Top 10 Johnny Copeland Songs list presents the best Johnny Copeland Songs like “Down on Bending Knee” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lily” and many more. Although born on March 28, 1937, in Haynesville, Louisiana, Johnny Copeland was raised by his mother in Magnolia, Arkansas. She separated from his father when he was six months old so there never was a father and son bond that developed. However, when his father died, a twelve-year-old Johnny Copeland inherited the man’s guitar. A year later he and his mother moved again, this time to Houston, Texas. This is where he officially began his recording career as he found himself heavily influenced by blues music. At the same time, he was also a boxer, which earned him “Clyde” as a monicker.
Johnny Copeland had the good fortune to be exposed to some of the best Blues guitarists such as Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Lowell Fulson, Johnny ‘Guitar” Watson, and T-Bone Walker. Copeland would adopt a page from each of these into his own style. Then, in 1956, he formed the Dukes of Rhythm. The band included Herbert Henderson and Joe Hughes. At first, Hughes was the lead guitarist until he and Henderson opted to switch roles.
For Copeland, he credited Hughes as the man who taught him how to play the guitar as the two were long-time friends before deciding to form a blues band. The two often competed against each other as part of their act when on stage. This boosted the regional popularity of Dukes of Rhythm which would win over the attention of Duke Records in 1957.
While with Duke, “Further On Up the Road” was a hit song Johnny Copeland and Joe Medwick first performed together but was never officially recorded. When Medwick handed the song to the label’s Don Robey, it was sold without Copeland’s name on it and handed to Bobby Bland. It wouldn’t be until 1958 that Copeland finally had a recorded song that earned him some fame. 1958’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lily” became a regional hit that turned Copeland into a local music hero.
After Duke Records, Johnny Copeland signed with a series of small record labels. Among them, it was Golden Eagle which produced “Down on Bended Knees.” It was recorded in 1962 and considered one of the true Texas Blues tunes of all time. Unfortunately for Copeland, the music scene in the 1960s, even in Texas, was shifting interest from blues to other musical genres.
Despite Copeland’s regional success as a recording artist, he had yet to achieve commercial success beyond the state of Texas at the time. His true success came from touring as a popular act for the span of about two decades. His brand of music included the blues, rock and roll, and soul. Copeland was best known for his vocal talent among his fan base and peers.
After moving to Harlem, New York City in 1975, Johnny Copeland hoped his brand of music would keep him busy. This was the promise that was made to him by a friend as there were more than enough venues for him to perform in. As it turned out, this was the best career move he ever made. While there, Copeland met with Dan Doyle from Rounder Records. For the first time, Copeland achieved the commercial success that eluded him while he was signed with Duke. 1981’s Copeland Special earned him a W.C. Handy Award, as did 1985’s Bringing It All Back Home.
While with Alligator Records in 1985, Copeland was teamed with fellow Texan, Albert Collins, along with a newcomer named Robert Cray. The trio formed one of the best guitar collaborations in the history of recorded blues music when Showdown! was released as an album. It was enough to earn a W.C. Handy Award, as well as a 1987 Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album. It has since been included in The Blue Foundation’s Hall of Fame for Recordings.
The 1980s also featured Johnny Copeland embarking on an extensive tour that included a 1983 appearance at the Long Beach Festival, a 1985 Montreux Jazz Festival, and a 1988 performance at the San Francisco Blues Festival. It was in 1983 he was named Blues Entertainer of the Year by the Blues Foundation.
Like Father, Like Daughter
Shemekia Copeland, inspired by her father’s musical career, became a recording artist herself. Her successful career as an electric blues vocalist earned her seven Blues Music Awards. Born in 1979, she began her recording career when she was sixteen years old. When Johnny Copeland’s health issues were catching up with him, she accepted his invitation to serve as his opening act while he was on tour. This recognition played an important role in Shemekia establishing her name as a blues musician.
Johnny Copeland had a congenital heart defect that had him experience a series of heart attacks. He also had open heart surgery eight times and was put on regular medication. As his heart trouble increased, Copeland stayed close to home in Teaneck, New Jersey. After experiencing another heart attack in March 1995, Copeland underwent heart transplant surgery on May 5, 1995. Two hours after the Left Ventricular Assist Device was installed, Copeland’s condition worsened, causing him to drift into a short coma. The L-VAD was an experimental device at the time and he was on a waiting list in order to receive the transplant.
