We are long past the time where women with long careers in rock are a novelty.
An extremely abbreviated list, excluding the countless female pioneers in jazz, soul and R&B, can begin with Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, who got her start in 1965 as folk was morphing into what we recognize today as modern electric rock and roll. Others joined in early, most notably Janis Joplin, and through the ‘70s and ‘80s artists like Tina Turner, the Wilson sisters of Heart, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac, Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, and Pat Benetar — with a wild and destructive detour to Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics — proved that the road to rock stardom welcomed more women along the way until it went full steam ahead all the way to St. Vincent, the ultra-niche Babymetal and pop sensation Billie Eilish.
Although she began more than 20 years ago when it wasn’t quite where it is today, what sets seven-time blues rock artist of the year nominee Ana Popovic apart from other masters of the genre is being born in a communist country in eastern Europe and earning her position at the top in her chosen field in the West. She did it the old-fashioned way, too.
Residents of Savannah can witness the results of grit, determination, talent and soul come together in sonic bliss at Victory North June 10. If you like the guitar, it’s a no-brainer.
Born in Belgrade in 1976, Popovic grew up in Tito’s Yugoslavia, perhaps the least restrictive swath of the Iron Curtain. His death and the resulting political turmoil rumbled until that nation ceased to exist and her home city became the capital of Serbia. Little of these historic events seemed to phase the young Popovic, who grew up in a musical household beneficially concentrating on art more than politics.
“When I was 2- or 3-years old, I remember hearing Howlin’ Wolf and it made me feel good,” she recalled. “It was a warm feeling.”
Music was always playing at home and her unlikely heroes included Albert King, BB King and Jimi Hendrix. When videotapes arrived, they would spend hours dissecting blues licks and James Brown dance moves. Her family’s 11th story flat was an oasis where her parents often hosted friends for jam sessions late into the night. Her exposure to music and desire to emulate her father led her to the guitar. From there it was dirt-road meet-ups to get her hands on precious gear like a ’73 Fender Stratocaster, or long drives into western Europe to find an amplifier.
“My parents were always very supportive when others around them thought it was just a hobby, they’d say stop buying that expensive equipment!” Popovic said. “But my parents pushed it and spent their own savings and we would travel every year to western Europe to get equipment.”
She formed the band Hush while studying graphic arts and was soon playing shows and festivals often enough to consider her course of study the fallback option.
“I had no sleep for years back then,” she said. “I was practicing or playing shows all night, and three hours later in classes painting, designing, making lots of art.”
She was also becoming enormously proficient in playing and writing. A post-graduate move to Holland to study music was the demise of Hush, but the formation of the Ana Popovic Band. The scholastics were demanding, taking her skill to a new level.
By 2000, she had a loyal following and became a full-time touring musician playing 150 or more shows a year. Since then she’s released eight studio albums, three live albums, an album of covers with her father in 2015 and three videos. Her latest release, 2018’s “Like It on Top” was produced by five-time Grammy-winning Delta blues virtuoso Keb’ Mo’. Popovic has also maintained a steady tour schedule, in demand across the globe. In 2019, she toured with the Experience Hendrix Tour, the only woman among 18 rotating headliners.
Photo courtesy of Ana Popovic
Ana Popovic will play Vicotry North June 10.
Popovic’s staying power means so much to her because of the opportunity it presents. After 20 years in the business, she recalls some sage advice.
“Someone told me when I was starting that it’s easy to be new and exciting and get people to come out and see what it’s about, but real success is to keep them coming back, so I hope I have that inspiration around me all the time,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have an opportunity to keep surprising my fans with new stuff.”
Be among the mind-blown next Thursday, June 10, at Victory North. Doors 7 p.m., show 8 p.m.