Pittsburgh : Shemekia Copeland Interview by Monica L. Yasher

Posted on 10/23/2009 by Monica Yasher

Shemekia Copeland is one busy lady! With a new CD out, traveling to Turkey, and planning a wedding, I don't know how she has time to take a breath! I truly enjoyed talking to Shemekia. She is a real person who believes in the power of a good song, appreciates the people who have helped her in her career, and realizes the importance of family and impacting people's lives. Let me share what we talked about.

Monica: Shemekia I see that you have a new CD called, Never Going Back.

Shemekia: Yes

Monica: What I’m always interested in, is the songwriting. Did you do any of the songs?

Shemekia: Oh Gosh. I don’t do a whole lot of songwriting.

Monica: You don’t. I thought you did!

Shemekia: No, I’m not a…I like to write…but….there are people’s songs that I like a whole lot more than mine. Some people have a knack for doing that. I usually do other people’s songs more than mine. I’m one of those people that actually care about the record. And, I don’t want to put a bunch of bullshit songs on the album, because I wrote them like so many people do. I refuse to do that. I prefer to put a good song on it. When someone writes better songs than I do, I do that one.

Monica: Wow! Most artists I have interviewed have written their own songs. Let’s talk about how you select your songs. Do you already have a theme in mind, or is something going on in your life that you want to convey? How do you go about that?

Shemekia: Absolutely! This last album was a very different album for me, because on this album I talk about things I have stayed away from in the past. politics…religion….murder…all kinds of things. I really wanted to find a way to talk about those things but in a subtle way. Do you know what I’m saying?
And, we did. I’ve been working on albums for years and the songwriters know what I am looking for. And, I’ve worked with them. It was great! Really cool!

Monica: So you gave them the concept, and from there they wrote for you.

Shemekia: There you go!

Monica: That’s awesome. How about the interpretation of getting these songs. How do you go about tackling someone else’s words?

Shemekia: It takes me a long time to find songs and to write them. Songs are very special and in your soul. I really take pride in it. You have to believe it. That’s how you perform a song. You believe in it or you just don’t get it…the words of that song. I’m doing a Joni Mitchell song on this album called Black Crow, an absolutely fantastic song. I just love that song so much I just felt she wrote that song just for me. She writes brilliant songs.

Monica: Do you try out the songs before you record them to see if your audience receives them well?
Shemekia: Not usually. You can’t make a record for everyone. If you try to do that then nobody will like it. What one person dislikes another person will. You have to make songs and do them because you are passionate about it. And, then you hope and pray other people will like it. (she laughs) The one thing that I’ve learned in my career is that you can’t please everybody.

Monica: I hear you.

Shemekia: You just can’t. It’s impossible. Believe me, I stopped trying to.

Monica: I respect that and yeah, I can relate..I can relate to that. Let’s talk a little bit about Shemekia. What is the mark that you want to leave on blues. What do you want people to say about you and your music?

Shemekia: I want them to say that I was an innovator and I had a hand in evolving this music and making it grow by being an artist. I mean..I’ve had so many ways to grow as an artist… voice lessons, this lesson..that lesson… because I want to grow as a singer, as an entertainer…acting lessons and things like that. That’s what I do. I have to be sure that I am good at what I do. I want them to say that I helped keep blues music evolving and growing.

Monica: I do have to tell you that I have an experience with you that backs what you are saying. You were at Wheeling at the blues festival, probably two or three years ago. I took my daughter to see you and she got in line for you to sign her CD. You signed the CD for her, and asked her if she was going to keep the blues alive. She just looked at you in awe and finally I said, Jessica tell her Yes! So, I just want to say that you are what you say. You are keeping the genre alive. So, thank you!

Shemekia: Oh, Thank you! I definitely try.

Monica: If you had to thank someone for your career who would that be?

Shemekia: If I had to thank someone?

Monica: Yes. For motivating you… for…

Shemekia: It would really be hard. I would say at this point…If it wasn’t for my father, I wouldn’t be doing this. You know what I mean. If it wasn’t for my parents being such great parents, raising me, and keeping me grounded in my life. I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be doing this. As far as my career and the direction of it, I would definitely think of John Hahn, because he has just been instrumental and amazing. I could not have been here, couldn’t have gotten here without him.

Monica: When you are listening to music, who is in your player?

Shemekia: Oh my God! I wish you could see my ipod! I really do, because no one would ever know it!

Monica: Well, we Want to!

Shemekia: I got Dean Martin in there. I got ..just everything…Nancy WilsonEtta JamesRuth Brown…I just downloaded a bunch of Curtis Mayfield…I love so many different types of music.

