As is our tradition every spring, Music Connection likes to shed light on some of the prominent guitarists and bassists leading the charge within their various musical fields of endeavor. From legends to contemporary players, this is one of our best roundtables yet, with Robin Trower (Procol Harum, Bryan Ferry, Jack Bruce), Rhonda Smith (Jeff Beck, Prince, Chaka Khan), Dewa Budjana (Gigi) and Ana Popovic sharing their elite perspectives on technique, gear and live performance.
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From her early days as a budding teenaged musician in Serbia to her current status as a world class leader among modern blues/rock guitar stylists, Ana Popovic is a unique success story. Her latest album, Can You Stand the Heat, blends sultry Memphis soul with jazz, rock and blues for a sonic stew that is sure to satisfy.
What strides have you made to become better at your craft?
Whenever I have time off I’m taking some kind of guitar or vocal lessons. And I’m obviously writing too. A lot of people who come out to see us say they can’t believe how much better everything sounds. But when fans buy tickets I want them to know when they come back next time to see our show it’s gonna be even better.
What’s the first thing you notice when you listen to yourself from the recent or distant past?
Well, first of all I don’t listen to any of my previous recordings or watch the videos. I do have some favorite songs that turned out the way I wanted them and I’ll listen to them if I need to. But I’ve never really sat back and enjoyed listening to my own recordings. When I listen to something I did when I was 18 and living in Serbia, just starting out, I think about what a long journey it has been for me. I first played in Holland with Dutch blues bands, which is totally different from American blues. And then finally I came over to America and played on the festival circuit. I think moving to the States really helped me to be more self-assured as a player. Also, the longer I lived here I started learning English better and was able to write lyrics and develop my songs in a more personal way.
What kinds of guitars and effects have you been using?
I’m mostly a Strat player. I do have a Telecaster as well. I have a ‘64 Strat that I’ve used on recordings. As far as amps, I use Mesa Mark IV and Fender as well as an old Bassman. So it’s a combination of things. As far as pedals, I use two Tube Screamers. I like a lot of pedals that people don’t make anymore, like the Vox British Flag wah-wah pedal. I know why they don’t make them––because they would break often. But I think they sound incredible. All they have to do is break once. But when you fix it, they’ll work forever. I also use an old Boss chorus--the one with two knobs that they don’t make anymore. It’s got a great sound as well as the Line 6 delay units.
Who are some of the artists who have significantly influenced you?
Elmore James, Bukka White, B.B., Albert and Freddie King. I like a lot of modern players, like Robben Ford, John Scofield and Kevin Eubanks. Also, American rock like ZZ Top and Joe Walsh, and some other kinds of rock, like Thin Lizzy. And I can’t forget Stevie Ray Vaughan and Ronnie Earl as well.
What would you say is your most underappreciated quality?
I would say it is my vocals. I think my vocals sound different from a lot of people out there. I grew up listening to Koko Taylor, Etta James and Mavis Staples and I think I have a more manly sounding female voice. I think I have a tougher approach that fits with jazz and blues, but not so polished.
Can you recall an onstage mishap that stands out?
I remember we were recording a live DVD and we found out the cameras were not on. We had to do it all over again. I freaked out at first and said I can’t do this. But, once we did it, we got an even better response. The audience was even more excited the second time through. I think people like to see you sweat, especially American audiences.
Conversely, can you describe a highlight?
I would, in recent years, have to say the Experience Hendrix tour. I was the only female artist on that bill, along with Zak Wylde, Eric Johnson, Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and many, many more. And they’ve had only a few female players over the last 12 years, so it was an honor to share the stage with all those great guitar players.
What is your secret to blending in, yet standing out, with various people as a player?
When you first start to jam, you don’t have a whole lot of time, so bring everything you know and put it into two rounds of a solo. When I started, I learned a few things from my dad. He said to have a great intro lick and a great outro lick. And in between doesn’t really matter. Also, don’t copy anybody––always try to come up with your own stuff.