Montreux Jazz Festival

Flying High

Copeland was born in Haynesville, Louisiana on March 27, 1937. Influenced by T-Bone Walker, he formed the ‘Dukes of Rhythm’ in Houston, Texas, and made his recording debut in 1956, signing with Duke Records the following year. Although his early records met with little commercial success, he became a popular touring act over the next two decades.

His early recording career embraced blues, soul and rock and roll. He cut singles for Mercury, Golden Eagle and All Boy, amongst others. His first single was “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lily”, and he later cut successes such as “Down On Bending Knees” and “Please Let Me Know”. For the most part, his singles featured Copeland as a vocalist more than a guitar player.

Driven by disco to rethink his future, he moved to New York in 1979, and played extensively in the eastern cities. In 1981, he was signed by Rounder Records, releasing albums including Copeland Special (1981) and Bringing It All Back Home (1985), and touring widely. Copeland appeared at the 1983 Long Beach Blues Festival, and the 1988 San Francisco Blues Festival. He won a Grammy in 1987 for best traditional blues album for the album Showdown!, recorded with Albert Collins and Robert Cray.

Copeland also played at the 1985 Montreux Jazz Festival, as a guest with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. Vaughan and Copeland performed the Bob Geddins song, “Tin Pan Alley” together on Vaughan’s Blues At Sunrise compilation album. He also played on the first edition of BRBF (Blues Peer Festival) later that year.

His later years were dogged by ill health due to a congenital heart defect. He died, aged 60, in Harlem, New York, from complications of heart surgery for a heart transplanted six months earlier.