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Greg Copeland

Singer songwriter Greg Copeland is a Southern California native whose depth of feeling for music and natural ability to conjure it up with spare, graceful melodies and lyrics that are plainspoken poetry has been inverse proportion to his body of work. That balance tipped when he put out an album in 2008, "Diana And James", following a 26 year hiatus after his 1982 debut, "Revenge Will Come", which was produced by Jackson Browne.

Copeland picked up the pace a bit to release a 3rd album, "The Tango Bar" in 2020. And now, the spiral is circling in and Copeland, at age 78, is set to release his "Empire State" EP in 2024.

Both "Empire State" and "The Tango Bar" were produced by Tyler Chester (Madison Cunningham, Sara Bareilles, Sara Watkins, Margaret Glaspy) and feature longtime comrade, and producer of Copeland’s 2008 release, Greg Leisz on pedal steel, mandocello, among other instruments. Chester, a multiple Grammy nominated producer, session musician, multi instrumentalist, and composer, also plays keyboards throughout "Empire State", and bass on the 1st track.

Returning from previous albums to join them on the EP are Val McCallum (Jackson Browne) on electric and rubber bridge slide guitar, Jay Bellerose (Joe Henry) on drums and percussion, and Jennifer Condos (Joe Henry) on bass for a couple of songs. Sara Watkins joins on fiddle for a track.

“Recording with this band is songwriter's heaven”, says Copeland. “Every single one of them has a head for lyrics, so they're all focused on what's actually happening in the song, which is incredibly rare all by itself. Tyler is the mayor, Leisz is both the doctor and the sheriff, he finds the center of gravity in a song, and then just plays, Val is the black sheep brother you can't help but love, and Jay and Jen are the Department of Water and Power, adding to the whole atmosphere. I love every one of them. And Sara fits this like your sister coming by for cake. Totally ok, yes, this feels right”.

"Empire State" takes place right this minute. There is a sense of urgency and being present that is felt throughout the collection of songs. It opens with “Boon Time”, on a seemingly quiet note, before quickly becoming a wake up call with the lyrics, “gunshot ringtone, honey what do we do now”. It could be the opening scene of a movie, foreshadowing violence in the future of what Copeland calls, “our rude political awakening”. The subtleties of the percussion and slide guitar mirror the twists and turns of this fate, “boon time, bound to come and go”.

Copeland’s comfortable, yet candid, way with words, raw emotion, and strength of character, coupled with the intricate nuances of these musical compositions, allow him to shed light on difficult circumstances. For those familiar with "Revenge Will Come", they'll know that Copeland says what he is thinking, no subject is, taboo.

Boston Globe’s Steve Morse wrote in 1982, “If ever a record came out of nowhere to shake you awake, it is Greg Copeland’s 'Revenge Will Come', an angry, ruthlessly honest debut by a poet, turned songwriter. The album teems with political imagery about the tenement landlords, money grabbing businessmen, El Salvador oppressors, limousine owning snobs, pimps, and exploiters of all kinds. As the title track declares, "revenge will come for every man kept down”.

"Empire State" also recalls the musicality within "The Tango Bar". Local Rhythms' Michael Witthaus wrote, “Overall, there’s a modern sheen to 'The Tango Bar', with electric guitars pulsing, like Greg Leisz’s chainsaw chord’ on the bracing ‘Lou Reed’ and longtime Jackson Browne sideman Val McCallum trading fierce licks with Leisz’s pedal steel on the bluesy, brilliant anti-Trump song ‘Scan The Beast’. During the latter, Copeland snarls, ‘You want to speak the truth? Shall we begin? You fall so far, you don’t get great again’. It’s a tonic to those who recall the angry writer of ‘El Salvador’ and ‘Used’, and his rage as the age of Ronald Reagan dawned”.

The songs on "Empire State" follow in that same track. “'We The Gathered'", Copeland says, “is a song about our long journey to heaven and the closest thing I’ve ever written to a hymn. ”One could say, a revolutionary hymn, with its foreboding quality and the lyrics, “nation in pieces, people in pain, systematic bullshit, thick as sugarcane, you're going to want that machete, put down your heavy load, long way, short road”.

Copeland's inspiration for writing seems to bubble up from within. He says, “When the odometer clicked over to 2000, I somehow started writing again. Don't know why, just had to, and the 3 subsequent recordings are what matter to me most at this point”. His characters and narratives volunteer themselves to be bared to the world through song, and often recur throughout his catalog of music. Like a sentinel keeping watch, his songs are a report back to the listener.

On “4:59:59”, the protagonist is digging ditches as a way out of addiction, earning big respect for hardwork. “Oxycotton candy, owned me flesh and bone, I burned other people's bridges, so I could be alone. It took a worn out pick and shovel, for me to find a stepping stone”.

