener “Globetramper’s Treat”, named for an Austrian club where Thomas plays regularly. The relaxed fingerpicking style is quite mesmerizing and recurs on other titles such as “On Soco Road” and “Echoes From Bentonia” which quotes from one of Skip James’ tunes. “Anadúne” was written at sunset and certainly sounds that way, Thomas’ picking here quite beautiful; the title is the Elvish word for sunset (taken from Tolkien) as Thomas felt that the German ‘Sonnenuntergang’ sounded too hard! A tune in similar vein “Blue Horizon” closes the CD on another reflective note.
Thomas sings on several tracks in an almost strangled whisper with some trace of accent. His vocal style is very effective on a track like Mississippi John Hurt’s “Louis Collins” on which he is accompanied by Regina’s stately violin. “Creole Bell” and “Lonesome Valley” also come from MJH’s repertoire: the former has Regina initially plucking her strings to pick out a counter-melody before moving into full bowed action alongside Thomas Freund’s harp; the latter is more of a spiritual song, Regina’s violin adding a country flavour. Elizabeth Cotton’s well-known “Freight Train” has Thomas F adding some appropriate train noise harp, counterpointed by Regina’s elegant violin.
The traditional gospel song “Ship Is At The Landing” has all three musicians in full flow on a tune that is almost identical to the more familiar “Jesus On The Mainline”. Thomas has also reprised two songs from his earlier career in a rock band which add variety to the album, even though they do not really fit stylistically: “Big Boss Blues” rails against the fat cats who continue to prosper even during situations that they have engendered, such as the 2008 banking crisis; “Time To Fly” imagines a young addict who sells her body to feed her habit.
If well-crafted acoustic blues is what you enjoy seek out this album which offers a European perspective on a deeply traditional blues style.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6
Moreland & Arbuckle – Promised Land or Bust
11 songs/37.3 minutes
If you like your blues delivered with swampy blues-rock sweat, American heartland roots and music that rolls in like a Midwestern storm, you are going to embrace Promised Land or Bust with open arms. This CD is life according to Aaron Moreland on guitar (electric, acoustic and cigar box), Dustin Arbuckle on lead vocals and harmonica and Kendall Newby on drums. This is the seventh CD from Moreland & Arbuckle, their first release on Alligator Records. According to Alligator, “Moreland & Arbuckle embody the spirit of our label’s long-time slogan – Genuine Houserockin’ Music”. Backing the trio on the CD are Scott Williams on keyboards, Mark Foley on Bass and Matt Bayles on keyboard and guitar. Bayles also produced, mixed and engineered the CD which was recorded at ARC Studios in Omaha Nebraska. This CD is a follows the 2013 release of 7 Cities, also produced by Matt Bayles.
If you follow Moreland & Arbuckle, you know this trio (since adding drummer Newby in 2006) was formerly a duo, a powerhouse of sound from two men who met at an open mic session in Wichita, Kansas in 2001. Moreland came from a garage band, punk background and Arbuckle was firmly rooted in the blues. A love of the blues brought them together and they have not stopped creatively shaping their own sound ever since. Each of the albums they have recorded has shown musical growth, ventures into new genres and a deepening of the on-stage connection between band members. Promised Land or Bust is no exception. If you aren’t familiar with Moreland & Arbuckle, I strongly encourage you pick up this CD (or vinyl album) and listen to what they deliver. Their sound is unique, their music is raw and real and it comes from the heart and the heartland. As on past albums, they also throw in a few surprises.
The CD opens powerfully with “Take me with You (When you Go)”. This song sets the pace for the songs on this CD, heavy hitters about lost love, passion, redemption and a longing for a life that used to be. These songs are delivered with Newby’s heavy- handed drumbeat that carries the sometimes jam-like, nearly always frenetic guitar mastery of Moreland and the anvil tempered vocals of Arbuckle. Arbuckle rides the guitar with his voice like a tractor taking in dusty grain, stopping only to play his harmonica. Arbuckle’s harmonica adds soaring texture with hints of emotion and tradition to the story he is telling and the music carrying it. At times it leaves you wondering if there is a saxophone in the mix.
