Editor’s note: Photos of Ana Popovic’s Aug. 1 performance in the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room by Kurt E. Johnson for Tahoe Onstage.
American music’s hold on Ana Popovic is so strong it pulled her across the Atlantic Ocean.
The guitarist moved her family from Amsterdam to live in Memphis, birthplace the American soul sound and still a major music hub. And her ninth album, 2013’s “Can You Stand the Heat,” is the deepest she has dived into the blues.
Amsterdam, one of the world’s most progressive cities, and the deep South’s Memphis are miles apart culturally, as well. But the transition has gone swimmingly. Popovic, in fact, called Tahoe Onstage after driving her children home from swim lessons.
“It’s a different style of living than Amsterdam; I like both,” Popovic said. “We had to get used to certain things, like living in cars. In Amsterdam we wouldn’t even get into a car. We would take a bike or a boat or get places by walking.
“The music part is beautiful. In Memphis, it’s very important. Holland is somewhat artistic but music is not in first place. Back in Europe, when you say you are musician people ask, ‘What’s your real job?’ I don’t have to deal with that question anymore over here.”
Being based in Memphis allows Popovic to more easily continue to play 130 shows a year, which she has done for more than a decade. She will play with a four-piece band for a short tour this weekend with shows in Calgary, Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes, where three years ago she had a powerful show featuring slide guitar. Although she studied jazz at a prestigious European music school, Popovic has a penchant for fiery blues.
She said she will play songs from her most recent two albums, “Unconditional” and the aforementioned “Can You Stand the Heat.” Released in 2011, “Unconditional” was more “rootsy” then the follow-up. What many people remember from the album was a speedy slide duel will Sonny Landreth and the cover photo with Popovic wearing nothing but her six string.
She described “Can You Stand the Heat.”
“It’s like Albert King meets War and Albert Collins, kind of a groovy blues,” she said. “I was always a fan of Albert King and the way he would put in a horn section, just on the edge of funk and blues, and Albert Collins with his slow blues that was so groovy that you couldn’t stop shaking your head and moving your body.”
Earlier in the year, Popovic was the only woman with “Experience Hendrix 2014,” a celebration of the music of Jimi Hendrix with some of the world’s greatest guitarists. Popovic will rejoin the tour in October for a West Coast swing.
“I’ve been waiting on that call for a long time because that was my dream tour,” she said.
Popovic recorded Hendrix’s “Belly Button Window” (a blues from the perspective of a fetus) on her first American release. She also played live versions early in her career of “House Burning Down” and “Can You See Me.”
“Everybody put everything they had into it for Jimi,” she said. “It was almost a spiritual thing. There was not a single bad night or incident. You would think there would be, with so many different guitar players and personalities. It’s very hard to even form a four-piece band with personalities (let alone) to bring together 20 established guitar players.
“I cannot think of any other guitar player who unites all these different styles of music. You realize that Zakk Wylde will come up with a heavy metal version of a song, Eric Johnson’s gonna play fusion and jazzy stuff and Buddy Guy is going to play blues and Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang are going to do a rock approach It’s incredible how these songs are covered in such different ways.”
It might seem unusual that someone born in Belgrade, Serbia, would grow up listening to American blues. But Popovic’s father, Milton, is a big blues fan and is an accomplished musician himself. In fact, Popovic said her 6-year-old son only began to pick up the guitar during visits from his grandfather.
The children will not be pushed into music, she said, although her son has just started guitar lessons. Language might be the daughter’s forte. Mom speaks to her in Serbian, dad in Dutch and brother in English.
“She understands each of us,” said Popovic. “She screams very loud. She’s not very musical but she is very proud of her voice.”