Before the birth of his contemporary blues star daughter Shemekia, and before becoming an electric guitar blues hero in the 1980s (winner of a 1986 Grammy) until his heart problems and death in 1997, Johnny Copeland was a Houston-based soul man who had a lot of regional success in the 1965-72 period thoroughly (except for his Atlantic releases) covered here. All his singles for five different labels are included, plus material that was unissued at the time, as well as some demos that dramatically highlight his raw ability.
Ace/Kent compiler Tony Rounce has been busy lately on a number of formidable projects and really comes through again on this one. He also provides nine pages of notes on his subject as part of a beautiful 16-page accompanying booklet containing photos and colorful reproductions of Copeland's records on his multiple record labels. The sound is meticulously remastered from the original tapes; and even the disc dubs, which had to be used in a couple of cases, sound great.
Copeland may have idolized smooth singers such as Johnny Ace, Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole (in addition to his blues influences), but he himself had one of the most powerful, rough and raspy deep soul voices around - with tremendous commitment to everything he sang (and very strong emotion when called for). About half of his issued singles were self-written and these tended to lean more to his soul-blues side, with a number of them featuring his fine blues guitar work. For me his peak as a soul songwriter and singer was reached with his group Johnny Copeland & His Soul Agents in 1970 on their phenomenal double-sided single "Soul Power" b/w "Ghetto Child." The title of the James Brown-inspired "Soul Power" says it all - and it's not kidding! Just a solid blast of funky soul potency. "Ghetto Child," constructed upon an organ-riff framework reminiscent of The Animals' version of "House of the Rising Sun," is Copeland's utterly heart-felt and moving, plaintive plea to do something to improve the lives of impoverished inner city children. Excellent Copeland cover versions in this collection include Chris Kenner's "Something You Got," Wilson Pickett's "Danger Zone" and James Carr's "Love Attack." Two seemingly odd remake choices from 1966 also work very well: his take on Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" sounds like a template for the Richie Havens recordings that would emerge nationally the following year. And who would have thought the Everly Brothers' "Wake Up, Little Susie" could be transformed into a hip-shaking slice of Deep Southern soul? Copeland did. There are also two fine remade versions of his best Atlantic recording, "Sufferin' City."
It's well worth it to go with any Tony Rounce Ace or Ace/Kent CD collection these days. The man is definitely on a roll!