Six of the songs on the CD are written by Moreland & Arbuckle. These songs are swampy, full of energy and tell stories about evil women (“Mean and Evil” and “Long Way Home”), late night passion (“When the Lights are Burning Low”) and longing (“Mount Comfort”, and “Waco Avenue”). “Waco Avenue” is a contrast to the the other five songs, it is a slower acoustic song that could easily be at home on country radio or Americana charts. Arbuckle delivers deeply moving vocals with a calm passion complimented by Moreland’s accomplished and tender touch on the acoustic guitar.
Of the other five songs on the CD, two are classic blues covers (“Woman Down in Arkansas” and “I’m a King Bee”) both done in a contemporary in-your-face blues style, In “I’m a King Bee”, Arbuckle plays homage to Slim Harpo, the songwriter who was also a notorious harmonica player from Kansas City. Arbuckle’s vocals and harp bring new life to this song and Moreland’s guitar playing make this one of the strongest songs on the CD. In “Woman Down in Arkansas”, Arbuckle again plays homage to another great Midwestern harmonica player, Lee McBee, a fellow Kansan. This boogie number is done with new breath while giving a big nod to the past. “Long Did I Hide It”, “Why’d She have to Go” and “Let me Down” were written by Ryan Taylor.
“Long Did I Hide It” is a song with a strong gallop beat, somewhat reminiscent of the Delta Blues and is sung very soulfully by Arbuckle with a hook so sharp it will have the chorus on the tip of your tongue for hours. One of the other strong songs on the CD is “Hannah”, written by Mike Hosty. This song is a swampy, dirty murder ballad. It is the perfect medium for the talents of Moreland & Arbuckle as it provides an opportunity for each of the band members to do what they do best – inject energy and mood into their music with as much passion as they can deliver. This is a deep, dark song and would be difficult for many musicians to make as convincing as this band does. “Hannah” tells a story with music that really is an aural video.
What impresses me most with this CD is the growth of this band. I’ve followed them for several years and each CD has shown a venture into new territory while remaining true to the fundamental things that give Moreland & Arbuckle their unique style. They remain loyal to the heartland blues while growing as musicians and always show a willingness to try different musical styles and sounds. Most significantly is their ability to project live sound and energy into their studio recordings with complete mastery of their instruments and vocals. Like the old blues-men who preceded them, Moreland & Arbuckle never forget where they came from. They walk the blues road holding their roots firmly in hand while following their art and passion into new, uncharted territory.
Reviewer Kim Derr a life-long blues lover originally from Pennsylvania who recently relocated to SE North Carolina. She left her career as an attorney to pursue blues guitar, bass and mandolin playing and photography interests. She enjoys all styles of the blues. Blues music is her passion, whether writing about it, playing it, listening to it or photographing musicians. There is a story in or behind every blues song and in the musical styles. Blues had her at the first twelve bars on an old guitar!
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6
Dylan Wickens & The Grand Naturals – Hi Lo-Fi
9 tracks/35:25 minutes
On this new album, bassist Dennis Pinhorn and drummer Al Webster join forces with guitarist Wickens to deliver a powerful groove reminiscent of groups such as Foghat, Free, Mountain, and Ten Years After. From Wickens’ bright slide guitar riffs on the opening song, “Foolish Heart,” to his gruff and ready vocals and the fuzzed up intro to the final cut, “In My Time of Dying,” the band ruminates soulfully over lust, lost love, misguided love, and revenge.