Monica: I think everyone is all over the place. It’s so accessible to pull a song here and there.
What are the things you like and dislike about being on the road?

Shemekia: I don’t like beds in the hotels! (we laughed) But recently I found something that helps, like taking my own pillow. Some of my guys are doing it, and I thought let me try this cause they never have problems sleeping! And, I’ve been taking a pillow, and I’m telling you that I think it makes a difference! (we laughed).

Monica: Cool! Glad it works!

Shemekia: I really love being out on the road. I really do enjoy it. Otherwise I don’t think I’d be doing it.
Does it get hard? Yeah. You get tired and you run into all different kinds of weather. You got to deal with the weather change. That’s not all that great for the voice. A lot of things about it and I’m…Oh God what am I going to do? But, yes I always enjoy it.

Monica: Your vocals are always so powerful and strong. What do you do when there is a cold…how do you get through that…for other vocalists that are looking to you for guidance…any tidbits?

Shemekia: Well you know what? For a long time it was just prayer. And, I think that…because I had no formal training. I didn’t know anything about the voice, other than simple breathing techniques at the very beginning. Now I’ve been taking voice lessons. So lately I’ve been learning all kinds of techniques to keep my voice in tact.

Monica: How long have you been taking voice lessons? It doesn’t sound like very long.

Shemekia: No. Probably about a year and a ½.

Monica: That is amazing Shemekia with your power!

Shemekia: And, I haven’t had one in a long time ’cause I’m working like a mad person. I’m going to start back in the winter. Probably in January. I’m getting married in December. In October, October 16, I go to Turkey for six weeks and get back around November 23. Then I get married and go on my honeymoon. I’ll start back after that.

Monica: Best wishes on your upcoming marriage! You are busy! What do you think your greatest accomplishment is at this time?

Shemekia: I tell you what. The other night I was on stage. And, I was talking about how much I’m going to miss Koko and that no matter how close we got over the years I always had a…she had been to my house…from the first time that we met…I couldn’t say a word to her because I was just so damn nervous but….she had been to my house….we cooked catfish…we got so close over the years…she would just call me randomly to see how I was doing…but I still felt that Oh my God…I’m in the presence of greatness. You know… I never lost…I never lost that feeling over the years…So, anyway, to make a long story short. After the show a young woman came up to me and she said, You are my KoKo Taylor. I’ve been listening to you since I don’t know what age. I’m telling you…I teared up…I tried not to let her see it…I teared up…And I thought Oh My God, what I have been doing for these past fifteen years or so really matters. And, I just…it made everything fine. So, I could say that was my greatest accomplishment.

Monica: Shemekia that’s wonderful. What’s your fondest memory of Koko?

Shemekia: Oh my Gosh! I remember I was somewhere…I don’t even remember where it was at this point. But…Koko came out to see me. I was so sick. I think it was heat exhaustion. I don’t know what the hell happened to me. But I was just…the paramedics were there before the gig…thinking Oh My God…am I going to pass out? Anyway…the show must go on. So I went over there and I saw her. And when I saw her…I was like…if Koko Taylor can be here…you know…and she is not in the best of health…if she can be sitting right here in this heat, and come to support me and watch what I do. Then, I can get my ass on stage and I can do this. I saw her and it seemed like she gave me all the energy I needed. I went up there and…I did the show.

Monica: That’s really touching. It seems that all of the blues artists I interview have talked about how this is a family. When someone pulls in at a festival. They are excited to see one another, and they mention that they just saw them here or there. The blues community is truly a family. I keep hearing more and more of that.

Shemekia: Oh! Definitely! Hell. There aren’t that many of us when you really look at it. So we have to stick together. We have to support each other because the support for blues is kind of limited. Not to minimize the fabulous, wonderful fans that we have, and many of them are die hard and always come out to support us. If you have three or four blues acts coming to your town in a week…you know what I mean…a person can not afford to come out and see three or four blues acts in a week. You know what I mean? You have to pick and choose.

Monica: Pittsburgh is a huge blues town. We have really good fans, and we really have good acts coming in., probably because of the fan base. You will go where you are heard!

Monica: Anything you want me to ask you that I didn’t cover?

Shemekia: I don’t think so…I think this has probably been one of the best interviews that I have had in a long time.

Monica: Thank you.. I’ve been a fan of yours for years. I love Beat Up Old Guitar.

Shemekia: That’s a great song.

Monica: I appreciate all that you do. Good luck with your upcoming marriage. That’s such an exciting time. We’ll catch you on the road.

Shemekia: All right then. Thank you.

Thank you for reading American Blues News!

Copyright © 2009 Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Copyright © 2009 Nelson Onofre. All Rights Reserved.

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