At one point, a Right Ventricular Assist Device was installed, then removed after Copeland’s precarious condition stabilized. However, the odds of Copeland surviving were very low. Despite this, he chose to continue performing before a live audience.
For nearly two years, Copeland’s heart relied on the L-VAD device. It wouldn’t be until January 1, 1997, that he would finally receive a new heart. Four months after the surgery, he appeared at a stage performance that was held at Manny’s Car Wash in New York. Unfortunately, the comeback was short-lived when Copeland was back in the hospital to repair a leak that sprang from the donor’s heart. It was hoped the damage could be repaired but there were too many complications. On July 3, 1997, Copeland passed away while in New York City’s Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center at sixty years old.
When his body was flown to Houston for burial, his trademark guitar strap was placed across his chest. On it was “Texas” before he was officially laid to rest in the Paradise Cemetery South.
Johnny Copeland Legacy
Although Johnny Copeland migrated north to New York, then New Jersey, he remained a Texas Bluesman to the end. He made this fact loud and clear everywhere he went. His brand of blues was often mixed with jazz, as well as music from other cultures. In 1984, he was included in a ten-country Western African tour that was sponsored by The State Department. Wherever Copeland went to perform, he was a big hit with the audience.
Thanks to Copeland, he demonstrated not all blues music had to be sad. Copeland was not a fan of recording sad music. He took great pride in producing material that would give people cause to jump up and dance to. It wasn’t unusual for fans in the audience to jump up on the stage and dance beside him while he played. With 1985’s Bringing It All Back Home, the inspiration of West African rhythms was beautifully mixed with American Blues music, giving the entire track collection a wonderfully unique flavor.
Johnny Copeland was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017. From 1981 until 1996, there were nine studio recordings that were released to his credit. Posthumously, there were two more releases, namely The Crazy Cajun Recordings in 1998 and Honky Tonkin’ in 1999.
Top 10 Johnny Copeland Songs
#10 – Blowin’ in the Wind
Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” was a song Johnny Copeland recorded in 1965 while he was signed to Wand and Atlantic in New York. Copeland’s performance of Dylan’s 1962 incredible hit number earned him an audience he never had before. This played an instrumental role as a favorite when he would make New York his home in 1975.
He became a crowd-pleasing favorite while performing in venues located in Harlem and Greenwich Village as the genre of blues music was very much alive and well in New York. “Blowin’ in the Wind” catapulted Dylan’s career as a singer-songwriter that has since been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994.
#9 – I’ll Be Around
One of Johnny Copeland’s most popular songs recorded was “I’ll Be Around.” Found on Copeland’s 1984 album of the same name, this song was also featured on the American Gods soundtrack. American Gods was a television series that ran for three seasons until it was canceled on March 29, 2021.
# 8 – Every Dog Has His Day
“Every Dog Has His Day” was a 1971 son that was released on the same record that featured “Wizard of Art.” It was released on vinyl as a bluesy, funky, and soul mix by Kent Records while Johnny Copeland was signed to that label. Also referred to as “Every Dog’s Got His Day,” the song was about needing to take some recovery time after he was emotionally wounded by a love interest. As a blues performer, the influences of some of the best in the business had Copeland pour it all out in what became one of his best-known tunes.
#7 – Life’s Rainbow (Nature Song)
As a songwriter, Johnny Copeland made good use of his clever creativity. Catch Up with the Blues featured “Life’s Rainbow (Nature Song)” as an incredible gem that contributed to the 1994 album, Catch Up with the Blues. Between Copeland’s lyrical talent and the collection of instruments, there was a country flair to this song. The appreciation of nature, combined with the genius of Texas-style blues, was classic Copeland at his best.
#6 – Ghetto Child
“Ghetto Child” was a song Johnny Copeland recorded that would later have a heart-wrenching rendition performed by his daughter, Shemekia Copeland. She was twelve years old when she began to perform with him. For a true Texas blues style that earned Copeland the “Texas Twister” monicker, “Ghetto Child” was downhome music at its finest.