In a cut that could come straight off of Foghat’s first album—Wickens’ vocals channel Lonesome Dave Peverett—the fuzzy vocals and lead guitar resemble “Trouble, Trouble” as Wickens sings about the troubles that come from following the ways of the heart. The tune kicks off the album in high gear, almost daring the following songs to keep pace. Crunchy jazz guitar whips out the rhythm on “Love & Lust” as the band funks up a la Steely Dan in a tune devoted to the potent combination of longing and wanting that fuel love and lust. The singer loves the way his lover “moves and shakes that thing,” and he drowns in her eyes so he “can’t feel a thing.” But it’s “in the way you move/when I cross the floor/makes other men banging at your door.” His unquenchable thirst for every part of his lover’s body and soul stirs jealousy, too, as well as an aching want he can’t get out of his bones.
“Fall Apart” opens with Wickens’ stinging lead riff, recalling the best of Leslie West, and the trio is at its best in this straight ahead, down-to-the-bones blues rocker. This is the best song on the album. “Rock Bottom” channels early Ten Years After, and Wickens again kicks off the song with infectious lead riffs that lead naturally to a chugging and almost mournful cry from the depths of despair. Of all the songs on the album, the slow, dark music mirrors the lyrics: “I’ve tried spirits/I’ve tried tea/So life brings me/To my knees/I’m rock bottom/Do you hear me?/Rock bottom/Can you help me?” The use of an echo chamber for the vocals on the chorus emphasizes the emptiness the singer feels as he’s hit the deepest ground of depression.
On the final track, “In My Time of Dying”—and the only song on the album not written by Wickens—gospel and blues meet at the crossroads of Wickens’ tasty slide guitar and the call-and-response vocals of Pinhorn and Webster. The blues treatment creates an atmosphere of unreadiness to die, even though the lyrics preach otherwise. Wickens’ powerful, gruff voice preaches the sermon on top of his fast-talking slide riffs.
On Hi Lo-Fi, Dylan Wickens & The Grand Naturals demonstrates their canny abilities to take hold of tunes and musical traditions, embrace them, and make them their very own.
Reviewer Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. writes about music and music books for No Depression, American Songwriter, Country Standard Time, and Wide Open Country.
Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6
60 Grit Band – Self-Titled
CD: 11 Songs, 43:25 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Rock and Blues Rock
Neither the 1990’s sensation Blues Traveler, nor Southern California’s 60 Grit Band, are pure blues bands per se. Songs like “Runaround,” in the former case, and “Worthless Soul” in the latter, are blues-influenced rock. So are the two ensembles who play them. Sextet 60 Grit, offering their debut release to the public at large, has considerable musicianship, showmanship, and most notably, songwriting talent. What they lack is a cohesive, genre-based focus. Only track five on their self-titled album, “Lonely Whiskey Blues,” sounds anything close to traditional. The other ten tunes constitute blues-tinged R&R, and are excellent in and of themselves. Devotees of Willie Dixon might not like this CD. Devotees of White Stripes surely will. If one’s chief idea of the blues is “drinkin’ muddy water, and sleepin’ in a hollow log,” one should look elsewhere. However, if fans can squeeze room in their definition of this category for “The men who own this planet are the ones who [F’ed] it up,” the 60 Grit Band will be right up their alley. On ten originals and one cover, the 60 Grit Band is silky-smooth yet barroom-rough.
According to their promotional info sheet, “A list of just a few of the venues that the 60 Grit Band has played includes the House of Blues San Diego, Orange County and San Bernardino County Fairgrounds, Big Bear Mountain Ski Resorts, Hangar 24 Craft Brewery, and most recently, the 2016 Doheny Blues Festival, where they played the main stage, preceding the Edgar Winter Band, Aaron Neville and Lynyrd Skynyrd! They are currently the house band at the Tudor House in Lake Arrowhead…Having this regular show at the Tudor House has also afforded them the opportunity to bring in (and share the stage with) blues legends such as Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, and more recently, guitar virtuoso Gino Matteo.”
The 60 Grit Band includes David Ferguson on vocals and guitar; Frank Orecchio on guitar; Brian Haringa on bass; Jeremiah Kiser on harmonica, and Nick Coffey and Sean Motley on drums.
The fifth song on this CD, mentioned earlier, has some potent lyrics and a subject even more so.
