Johnny Copeland was one of the most celebrated Texas bluesman of his generation. His huge, soul-drenched voice and intense guitar made him instantly distinctive. After decades of struggling as a journeyman blues and R&B player in Houston and New York, cutting dozens of singles and receiving some radio play, he burst on the international blues scene with his 1981 album “Copeland Special.” From that point on, he never looked back, touring ceaselessly around the world until his death in July 1997.
Johnny Copeland was born March 27, 1937, in Haynesville, LA. The son of sharecroppers, his father died when he was very young, and Copeland was given his father's guitar. Moving to Houston, he first gained attention as a vocalist with his friend Joe Guitar Hughes. Unlike the dry, slightly urbane vocal style of the Texas guitar heroes T-Bone Walker and Gatemouth Brown, Johnny brought a gospel intensity and tough growl to his singing. His big voice could be heard over the horn-driven Houston bands. Copeland and Hughes formed a band called The Dukes of Rhythm, which became the house band at the Shady's Playhouse, one of Houston’s leading blues clubs.
Johnny’s early recording career embraced blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll. He cut singles for Mercury, All Boy and Golden Eagle, among others. His first single was “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lily,” and he later cut regional successes like “Please Let Me Know” and “Down On Bending Knees.” For the most part, his singles featured Johnny as a vocalist more than as a guitar player.