#5 – Tin Pan Alley (featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble)
While at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1985, he guested with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. Together, they performed “Tin Pan Alley.” The Bob Geddins 1953 original was also recorded on Vaughan’s compilation album, Blues at Sunrise. While Stevie Ray Vaughan brought forth his natural talent as one of the greatest guitarists ever lived, Johnny Copeland’s vocal talent oozed with classic blues.
“Tin Pan Alley” made reference to the influence of early twentieth-century American music. At the time, Manhattan’s West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue was where a number of music publishers had their offices. The sound of striking tin pans was used to describe the composers who used their pianos as they came up with their songs.
#4 – Daily Bread
For Johnny Copeland, 1984’s “Daily Bread” was a gutwrenching blues number that was a rare recording coming from the Texas Twister’s repertoire of music. It was incredibly somber but genuine Copeland from the opening guitar riff and clean through his lyrics. As a means to make ends meet, Copeland worked a day job in addition to performing in clubs at night. The song shared his experience as a struggling artist with world-class talent who wasn’t able to capitalize on the level of stardom that was his due.
#3 – Please Let Me Know
“Please Let Me Know” was a regional hit in the Houston, Texas blues scene when it was released as a single in 1962. Unfortunately, it was during an era when the young audience drifted away from blues music in favor of pop rock. Nevertheless, the fan base who appreciated Texas-style blues music not only loved the song but Johnny Copeland as well. This beautiful love song illustrated how talented Copeland was as a singer and songwriter. What made Copeland a favorite among discerning fans was how well he could carry a tune with such a powerful voice. For a hidden gem of a song to play as part of a romantic evening planned for two, “Please Let Me Know” is it.
#2 – Rock ‘n’ Roll Lily
What made “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lily” a regional favorite was the unique twist Johnny Copeland put into a number that fused blues and jazz together beautifully. Released in 1958, this single served as Copeland’s debut. Although it didn’t receive the national attention it deserved at the time, it did gain popularity when Copeland’s brand of blues made its way to the New York City music scene. With Texas blues now making an impact in the Big Apple, it revolutionized how fans regarded this particular genre. Prior to Copeland, it was perceived blues music was meant to be sad. His brand of blues demonstrated otherwise.
#1 – Down on Bending Knee
In 1962, Johnny Copeland recorded “Down on Bending Knee” while he was signed to Golden Eagle’s record label. Even though it didn’t earn national recognition for the bluesy gem it was at the time, when the new wave of blues fans learned of this song it became a cult favorite. When Copeland Special was released as an album in 1981, it introduced the white blues audience to a brand of music that was assumed to be strictly designed as sad music.
While “Down on Bending Knee” was a song about the narrator begging his love interest to keep their romance going, it was not performed as a typical blues number. There was enough jazz and soul poured into it that made it a standout favorite.
Top 10 Johnny Copeland Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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Another fine article from Millie Zeiler. I love Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland as some of the great blues masters, and it’s tragic Collins and Copeland have passed away. We do have Robert Cray, though, and that’s great. He mixes blues with urban R & B sophistication, reminding me at times of Al Green or other Stax greats.
Copeland’s music is very enthusiastic and upbeat. I am glad to see “Showdown!” mentioned here because it is truly one of the greatest blues albums of all time, including Johnny’s “Lion’s Den” and a fine duo with Albert Collins on “Black Cat Bone”, a tribute to Houston blues legend Hop Wilson. It truly is an album that to me separates the fakes from the real fans.
Texas bluesmen like T-Bone Walker are, with Copeland and others, integral along with Muddy Waters in laying down the final steps to rock and roll’s true emergence. In that vein, New Orleans legend Guitar Slim, real name Eddie Jones, was doing a similar thing. He was famous for showmanship, like dragging a coil of guitar cord out into the streets, and entering the bars at his gigs the same way, and a distorted sound that was one of the earliest really gnarly tones out there. Hendrix must have been listening.
We pay a lot of attention to the legends, which is deserved, naturally. However, even though it’s a bit sad to say, the jump blues and more upbeat stuff doesn’t seem to contain the same enthusiasm, as players are more interested in slower blues and basically trying to emulate Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. It is where I live, anyway.
So, it’s great to read about some of the other greats here.