Track 05: “Lonely Whiskey Blues” – Sometimes, lovers who are fed up with playing second fiddle to a usurper named Al Cohol issue their partners an ultimatum. The narrator of this ditty has just received one: “My woman took my bottle. She tried to make me choose. Well, baby, what’s the question, man? I had to cut loose. I stay home; I get drunk; I sing the Lonely Whiskey Blues.” Everything about this song is at its optimal strength, going down smooth, like a double Jack Daniel’s on the rocks. This is especially the case with Jeremiah Kiser’s burning harmonica.
As impressive as the 60 Grit Band is, die-hard disciples of this genre (and readers of this magazine) will undoubtedly wish there was more blues on their debut album. Hopefully, with their sophomore CD, this will be the case. In the meantime, rock on!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 36 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6
The Chicago Kingsnakes – South Side Soul
Music King Records
10 tracks/42:24 minutes
When Jim “Ang” Anderson was twenty years old, he was on the road with Little Milton. “He walked the line between blues and R&B,” says Anderson, and on South Side Soul the Chicago Kingsnakes follow in Little Milton’s—as well as a number of other great R&B singers and groups—footsteps. The group delivers a soulful groove mixed in with some blues shouts on the ten songs on their new album, inviting us to get up and let our backbones slip as we make it to the dance floor.
Drummer Gus Gotsis and bassist Mike Bailey comprise the lean and mean sound of the Chicago Kingsnakes, but sax player Terry “Sonny Lee” Tritt, keyboardist Jeff “Wally” Walroth pump up the sound. Becky Walroth joins in on tambourine on “Right Where I Left Them.”
Anderson’s bright rhythm guitar opens the album on “Holdin’ On,” a tune that combines the repetitious lyrics of a blues shout with the crisp call-and-response of a soul tune; the song launches the record with a Muscle Shoals vibe that sets the tone for the rest of the album. “Coulda Shoulda Woulda” comes straight out of the Carolina Beach music scene, with the blaring horns and vocal harmonies. This tune would be at home on an album by The Embers; a fun little tune that encourages some us to get up and Shag.
“Right Where I Left Them” has the crunchy, funky vibe of a War song; Tritt’s sax solo and Anderson’s lead riff on the bridge recall some of the best of Chicago, the Al Kopper-led version of Blood, Sweat and Tears, and War. The slow burn blues ballad “Can You Leave Your Light On?” is perhaps the most disappointing cut on the album because the band doesn’t come across as one on the song; the spirit is missing from this one cut. Far more effective is the gospel-inflected “Tell Moses,” which features a chorus of voices that respond to the singer’s call, as well as a down-to-the-heart lead riff that mimics the plaintive and redemptive moan of the vocals. Finally, the title track opens with funky bass and guitar licks that are soon punctuated by Tritt’s down-and-dirty sax; Muscle Shoals, Stax, and Chicago’s South Side meet up in this stirring instrumental.
On the ten songs on South Side Soul, The Chicago Kingsnakes deliver a soulful groove mixed in with some blues shouts, inviting us to get up and let our backbones slip as we make it to the dance floor.
Reviewer Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. writes about music and music books for No Depression, American Songwriter, Country Standard Time, and Wide Open Country.
Video Of The Week – Ana Popovic
Here is a video of Ana Popovic on Don Odells Legends playing her song “Blues For M”. Click on the image above to see this video.
Featured Blues Interview – Ana Popovic
Back in the days before air travel and mass communication, when the blues were new, and itinerant artists traveled highways and byways or road the rails, they had a secret way of communicating with each other when they approached an artist in another town they hadn’t met.
They’d knock on the established musician’s door, often in the dead of night. “Who’s there?” the resident would ask. “The River,” came the reply. This simple mention of the mighty Mississippi was enough for the man behind the partition to know the person on the other side was kindred spirit, and the door would spring open wide.
