Ana Popovic Takes the Stage in the North State
By Phil Reser
Comfort to the Soul
By Phil Reser
Photo: Marco VanRooijen
Ana Popovic rocks. Plain and simple. She’s a triple threat: an excellent singer, guitarist, and songwriter. And when you add her fiery stage performance, you’ve got yourself one bad-to-the-bone blues player.
Born and raised in the war-torn town of Belgrade, in what used to be called Yugoslavia, she found her calling at an early age after being enchanted by the sounds of American blues and soul music through her musician father’s record collection.
As a young teenager, Popovic remembers enrolling in a rock guitar school run by the famous Serbian guitar player Radomir Mihailovic, whose stage name was The Wheel.
“His school basically taught rock riffs and rock history with a focus on bands such as ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin,” she recalls.
After completing that part of her music education, she founded her first serious band at age 19.
Within a year, she was playing outside of Yugoslavia and opening shows for American blues icons like Junior Wells.
Her band Hush released its debut album, “Hometown,” in 1998.
She quickly became a fixture on the Dutch blues scene and soon ventured into neighboring Germany.
The following year, she relocated to the Netherlands to study music at the Utrecht Academy and soon began building her reputation as a dynamic performer, with steady touring throughout Europe.
“Once it became clear that the slide guitar was becoming a big part of my playing, I looked into the wizards. I studied Duane Allman and Ry Cooder. I was amazed by Sonny Landreth’s phrasing and his use of different tunings and advanced chords. And then I discovered Roy Rodgers, a roots player with a very specific advanced technique. He plays fast! Learning to play his solos in standard tuning was a challenge.”
By 2003, she was the first continental European artist recognized by The Blues Foundation in the United States, which honored her with a Blues Music Award nomination for Best New Artist Debut.
As she progressed with her music, she says, “I remember hearing Ronnie Earl for the first time. And that was something so different for me, to start looking at new sounds and scales. I loved the way he was melting simple jazz influences into blues. It sounded so jazzy, and cool to me.
“Later I even reached out and began listening to American jazz fusion guitarists, like John Scofield, Kevin Eubanks and Dean Brown. But I never wanted to lose the blues as a base for my music.”
By 2007, Popovic had moved to the United States and signed her first American record deal with the Los Angeles-based Delta Groove Music.
“I never wanted to sing about life back in the cotton fields. I never lived in the cotton fields. But I did grow up under Slobodan Milosevic’s nationalist regime, and on my first American record, ‘Still Making History,’ I wrote a lot of heavy lyrics about what that was like. The feeling was similar, and it made me want to sing and play my blues with freedom, and plenty of edge.”
Nearly all of Popovic’s albums have made the Top 5 of the Billboard Blues Charts and are played regularly on radio.
“I think every musical project has been different. In each one, I have seemed to find a bit more of who I really am as a musician. Writing is a very important part of my music: I’m very serious about lyrics, and there are very strong messages in every one of my recordings.”
As the only female guitar player, she has been part of the 2014 through 2016 all-star Experience Hendrix lineup; a nationwide tour celebrating the music and legacy of Jimi Hendrix which has included Buddy Guy, Eric Johnson, Zakk Wylde, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and many others.
Her latest studio release, “Trilogy,” is a three-volume collection of 23 blues, jazz and funk tunes.
Popovic says, “All three CDs are so different, and at the same time, this collection is a reflection of where I’m at with my music along with my influences as a guitar player and singer. I was ready for a big record and the type of work that goes into it. It’s a project I’m very proud of. To be able to do something like this at this stage in my career, to me, is a real personal success.”
Thursday, July 28 • Feather Falls Casino, Oroville
Friday, July 29 • State Theatre, Red Bluff