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A few weeks before we were scheduled to play a festival date behind Earl King in northern Minnesota the promoter called to ask if we would also consider playing with Johnny Copeland. We immediately agreed to play the show.

Marc Norberg portrait of Johnny "Clyde" Copeland I had talked to Johnny's manager a few years earlier about Johnny flying in and working with us and was laughed at. "Johnny never goes out without his own band" we were told. Apparently Johnny's health had deteriorated to the point where it was difficult for him to get in the van for all the miles necessary to tour so he was only accepting fly dates (usually with his band.) We were not going to get a rehearsal before the show so Johnny's management chose about a dozen fairly simple songs for us to learn. We got together in the dressing room before the show to discuss any problems we might have with the songs and put together the set list.

Johnny's appearance was shocking. The once virile "Texas Twister" seemed to have shrunk and his skin had a dusty, grey pallor to it. We found out his wife had learned certain life saving techniques and was with him constantly. She gave him the respect of not hovering over him but kept a watchful eye on him nonetheless. Everyone in the band was quite worried, after all we had been on stage with Thunderbird Davis when he had his life-ending coronary and had no wish to experience a similar event with Mr. Copeland. WeJohnny "Clyde" Copeland, Curtis Obeda and Earl King opened up the set and, when it was time to call up Johnny, he was supposed to come out and sit on a stool to play the set once he settled in. He came out playing and singing strongly and his wife, in the wings, motioned for him to sit. He smiled, played a couple more verses standing up, than reluctantly sat down. The entire set was a constant battle: him feeling the music and standing up, her wanting him to conserve his energy and sit down.

"Catch Up to the Blues," "Flying High" and "Black Cat Bone" were enthusiastically received by the crowd. Johnny really started feeling it on "Promised Myself," he just couldn't sit down. He honestly seemed to get healthier as the set went on! It was "Life's Rainbow" though that Johnny poured everything he could into. A slow song (what we used to call "ice cream changes" because they're so sweet and everybody loves them) that kept building in intensity until it was almost unbearable. I think Johnnie was happy with the show, both he and his wife were very complimentary afterwards, and there was talk of doing it again as soon as we all could get together. Unfortunately Johnny's health problems proved insurmountable and he died on July 3rd, 1997 without us ever getting another chance to make music together.


More on Johnny Copeland
http://www.cascadeblues.org/Legends/JohnnyCopeland/JCopeland.htm

 

 

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