The Mississippi and the music created along its path had reached the brink of death before researchers rediscovered “lost” artists in the early ‘60s and introduced them to a new, white audience, beginning first with the historic folk festivals in Newport, R.I. The heartbeat of the River started flowing stronger shortly thereafter when British fans fell in love with the “new” sound.
American keyboard and saxophone players planted the seeds further by immigrating to France and Germany, where small music clubs flourished and avid fans awaited, and acoustic guitarists followed. The torrent eventually reached all corners of the world, and foreign nationals began perfecting their own blues skills with some, like John Mayall, bringing the music back home to the U.S.
Today – with no disrespect intended to American counterparts — an ever-increasing number of guitarists, harmonica players and vocalists from overseas have proven themselves equal to musicians born on U.S. soil. The change has been dramatic, especially in the past 20 years or so.
But males dominated everything.
Here in the U.S., few women – Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe – the inventor of the duck walk and mother of rock-‘n’-roll, Bonnie Raitt, Debbie Davies and a few others – emerged as bandleaders with skills on the six-string. Not surprisingly, foreign-born female stars didn’t exist in the borderless world of the blues.
But that was before Ana Popovc arrived on the scene.
Born in Belgrade in what was formerly Yugoslavia and now Serbia, the tall, slender, attractive blonde with the long legs and short skirts is no grinder and definitely no novelty act. She’s the real deal, a powerhouse performer who can cut you like a knife with a stinging guitar solo one moment and then have you on the verge of tears with a tender ballad the next.
A five-time Blues Music Awards nominee, The River flows through Ana naturally. It’s been there from birth. She grew up in a home where her father, Milton, a gifted guitarist and bass player, owned a large record collection and possessed a deep love for both blues and soul. Living under the oppression of Communist rule during the dictatorship of Marshal Josip Tito and his successor, Slobidan Milosevic, he hosted nightly jams throughout Ana’s childhood, and, for a few hours at least, the events happening outside faded away.
“They played the three Kings – B.B., Albert and Freddy – Muddy Waters, Albert Collins,” Ana told Blues Blast from her new home in California shortly before embarking on a brief tour to France and Italy. She didn’t pick up the guitar herself until age 15, but took to it immediately. Realizing that his daughter had a natural gift that was beyond his own skill level, her dad quickly found her a more advanced tutor.
About the time Ana was set to go to college, the social unrest in her homeland erupted into civil war, the end of Communist rule, the breakup of Yugoslavia into seven separate nations and, for the first time, freedom of movement for its citizens. In a land where overseas travel had been previously forbidden, Popovic now had the choice to continue her education elsewhere.
She planned to follow in her father’s footsteps as a graphic artist and attended the University of Belgrade before being accepted to an art school in Utrecht, Netherlands. On a whim, however, a few weeks before her enrollment, she also applied for admission to a jazz conservatory in the same Dutch city. She submitted a tape of her playing that was so well received, she was accepted immediately.
Her career in graphic arts ended that day and a new one as a professional guitarist was born.
She formed the band Hush partly to pay her tuition as she studied music theory. It wasn’t long before the group was booking up to 100 gigs a year in Holland, Germany and Yugoslavia, where they made frequent TV appearances. They released one album with limited distribution in 1998.
Popovic decided to pursue music full-time one year later as the band’s popularity grew and as troubles continued to escalate back home. It’s not surprising that America beckoned.
“Even though I was from Belgrade, I always thought of myself as an American musician because I grew up on that certain sound,” she says. “I never tried to copy. It was something I was never about. For all Europeans, the goal was and is to come to America to play. If you don’t come to the States, you can’t make a name for yourself because (playing in Europe) it doesn’t count.
“But I always grew up on the certain sound – Memphis blues, Texas blues, Chicago. At the same time, though, I didn’t want to lose what is really me. It’s still very important for me to be different, to be unique.
“You play 10 seconds of a Ronnie Earl or Stevie Ray Vaughan song and people know immediately who it is. I want them to play 10 seconds of my song and know that’s Ana Popovic. That’s what I’m going for. And that is a big task for any guitar player.”
