Shemekia Copeland was born into the Blues as daughter of the late great Bluesman John Clyde Copeland. She was surrounded by her father’s friends, colleagues and contacts and following in his footsteps; singing and recording innovative Blues, may have been inevitable. Yet it has been a lengthy and patient evolution that now finds her opening up and revealing more about herself on record. She grew under the guidance of Dr. John and her journey has also seen her sing on stage alongside Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal. With an admirable back-catalogue she is free of any suggestion of nepotism. She now displays a proud independence while still passionately flying the family flag. Her latest album, ‘Never Going Back’, again showcases her imposing voice and tells a few tales about the singer taking an emphatic turn at the Blues crossroads.
BM: What’s the origin of your name Shemekia?
SC: You know in all honesty, I have no idea where the name comes from. People have asked me that before. My father just heard the name and he liked it.
Your father was an icon and more so perhaps because of the ‘Showdown’ album he did with Albert Collins and Robert Cray which some say defined a new era in the Blues. He became prolific after that; what do you remember of those times?
Well, my dad was very innovative and I knew that way before I started to try and do things with the music, he was already doing that. He had gone to Africa and done work with musicians there and as a result was getting a whole lot of different experiences from all around. He was focused on different musicians and trying to do different things with the music and getting it all recorded.
It is now a decade since your second album, the award-winning ‘Wicked’ and that means you have your own recording history. Is following in your Dad’s footsteps something you’re aware of?
Absolutely; I love Blues music so much that my main goal is to make it evolve and grow so that it’ll be big, you know, so it’ll be huge music.
With you and your dad musically gifted, what about the rest of your family?
I have an older brother, nieces and nephews that love the Blues and love music; all of them. All of us!
You’ve been able to work with many special talents of the genre. What was it like working with Dr John?
Oh, it was incredible. He’s my Godfather. It was just so great, you know. It was the next thing close as being in the studio with my dad; very special.
And then with Steve Cropper… Yeah, that was an amazing experience. I couldn’t believe how cool he was, how down to earth he was. This is a guy who doesn’t have to be that way, (laughs) you know he is responsible for writing some of the most famous songs in our country’s history. He was so cool and he was so down to earth, and he a lot of energy. That was really nice (more laughter).
Looking at your most recent output, ‘Talking To Strangers’ (2002) is really ballsy and ‘The Soul Truth’ (2005) is really funky. Do you have a word to sum up your latest album ‘Never Going Back’?
Oh yeah, well this album is much more laid back. And for me, for a long time, I wouldn’t discuss the issues; the issues, if you know what I mean. I always talked about women and men and relationships, and things like that. I felt like people have to hear about politics and religion all the time, just by turning on the news. That’s how they hear about the crap that’s going on in the world. And with so much, well, with all the stuff that’s going on in America right now, I now got a time to say my piece about it. You know, speak on my opinions about it, but not in a preachy way like laying it down. No, just things I wanted to get out, things I wanted to say. I’ve never done that before on a record, so, that was very different for me.
Does that mean the songs are from personal experience?
Well I haven’t written all of the songs, but I have been working with writers who write knowing me, this is very cool for me. They definitely get it, and it’s great.
The new album is a super mix of traditional and innovation, especially in the manner of the lyrics. ‘Rivers Of Invitation’ is chilling in ambiguous subject matter. Is it about suicide?
Many of the track titles are dark and edgy, and hardly light-hearted?
Well, I think I’m in a great place. I think that I’m in the best place ever. I feel really good, and for me feeling good means it’s easier for me to talk about what I want to talk about without having any problems, you know. And you know, I feel good about whom I am and that’s why I pour out opinions on the record.
The album’s title track; ‘Never Going Back To Memphis’ is a great example of Blues-noir. What is the story behind that?
The story behind that is…just that, a story. I was going to say don’t ask me that one because I don’t want to tell you if that really happened, but, no, it didn’t really happen. It’s about me jumping inside and telling a story from that place.
Oliver Wood co-produces the album, and with the greatest respect, some of band members aren’t that familiar to us. Do you tour with the same guys?
No not just now, I’ve been with my guitar player for eleven years, Arthur Neilson; he tours with me and is on the album but the rest of my touring band is not.
You’re signed to Telarc, building a reputation for innovation too.
Yeah, I mean so far so good. They’ve been awesome. I’ve been truly blessed with good labels.
I’m touring the record, doing festivals and stuff, mostly America I guess. (laughs) Oh, a lot of stuff going on.
With your free opinions in mind, have you anything else you want to say to end the interview?
No; nothing’ (laughs), except thank you for talking to me.