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Blues singer Shemekia Copeland injecting energy into blues scene

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 6:12 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 6:15 p.m. CDT
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(Provided photo)
Shemekia Copeland

On her new album, “33 1/3,” Chicago blues singer Shemekia Copeland and her roof-rattling vocals inject new energy into the blues.

She brought that same excitement in June to the Blues on the Fox festival in downtown Aurora. Copeland, the daughter of blues legend Johnny Clyde Copeland, will perform Friday at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., Chicago.

Nicholas Barron also is on the bill. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets range from $22 to $28, available at www.citywinery.com.

Kane County Chronicle reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to Copeland about the new album.

Eric Schelkopf: I saw you perform at Blues on the Fox. It seemed like you were having a good time.
Shemekia Copeland:
We always have a good time when we get to play music.

ES: In sitting down to record the new album, what were your goals?
SC:
I think that the older I get, the more living I do and the more I have to say. This whole album is telling a story about what’s going on in the world from my perspective. And I guess that kind of was my goal.

As far as the blues, I’m not just trying to make music, I’m trying to make a difference. I’m trying to show people that blues music is evolving and growing.

ES: Speaking of that, you were recently featured in a Chicago publication talking about you being the most promising voice in blues. Are you trying to bring a new audience to the blues, especially young people, who might not really know about the blues?
SC:
Well, I’m certainly trying to do that. As far as blues goes, like I said, I’m trying to show people that it’s growing, it’s evolving and it’s changing.

ES: Are you humbled when people say you are the most promising voice in the blues? Does that take you aback?
SC:
Any compliment like that is a wonderful thing and I’m grateful for it, but at the end of the day, it’s just one person’s opinion of you. You can’t take that and run with it.

I’ve always been a humble person. I’m grateful for all the good things that happen to me, and I’m grateful for all the not so good things that happen to me, because I learn from them and it keeps me moving on. Some of the best advice my dad ever gave me is never read the press, because if it’s good, you become cocky and arrogant, and I know those people, and if it’s bad, you become bitter and angry, and I know those people, too. I prefer to stay right there in between all that.

ES: You were crowned the new “Queen of the Blues” last year by the daughter of the late Koko Taylor. But I understand that you don’t want to take the title away from Koko.
SC:
It’s not that I don’t accept it. I’m completely grateful for it. It’s just that she’s my queen. She’s always been my queen.

Now, if there are other little girls growing up and I am to them like she was to me, then that’s a cool thing. But she’s always going to be my queen.

Obviously, I accept the honor. When her daughter, Cookie, passed it on to me, that’s what it was about. She was telling me, ‘Now it’s time to do your thing. She was here and did her thing, now it’s time to do your thing.’

I’m not trying to do her thing. There are so many people who would like for me to just do Koko Taylor covers or Ruth Brown covers or Etta James covers.

I love all those women. And let me tell you, if it wasn’t for them, I would not be able to do what I do. So, I have a great respect for them. But if they were all living today, I don’t think they would respect me if I was trying to do what they do. I think they would respect me more doing what I’m doing, what I’m trying to do.

ES: Your husband, Orlando Wright, is the bass player in Buddy Guy’s band. Does it get crazy, the both of you being in the music business? Do you have to juggle your schedules in order to spend some time with each other?
SC:
He and I are on the road all the time, and it definitely makes it a little difficult to see one another. But we make it work. We do love each other and care for each other. At the end of the day, it’s not about the quantity of time, it’s about the quality of time.

ES: What do you think about the state of the blues scene these days? It seemed to have enjoyed a resurgence in the '90s, and then people forgot about it. Do you think people are coming back to the blues?
SC:
I don’t know what people think. But traveling all around the world, I can tell you that people’s idea of the blues is not always what it is.

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