Today, however, the seasoned pro who’s barely out of her 30s still prefers to listen to music of her youth, although some current groups catch her ear. “I hear it differently now than when I was a teenager,” she says. “Albert Collins is one of my favorites. Back then, they sang with something to prove, almost a life-or-death battle. It’s very inspirational to me because it’s a style you don’t get nowadays.
“I realize now how hard they were fighting on stage because they didn’t have the good sound systems and whatever we have today, and they were just rippin’ it from the heart.”
Ana signed a recording contract with Germany’s Ruf Records later in 1999 and crossed the Atlantic to lay down her first solo album, entitled Hush! as a tribute to her Dutch bandmates, in Memphis the following year. Produced by Jim Gaines, who also worked with Stevie Ray and Carlos Santana, it featured a guest appearance by Bernard Allison and received rave reviews upon release.
By 2001, she’d already appeared on one cut of a Jimi Hendrix tribute album entitled Blue Haze, which featured others by Taj Mahal, Buddy Miles, Poppa Chubby, Walter Trout, Jimmy Thackery and Allison, with whom she appeared as guest artist on his tour.
Success came relatively quickly. Still based in the Netherlands a year later, Popovic garnered nominations in France’s blues awards and joined Trout in a showcase honoring Hendrix and his music across the Continent. And she launched an American tour for the first time, backed by her European band.
A second Ruf CD, entitled Comfort To The Soul, garnered Ana a 2003 W.C. Handy Award nomination, precursor to the BMAs, for Best New Artist. And an invite to join Solomon Burke on stage led to her joining his show for the remainder of his booking overseas.
In the years since, accolades have piled up as she’s released one hit after another on Ruf, Electo-Groove and her own ArtisteXclusive labels. Before relocating to Los Angeles a few months ago, Ana called Memphis home for four years, enjoying the proximity to musicians in Nashville and New Orleans as well as the wealth of talent the Bluff City has to offer, frequently bringing them into the studio to record.
And she’s already embarked on two more Hendrix tours with another planned for February.
Riding the bus during those trips is a pleasure because many of the artists – the most recent group included Buddy Guy, Zakk Wilde, Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd among others – watch videos of Hendrix at play during the long bus rides and often analyze his attack. “He did such incredible stuff so many years ago,” Ana says. “In a way, we can’t even touch what he was doing. He was on another planet.”
Popovic followed up the 2013 release of Can You Stand The Heat by revisiting her youth and recording Blue Room last year with her father. It recreated their family jams and included covers of tunes by first-generation star Robert Petway, Victory Spivey and Jimmy Reed as well as material culled from Van Morrison, Ian Anderson, John Lennon and Tony Joe White.
She’s followed it up with something that no one has attempted before. Her new, three-disc, 23-tune release, Trilogy, was “an idea that I couldn’t get out of my head for years,” she says. “It took exactly one year to produce, and I’m really happy with the results. I made the least compromises on this one ever, and it turned out to be exactly what I had in mind in the first place.”
Featuring contributions from a diverse collection of musicians, including sacred steel master Robert Randolph, North Mississippi All-Star Cody Dickinson, guitar god Joe Bonamassa, legendary percussionist Bernard Perdie and rapper Al Kapone, each disc was created with a different audience in mind and supervised by a different, award-winning producer. Released on Popovic’s own ArtisteXclusive Records label, it exploded up the charts when it debuted a few months ago.
Grammy-winning Warren Riker, who’s worked with Santana and Lauryn Hill, directed Morning, the first CD, which was laid down in Memphis and New Orleans and delivers a heaping helping of old-school funk and soul as well as nine new songs. “It’s a dance record that includes plenty of blues,” she says. “I wanted folks to dance from the moment they put it on until the end.”
