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Essential Recordings: Johnny Copeland - Down On Bended Knee

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Album Review

If any label has the means to exploit its catalog, it's Rounder, and in its Perfect Ten series, the label picked ten of its best-known artists and chose representative selections from what they issued. Most of these artists — Ruth Brown, Ted Hawkins, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Loudon Wainwright III, Solomon Burke, Duke Robillard, Mississippi John Hurt, Tracy Nelson, Johnny Adams, as well as the subject of this collection, the great Texas bluesman Johnny "Clyde" Copeland — often recorded better material elsewhere, but the sides chosen do capture them at particular and sometimes poignant and important places in their careers. In the particular case of Johnny Copeland, his Rounder years paved the way for his well-known excellent late-era recordings for Verve, and it can be convincingly argued that despite the smaller recording budget, his sides for Rounder are even better than those he cut later. Copeland moved to New York City in 1974 from Houston, TX, and began working day gigs and playing clubs in the city, Boston, Philly, and Washington, D.C., at night. He also scored a deal with Rounder, where he recorded eight brilliant records before cutting a set for Alligator with Robert Cray and Albert Collins, and then later signed to Polygram's Verve imprint. The ten tracks compiled here are taken from five of those recordings: Texas Twister, Copeland Special, Make My Home Where I Hang My Hat, Boom Boom, and Bringin' It All Back Home. While it is Copeland's big booming voice that usually gets the attention from critics, his subtle guitar style and his killer songwriting are his real trademarks. Along with these tunes — all of which are originals — there is another interesting twist here in that producer Dan Doyle and arranger Ken Vangel utilized some of the best jazz musicians New York had to offer during the '80s, some hailing from the vanguard tradition. They include saxophonists George Adams, Byard Lancaster, and Arthur Blythe, and trombonist George Lewis. A brilliant touch. This set is all killer, no filler from top to bottom and an excellent introduction to a terrific talent.


Born: 27 March 1937 in Haynesville, LA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Considering the amount of time he spent steadily rolling from gig to gig, Johnny "Clyde" Copeland's rise to prominence in the blues world in the early '90s wasn't all that surprising. A contract with the PolyGram/Verve label put his '90s recordings into the hands of thousands of blues lovers around the world. It's not that Copeland's talent changed all that much since he recorded for Rounder Records in the '80s; it's just that major companies began to see the potential of great, hardworking blues...
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Essential Recordings: Johnny Copeland - Down On Bended Knee, Johnny Copeland
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