Notes On The Life Of Louisiana Bluesman Johnny Clyde Copeland

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.

In 1986, while on a tour of West Africa, Copeland recorded Bringing It All Back Home, using African musicians. The album is a wild ride filled with a curious mixture of Deep South blues hybridized with African rhythms. Johnny Clyde was the first American bluesman to record an LP on the continent.

It was to be the highlight of 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.

Johnny Clyde Copeland
b. March 27th, 1937
d. July 3rd, 1997

A Blues Bibliography by Robert Ford
The Blues Encyclopedia by Edward Komara, ‎Peter Lee
More Blues Singers: Biographies of 50 Artists…by David Dicaire
The Big Book of Blues: A Biographical Encyclopedia by Robert Santelli
All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues by Vladimir Bogdanov,

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