Before power blues guitarist and soulful vocalist Ana Popovic had reached her teens growing up in what is now the Serbian capital of Belgrade, she would stay up late when most of her family had retired to bed. She would join her father and his guitarist buddies in the Popovic living room while they jammed blues and rock tunes. That room in the Popovic’s 11th floor flat became known as the “blue room,” said Popovic, fondly recalling the Howlin’ Wolf, ZZ Top, Delta blues and ’70s rock bands that shaped her musical palette.
“Blue Room” also became the fitting title of an album Popovic, now 39, recorded with her father, Milton Popovic, in “the middle of nowhere in Tennessee,” earlier this year, she said. Ana Popovic, who has performed on stage with the likes of legend Buddy Guy, spoke recently about her musical upbringing while discussing her band’s Saturday, Sept. 12, date at Bloomsburg University’s Haas Center for the Arts, which opens BU’s 2015-16 Celebrity Artist Series.
Ana described “Blue Room,” released back in May, as a tribute to her father, a photographer and printing technician who inspired her to become a guitarist despite the fact he never played music professionally. It’s an 11-track album of cover songs by artists that include John Lee Hooker, John Lennon and Van Morrison — some of Ana and Milton’s favorites to play together in the blue room.
“I was fascinated by them,” Ana, who speaks with a Serbian accent, said, describing the living room jam sessions. “That’s the reason I became a guitarist. I really wanted to be a part of their jam sessions. I didn’t have big plans to become a star. I just thought it looked cool to jam.
“It was incredible. It took me 10 years to get (Milton) in the studio. He never wanted to. He said, ‘You don’t need me.’ I said, ‘Let’s just record something.’”
Popovic formed her first band, Hush, with a guitar friend of hers in 1995. Practicing in a garage, the band quickly developed a loyal following, playing major clubs across the former Yugoslavia, making regular appearances on Yugoslavian TV.
While studying jazz guitar in the Netherlands in 1999, Popovic formed a band as a way to pay for tuition. The band became such a hit she decided to leave school to focus on performing fulltime and wound up signing a record deal with a German label.
Popovic traveled to Memphis in 2001 to record her first album with a producer who had previously worked with John Lee Hooker and Carlos Santana. She’s been living in Memphis, touring the world and recording albums ever since.
Now regarded as one of the top female guitarists in the world who counts Stevie Ray Vaughn, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix and Robert Johnson as influences, Popovic performs a blend of blues, rock, soul and funk, mixing in an electric slide guitar on stage. She has recorded 10 albums and performs as many as 152 live shows each year.
In 2014, she played as the lone female in an all-star lineup of guitarists that included Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Eric Johnson during a U.S. tour of “Experience Hendrix,” a tribute to the music of the late legendary Jimi Hendrix.
“I’m very proud to represent the female part. We have to have more ladies out there and taken more seriously, ” said Popovic, who now makes her home in Memphis with her husband and their young daughter and son. They also have a home in Holland.
Popovic, who recently returned home from a 10-show European tour before hitting the road for a brief run on the U.S. west coast, said she performs with a mix of musical lineups: a stripped-down four-piece band, which includes a bassist, drummer and Hammond B-3 organist; a 6-piece lineup with a horn section; and a 9-member ensemble with a horn section and backing vocalists. The 6-piece group will accompany her BU concert.
A mother of two young children, Popovic said she’s appreciative she’s been able to make a worldwide name for herself and her music. It allows her to both pick and choose when and where she wants to perform while being a mom to her young son and daughter, who occasionally join her on tour.
“I really like to switch between being on the road and being a regular person at home,” Popovic said by phone while her children enjoyed a hot summer day splashing in a pool. “I get a lot energy from that and a lot of inspiration. I want my family life not to suffer.”
For tickets to Ana Popovic and other Celebrity Artist Series performances, visit www.cas.buzz.
Tickets are also available at the Haas Center Box Office and by telephone at (570) 389-4409.