Midday, the second disc, which combines blues and rock, was supervised by another Grammy winner, Buddy Guy producer Tom Hambridge. The sound of its four originals and three covers is stripped down from the first CD, barren of the Crescent City horns that populate the opener. “It’s a heavy rocking thing with deep blues, not tricked out,” Ana says. “I really wanted everything to sound different from one CD to the next. I kept to my original idea not to let the producer hear anything that the other people did and let them all go ahead with their own feel.”
And the closer, Midnight, features seven originals under the supervision of Delfaeyo Marsalis, the trombone heavyweight who’s one of the most sought-after producer-composers in the jazz world today. The material includes covers of tunes by Tom Waits, Duke Ellington and Nat Adderley and comes across with the bluesiest form of jazz.
“People are pleasantly surprised by that one,” Ana says. “I couldn’t believe it went so smooth. It forced me to listen to Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan again, and they’re very bluesy. I’ve always loved that side of the music, and this one gave me the opportunity to work with the real top-line jazz musicians.
“It was the same for them. It was a very unusual project for them. They played jazz in New Orleans, but never did anything with the blues. Nowadays the two don’t mix. Blues and rock or blues and funk, yes. Blues and jazz, never.”
Popovic has always wondered why instructors at music academies never began their training with the blues since jazz emerged from the older art form. “They could really attract a new, young audience by drawing a parallel from the blues standards,” she says. “That’s what I tried to do here.
“Some listeners might think after listening to it that jazz isn’t that difficult to do, but they’re in for a surprise once they try it. And I think listeners are going to hear a part of me they haven’t heard before.
“Every album is a change for me,” Ana insists. “That’s how I roll. I try not to repeat myself. I want to give my audience something different every time out. You have to inspire your audience that, after listening to you for 12 years, they’re still anticipating your new record. It’s crucial to do this at this time in the music business.”
Now a mother of two – she has a nine-year-old son and four-year-old daughter, Popovic doesn’t tour like she used to. She still travels to most of the locales she has in the past despite world events, and she’s going to Australia for the first time soon after trips that have included such far-flung places as Dubai, Indonesia and Japan in the past.
Popovic looks to add new countries to her itinerary each year. But she’s usually on the road now a week or ten days instead of several weeks at a time to keep life as normal as she can. If it’s any longer, the kids, Luuk and Lenna, come along for the ride.
At home, she puts down the guitar and she and husband Mark, who handles the business side of her operation, turn off the TV and computers at 5 p.m. There are no jam sessions. From then on, it’s all about family.
“It’s just Mommy Time all the time,” Ana insists. “We try to create a normal family life for them as regularly as we can. I think that’s really, really important.”
She’s happy to see ladies rising to prominence in the blues world. It’s still a man-dominated industry, but women like Susan Tedeschi and Samantha Fish, like Ana, are breaking down the barriers.
Is it easier for female guitarist bandleaders today? “I think so,” Popovic says. “It’s happening more often, so people are getting used to it. I think ladies are great bandleaders and businesswomen, and finally that’s happening, which is a fantastic thing. It’s inspirational, too, to have Hillary Clinton out there, running for President. You might like her or hate her, but she’s giving all ladies the push to say okay, we can do anything a man can.
“As women, we don’t have people to learn from. It’s important to take life in your own hands and cast your own future. And that’s what women are doing today.”
What’s next for Ana? After Trilogy, it’s going to be interesting. “I already have plans,” she says. “Like usual, I’m going to keep it as a surprise for the very last moment.”
Visit Ana’s website at: www.anapopovic.com.
Interviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.
