9th Ward Daily Photo via rl reeves jr

I was a teenager with a fake ID the first time I ever saw Haynesville, Louisiana native Johnny Clyde Copeland perform.

Grundy’s Music Room was a subterranean jazz club in the dangerous part of Birmingham’s Northside. There were painted ladies at the top of the stairs, drug dealers whistling at you as you wheeled up, and the boarded-up buildings on the block bore no signs of commerce.

Cover was usually $5, a big act might increase the tariff to $10.

None of that bothered me. I’d been pent up as a youth and it was time to stretch.

It’s the anniversary of the birth of Johnny Clyde Copeland, and he’s already been gone too long. Copeland passed in 1997. Dead at 60.

We’re celebrating the man by playing ‘Natural Born Believer’ off Johnny Clyde’s sophomore LP: ‘Make My Home Where I Hang My Hat’

Rock and Roll Lilly’ marked Johnny Clyde’s debut. He was just out of his teens when the single came out on Mercury back in 1958. It was a regional hit and that wasn’t hard to figure as Copeland had already made a name for himself by playing around Texas backing Sonny Boy Williamson II, Big Mama Thornton, and Freddie King.

A young man from hardscrabble Louisiana was earning a living playing with the legends of the day.

If you were on the scene in Houston’s 3rd Ward when Johnny Clyde was making his bones you may have seen him perform at the classy Eldorado Ballroom near Emancipation Park or the less-refined Shady’s Playhouse where Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson was known to perform.

Little Joe Washington had a residency there.

By the early 70s, Copeland had it figured out. He could tour around the Gulf south and earn a good living playing the bars, nightclubs and juke joints but he wanted to taste the big time.

New York City beckoned.

Johnny Clyde woodshedded for years in the north before he scored a record deal with Rounder and put out ‘Copeland Special’ in 1981. He picked up a W.C Handy award for that one.

Come 1985 the Louisiana guitar man hit the studio with Albert Collins and blues-lite player Robert Cray. That LP, ‘Showdown’ brought home a Grammy for the trio.

That was to be the highlight of Johnny Clyde Copeland’s career. He fell into poor health, had a number of heart attacks and in 1997 the “Fire Maker” passed away at the young age of 60.

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