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Ana Popovic Experiences Hendrix

Although Jimi Hendrix passed away in 1970, the reach of his music spanned years and geography. That included Belgrade, Serbia where a young Ana Popovic lived. Although she was born six years after his death, thanks to her dad’s nightly jam sessions, she grew up to a steady diet of the legend’s music and American blues and soul.

At 15 she started playing the guitar, and a few years later started her first band. After a stop to study jazz, she began a solo career that now includes eight albums including last year’s Can You Stand the Heat, that feature her fiery mix of blues, soul, funk and jazz.

Among her recordings are covers of two obscure Hendrix tunes — “Belly Button Window” for the 2000 tribute album, Blue Haze: Songs of Jimi Hendrix and “Can You See Me,” which she plans to include on her next release.

Now, she’s among a revolving lineup of guitarists as part of the eighth edition of the Experience Hendrix Tour. The shows celebrate his legacy by showcasing several generations of musicians such as: Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Bootsy Collins, Dweezil Zappa, Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Eric Johnson, Doyle Bramhall II, Zakk Wilde, Eric Gales, Mato Nanji of Indigenous and Malina Moye along with a rhythm section that includes bassist Billy Cox who played with Hendrix and drummer Chris Layton (Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble).

In 2012 Popovic moved to Memphis where she leads her four-piece group and enlists the local talent in her other musical project, the power blues and funk act Mo’ Better Love.

When we had our conversation, she was home, where she prepped for her nine dates with Experience Hendrix by watching YouTube videos of live Hendrix performances.

JPG: You mentioned you’re home in Memphis right now before joining the tour. I’m curious, what led you to settle there?

AP: I’ve been to Memphis off and on for the last 10 years, recording stuff; my very first stuff when I came to America was recorded here. I never thought it was going to be my home and I changed a few cities. I lived in New Orleans for some time and Los Angeles for some time but we formed a nine-piece band (Mo’ Better Love) that was based out of Memphis and did a lot of recording here for the last record.

What I did with the previous recordings as well, I like to move to a place, rent a house, and enjoy the place versus just running into the hotel and putting the record together in a week. I like to take time. So I did the same with New Orleans. I spent there about half a year and then I did the same with Los Angeles in the past but, however, this time it was a larger project.

We liked it. My kids were ready for school. We found them a school and after a year we started to get a house here and settle down. We really enjoy it. It’s kind of Southern. That was one of our things. That was one of the deals. Also, it’s essential to traveling for me. I love to be able to get back home after some of the shows. That’s not possible when you live as far as New Orleans or Los Angeles.

The studios are beautiful and very affordable. They are amazing. And the musicians play great. There’s a lot of musical history here. So, there are a lot of reasons to actually stay here. So, we are here. I don’t know for how long. I don’t know if it’s forever. We still have our house in Amsterdam. So, we’ve got a place here and there, and we’ll choose eventually. But, for now it’s really great.

JPG: So, the move to Memphis kickstarted Mo’ Better Love?

AP: That’s where the whole recording happened with Tony Coleman who was a longtime drummer with B.B. King drummer (and produced her 2013 album Can You Stand the Heat) and worked on this project together. He ended up coming and playing in my bands fulltime, the five-piece and then the nine-piece Mo’ Better Love. Our idea was really to take some Memphis musicians on the road and show people how they play…they’re really stuck around here for some reason. They don’t go out much from Tennessee unfortunately, but they play really nice and you can use that Stax Sound. How much they want to escape that, they can’t. It’s so deep in their history and their roots, that soulful Stax, funk, blues sound that it’s beautiful.

I used to hang out on Beale Street obviously because that’s where all the terrific stuff is but when you really you find some juke joints here and go in, you wouldn’t believe what you hear. This is literally where all the Stax people play. Nobody else plays like that ever anywhere in the States anymore or Europe. So, it’s quite a unique sound, what you can get playing with those people. It was our thing to try to bring it out on this record but we got stuck to it. So, we still have a nine-piece band and I’ve got a five-piece band as well with two drummers, Hammond organ, bass and me. So, both are very interesting projects.

JPG: The Experience Hendrix Tour features a number of guitarists doing one, two or three numbers with or without other guitarists joining. How would you say that you fit into the mix?

AP: The unique thing about this show is there are such a variety of styles. We had Zakk Wylde as well as Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang, the blues guys. There is no other event where these people would come together. It’s just proof of how huge Hendrix was. He was equally inspirational for heavy metal guitar players, jazz guitar players, blues, rock…

This is the only guitarist that I can think of that unites all these styles in one room, and it was incredible to see that.

Eric Johnson comes out and plays a few Hendrix cuts, his fusion thing, and then Jonny Lang would play the blues. Kenny Wayne Shepherd would as well. Then, Zakk Wylde would do his thing. Then, I’d do my two songs – “Can You See Me” and “House Burning Down.” Then, there is a jam at the end where the guitar players all play together. It sounds incredible.

This was on my To Do list for some years now because I’ve been playing Hendrix from time-to-time for a decade. I don’t do a lot of covers in my set. When I do, I choose ones that really mean a lot to me and not just fill up the setlist. So, Hendrix was something I was playing for the blues audience for a long time and I finally get to do it for a Hendrix audience.

I like to choose not-so-known songs. I am kind of a b-side person. I like to put out songs that are not very known to younger people. My very first cut I recorded from Hendrix before my first record came out in America was my version of a “Belly Button Window,” which strike a lot of people would tell me, “I’ve never heard of that song. I didn’t even know it existed.”

I thought it was really a jewel of a song. The lyrics are incredible. The production is incredible, the guitar playing is amazing.

Then, I did “House Burning Down” for some time. And I did “Can You See Me.” Finally, I get to play alongside other people that were influenced by Hendrix. It’s an amazing show.

JPG: You answered one of my questions which had to with the Hendrix songs that you cover are some of the more obscure numbers.

AP: I would think so. It’s wonderful to hear “Hey Joe” and I mean those are such hits that I think are already worked out to its maximum by Hendrix. I’m much more inspired to show people the beauty of some songs that are really almost not known than to play the hits. But, it’s all worked out great in the set.

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