Born under a blues sign 

Ana Popovic follows in the family tradition

click to enlarge 'I need to record this for my family, my kids and myself.'
  • 'I need to record this for my family, my kids and myself.'

Serbian six-string slinger Ana Popovic got caught in the slipstream of her father Milton's obsession with the blues at an early age. By the time she'd turned 10, he was entertaining his daughter by putting on records and getting her to identify the guitarist without knowing the song."

"Those old blues guys really have these signature licks that they would repeat," says the Memphis-based musician in her thick Slavic accent. "And for me, it was like, 'Wow, if I could just have a few signature licks one day!'

"I'm still working on it," adds the five-time Blues Music Awards nominee. "It's a never-ending thing. But it's beautiful when you wake up one morning, and you actually recognize your own licks."

Popovic's distinctive slide playing is at least partly due to the fact she learned to play in standard tuning, rather than the more conventional and less-difficult open tuning. At one point, Popovic considered trying to re-learn blues guitar in the more "correct" way, but soon realized it made her playing less interesting.

"I just try to make it work with my own technique, whatever it is," says Popovic, who's stayed hot on the heels of fellow female blues icon Susan Tedeschi throughout her seven-album, 15-year career.

Earlier this year, she celebrated her dad's lifelong encouragement with the Father's Day release of Blue Room, an album credited to "Ana Popovic and Milton." Her father is a smooth baritone singer and guitarist who would serenade relatives during evenings at home.

"I was always watching my friends and family; they would stop the party, quit what they were doing, go in and listen to him," says Popovic. "He had that kind of thing going that people just wanted to listen to him. I thought, 'I need to record this for my family, my kids and myself.' But he never wanted to do it. It took me 10 years."

Once her father finally gave in, Popovic found a homey studio in the middle of Tennessee and had him pick his favorite rhythm section for the sessions. They ended up covering 11 tracks, ranging from Tony Joe White's deep soulful "Did Someone Make a Fool Out of You" and Jimmy Reed's loose rave "Baby What's Wrong" to a blues-psych reimagining of John Lennon's "I'm Losing You."

"He came up with these very cool modern arrangements for the songs. The band dug it completely, they were just so happy for him, and he had the time of his life," she says. "When I talk to people like Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Shepherd and Jonny Lang, they all had the same story — there was always a father really supporting them."

Meanwhile, Popovic says her forthcoming double-album, slated for release early next year, will include some of her deepest blues to date.

"It's something I have to prove to myself, because I'm still very inspired and amazed with all those cats like Albert King and Albert Collins," she says, referencing the two biggest influences for its 2013 predecessor, Can You Stand the Heat.

"It's going to be blues, but it's going to be a whole bunch of other music as well. It's really my masterpiece."


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