We Owe A Unique Debt To Johnny ‘Clyde’ Copeland
The whole Blues world owes a lot to Johnny Copeland. We owe him, not only for his great and powerful music, ingenious song writing, or fathering the great Shemekia Copeland, but especially for his influence on the major record labels.
Johnny Copeland lost his father when he was very young and we are fortunate that Copeland’s tiny inheritance included his dad’s guitar.
Johnny started to play the Blues in his early teens after hearing T-Bone Walker. His first significant work was as sideman for his friend Joe "Guitar" Hughes. When Hughes fell ill Johnny discovered that he could front a band just as successfully as Hughes did. Anyone who’s heard Copeland since is glad it happened.
By the late 1950s Copeland and Hughes were playing together as the house band at the top club in Houston, Texas: Shady's Playhouse. For the next 20 years Copeland toured the so called "Texas triangle" of Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas.
After great success in the triangle, he moved to New York in 1974 and found it was at just the right time. It may have been the height of the Disco era, but there were clubs that still used serious Bluesmen in nearby Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New Jersey, Boston – and right in New York.
Johnny Copeland’s live shows were excellent and powerful, but it was his records that greatly benefited many Blues artists and all Blues lovers. Copeland worked for several record companies over the years and there is where we find his real importance beyond his own writing playing and singing.
During the 1980s he had recorded with Rounder and had produced several very fine albums. It was with PolyGram/Verve deal where he signed in the early 1990s that were he found success. He sold a huge number of recordings, many more than any previous working class club circuit Blues artist had ever sold. The major record companies took notice and went looking for more road musicians like Johnny to sign and record.
The Texas and Chicago style players that found wider audiences as a result still fuel the Blues scene to this day.
By the way, the nickname ‘Clyde’ came from Copeland’s avocation as a boxer. It’s a fact that sometimes gets mentioned as if it should be obvious to anyone why the name Clyde went with boxing. The reference was lost on me. Sugar Ray or Rocky yes, but Clyde?
If you have an idea you can drop me a line or leave your thoughts in the comments below. In the meantime, be sure to hear some Johnny Copeland this Saturday on the Nine O’clock Blues.