Sara Watkins shines on violin here, adding to the pensive tone of the song. After that you’ll hear a brief coyote interlude, recorded in Copeland’s backyard, setting the scene for the title track to close out the EP.

“Empire State” is about a songwriter who left her boyfriend, left New York City, and left the American Empire all at once, with the scars to prove it. She made up her mind about what she wants, and just does it. “It's just baby talk, and baby steps, until it comes down, to the Silvertone, and your fingertips. Everybody's got their own little jukebox, this is mine”.

Like 2008’s "Diana And James" you could say this collection of songs could also be about a couple. Copeland says, “The couple here is the fictional character Vincent Brady, the mentor of the man in ‘4:59:59’, and the woman coming west from New York City in the title track. It's actually a prelude to their future relationship, which I would guess will succeed because they both get their strength from the same source:optimistic struggle. They, and we, will survive the sugarcane”.

Greg Copeland grew up Orange County, California, and was a high school friend ofJackson Browne in the 60's. Copeland co-wrote Browne’s early song, “The Fairest Of The Seasons”, which was on the Nina Demos and Nico's album "Chelsea Girl" in 1967.He co-wrote "Buy For Me The Rain" with Steve Noonan, a cohort of Copeland and Browne’s from those early days. This song was a huge hit by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in1967, who also covered another Noonan and Copeland composition, "Tide Of Love," on their "Ricochet" album. Later on, Copeland co-wrote the song "Candy", with Browne and Wally Stocker, which appears on Browne’s album "Lives In The Balance" in 1986.

Copeland didn’t release an album of his own until 1982 with "Revenge Will Come" on Geffen Records. "Revenge Will Come" was listed in Time Magazine’s “10 Best Rock Albums 1982”, alongside Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Ry Cooder and Lou Reed. Although the debut received strong accolades, this album has never been issued on CD, or reissued on streaming services.

New York Times’ Steve Holden recognized Copeland’s “feisty, original voice” in "Revenge Will Come" and said, “His protagonists are drifting malcontents seething with rage in an environment that’s physically and spiritually desolate. Any of them might have wandered out of a Robert Stone novel” and that “Revenge Will Come" is a rock album teeming with life and wild intuitive connections that make poetic sense”.

1st released on Copeland’s 1982 debut, Copeland’s songwriting credits include "El Salvador" which Joan Baez recorded in 1989, and the song "Revenge Will Come," which was covered by David Lindley.

After a 26 year hiatus, he went back into the studio and reemerged with his second release, "Diana AndJames", produced by Greg Leisz on Browne’s label Inside Recordings. During Copeland’s long hiatus from music making, he and his wife raised 2 sons. He started songwriting again in 2000. He says, "I could feel it coming. The odometer clicked over and it was like I came out of a deep freeze. Songs just started pouring out. It took me a couple of years to really trust it. After a while, I was leaving one job and starting another, and I decided to give myself a hundred days to do nothing but write. Most of the songs on this record appeared in a rush of bits and pieces during that period, and it took me nearly 4 years to sort them out".

Then it was another 12 years before "The Tango Bar" was released in 2020, essentially the same moment that the world shut down with Covid. It was produced by Tyler Chester and features Inara George and Caitlin Canty on guest vocals, Greg Leisz on guitars), Tyler Chester on piano, keyboards and guitar), Jay Bellerose and Don Heffington on drums), Val McCallum on guitar), Davíd Garza on piano and harmony vocal, Rob Burger on accordion, Stewart Coleon horns, Anna Butterss on acoustic bass, and Madison Cunningham on harmony vocal.

Americana Highways’ Bill Bentley wrote,“Now that he’s back with 'The Tango Bar', it’s like Copeland has never been gone. His songs have plenty of Southern California atmosphere. There is such an elemental level of power in ‘Scan The Beast’, ‘Coldwater Canyon,’ and ‘Lou Reed’, this music comes across as a primer for a future Los Angeles, one built on the essence of Jackson Browne crossed with Charles Bukowski, and laden with an undeniable ennui”.

“Having proved he can create, with 'Diana And James', Copeland has loosened his grip, with 'The Tango Bar', the results are exhilarating. Even better, he has more songs ready, and promises a follow up won’t take another dozen years to complete”, writes Local Rhythms’ Michael Witthaus.

Copeland is set to release "Empire State" on his own independent label, Franklin & Highland Recordings and internationally in co-operation with Paraply Records for the European territories.

Greg Copeland

Visit Greg Copeland's website

Greg Copeland

Greg Copeland

Visit Greg Copeland's record label