A Blues Powerhouse By
Turn The Heat Up
In a music scene inundated
with neo-soul/neo-R&B divas-in-the-making and well, some wanna-be divas, one
voice, one woman, shines through with a powerful mix of simple, sexy, sincere,
down-and-dirty blues. Robert Plant calls her the next Tina Turner.
I call her the next Bessie Smith meets Big Mama Thornton meets Etta James. Better
yet, I call her Shemekia.
Sha-MEEK-ah) grew up engulfed in the blues tradition. She was born in Harlem
to the late Texas blues guitar legend Johnny Clyde Copeland who nurtured her
with love and musica whole lot of music. But while she says that she indeed
listened and was influenced by Etta and Bessie and Big Mama, her influenced
the most by vocalists of the opposite sex. My main influences were men,
she says. Ottis Redding, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye..
At age eight, when other kids are being just kids, Shemekia joined her dad on
stage at Harlems famed Cotton Club. Her dad knew itshe would be
a singer. But she did not. I never knew I wanted to sing until I got older,
she says. Her dads health eventually slowed him down and Shemekia was
ready to carry the torch. It was like a switch went off in my head,
she recalls, I wanted to sing.
So, Johnny Copeland (who was suffering from a heart condition which eventually
beat him) started taking Shemekia with him on the road. She was just sixteen
but already stealing audiences hearts with her deep soulful voice. And
Johnny was ecstatic. Dad wanted me to think I was helping him out by opening
his shows when he was sick, but really, he was doing it all for me. He would
go out and do gigs so I would get known. He went out of his way to get me that
exposure, says Shemekia about her dad...
Shemekia was on her way. In 1998 she released her debut album Turn The Heat
Up on Alligator. Sadly, Johnny Copeland was not there to see this, but the
whole world was. The birth of a blues diva was a fact and critical acclaim started
pouring in. The album, produced by John Hahn who also co-wrote eight songs,
features the great guitar work of Jimmy Vivino (you might have seen him on Conan
as the Max Weinberg 7s guitar player), the Uptown Horns (on three tunes),
and guests Monster Mike Welch and Joe Louis Walker.
Shemekia returned in 2000 with Wicked, which was nominated for a Grammy that
year. Never-ending touring brought her in front of the Monterey Jazz Festival,
The San Francisco Blues Festival, The Montreaux Jazz Festival, The New Orleans
Jazz & Heritage Festival, and many others.
Talking To Strangers, produced by New Orleans legend Dr. John who also
plays piano on the record and appears in a duet with Shemekia on The Push I
Need, is Shemekias new album and in her own words, the best yet.
Working with Dr. John was such a great experience for me. He is so talented.
I would come up with an idea and he would make it happen, she tells ONE
Strangers features 15 wonderfully produced songs ready to satisfy even the most
exquisite of blues tastes. From straight-ahead blues and laid-back beats, to
funky and riff-oriented rockers and ballads with jazzy overtones, this album
has something for everyone. When in the studio I try to capture the feeling
of playing a live show, because thats what its all about Shemekia
says. I never think about the technical stuff [microphones, the recording
process, etc.] she says. I only think about the song and let my
emotions take over. Not everything is recorded exactly how it was written. A
lot of it is spur of the moment.
definitely sounding more mature than her previous efforts and her own personality
as a singer is more evident. Livin On Love is the perfect opener with
a guitar riff that will stay with you long after you put that record away. Twos
A Crowd is a powerhouse rocker of a song followed by the funky When A Womans
Had Enough and the urban-sassy Sholandas, which along with Too Much Traffic,
Ka-Ching, and Walk On establish Shemekia as a no-nonsense modern woman that
would give her man a piece of her mind anytime and would never tell him Id
rather go blind than see you go baby. Dont Whisper, Too Close, and
Happy Valentines Day are classic leave-me-alone-with-my-whiskey blues
ballads in which Shemekias voice whips you and caresses you at the same
time. In Should Have Come Home and Talking To Strangers, the title track,
one can distinguish certain reggae overtones amongst infectious grooves and
clever key changes. The Push I Need is one of the best moments of the album
with the Shemekia-Dr.John duet shouting: chemistry! The slow-funk beat of When
The Battle Is Over and Johnny Copelands gospel/rock n roll song
Pie In The Sky complete this astounding work.
I would like to stress about this album is Shemekias vocal character and
maturity. Even though she has the range and vocal ammunition to do practically
anything she wants, Shemekia stays away from the redundant vocal acrobatics
that burden the majority of female vocalists out there today. She knows exactly
what to do and when to do it.
My gut tells
me that Shemekia will keep on singing, earning new life-long admirers and fans
along the way, just as her dad wanted. My fathers music will live
through me. I feel his spirit on stage every night. Im going to keep on
doing this and make my daddy proud, she says.
I think you
have, Shemekia, I think you have.
Turn The Heat Up