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The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL
The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for the Blue Monday live performances and jam sessions held every Monday night at The Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. August 22 – Jeff Jensen, August 29 – The Hector Anchondo Band, September 5 – JW-Jones, September 12 – The Rusty Wright Band, September 19 – Harper and Midwest Kind, September 26 – Brent Johnson And The Call Up. www.icbluesclub.org
Friends of the Blues – Kankakee IL area
The Friends of the Blues announce their 2016 Concert Series. All shows start at 7 pm and are open to the public – and – Food and Beverages available at all Friends of the Blues shows. Thur, Sept 8, Laura Rain & The Caesars f/ George Friend, Hoppy Pig, 135 N. Kinzie, Bradley IL, Thur, Sept 15, Danielle Nicole Band, Moose Lodge, Bradley IL, Thur, Sept 29, Reverend Raven and CSAB, Kankakee Valley Boat Club, Wed, Nov 9, Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat, Manteno Sportsmen’s Club, Manteno IL. For more info visit http://www.facebook.com/friendsoftheblues
The Kansas City Blues Society – Kansas City, MO
The Kansas City Blues Society is raffling a cabin for 2 on the sold out January 2017 Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise. Only 500 tickets are being sold. You may purchase tickets for $20 each online at http://bluessocietykc.com.
KCBS has paid out almost $9000 this year to aid local music industry people in financial crisis. It is hosting the 5th Annual Michael Shannon Memorial Golf Tournament on Sept. 7 to raise funds. A fundraiser concert will occur a week earlier.
KCBS is sponsoring Blues in the Schools at Gillis (serving at-risk youth). Every other week, kids get to listen and learn from a local musician and write and perform their own songs. Local blues diva and music therapist and Gillis employee Lauren Anderson initiated this program. Visiting musicians include Jason Vivone, Brandon Hudspeth, and Jaisson Taylor, all former KCBS IBC winners.
Crossroads Blues Society – Byron, IL
The seventh annual Crossroads Blues Festival is ready to go! Held annually since 2010, the festival’s home at Lyran Park has won blues fans over. The park is a natural amphitheater situated on the confluence of the Kishwaukee River and Kilbuck Creek, just south of Rockford Airport. Lyran Park is privately owned by the Lyran Society. They and co-sponsors the Crossroads Blues Society are both non-profit organizations. Located at 4781 South Bend Road, Lyran Park offers a beautiful, shady setting with great acoustics, plentiful free parking and primitive camping opportunities for the festival ($20 per night Friday and/or Saturday). The festival remains on the Saturday before Labor Day weekend, which is August 27, 2016. Gates open at 11 AM, the music starts at noon and runs through 9:30 PM.
Headlining the event is Southern Indiana’s hill country group Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band at 8 PM. Soul blues great from Indianapolis Tad Robinson is on at 6 PM. At 4 PM the Ghost Town Blues Band from Memphis grace the stage. Chicago’s slide guitar wizard Joanna Connor is on at the 2 PM time slot. The day opens at noon with the fantastic band from Auckland, New Zealand who were in Rockford in 2013- The Flaming Mudcats. Birddog and Beck, winners of last year’s Crossroads Solo/Duo Blues Challenge, will be featured between acts. Ken Olufs will conduct a harmonica workshop at 3:30 PM with free harmonicas for the first 25 kids who are 10 and under.
Beverage Garden and BBQ & more..(No Outside Food or Drinks) Bring your chairs and Camping is available. Tickets $20 Day of Show – $15 Advance and SIBS members.
Advanced tickets are once again only $5 and are available through both Crossroads Blues Society and the Lyran Society. They can be purchased mail by check; please include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Mail orders go to Crossroads, Post Office Box 840, Byron, IL 61010. Tickets can be purchased on line with a credit card via PayPal at crossroadsbluesfestival.com. Ticket outlets are in Rockford and the Stateline area. Rockford: Woodmans Supermarket on Perryville Road, Culture Shock and Guzzardos Music, both on Charles Street; Just Goods Store on 7th Street; CD Source on State Street; Toad Hall on Broadway;. Other locations: Snyders Drugs (Byron, Oregon, Winnebago); Value Fresh Market (Byron); Paradise Guitars and Grand Avenue Pub (Beloit); Cristy’s Bar (Freeport).Proceeds from the festival support Blues in the Schools, an effort Crossroads began 14 years ago. Since then 180 programs have been conducted for 50,330 area students. Please come out and support live music and help keep the blues alive. Call 779-537-4006 with questions.
P.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555 © 2016 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425