A minute’s all it takes to discover what makes a great guitarist tick. Before she jumped into her limo for the Airport, we grabbed a quick chat with Serbian born blues singer and guitarist, the fabulous Ana Popovic.
Do you have a type of pick that you can’t live without?
“I have an AP signature heavy pick made by Dunlop that I’ve been using for years.”
If you had to give up all your pedals but three, what are they?
“Original Ibanez Tube Screamer. Dunlop MC404 wah pedal. Boss Vintage CE-2 chorus.”
Do you play another instrument well enough to do so in a band, and have you ever done it?
“I don’t play any other instruments except guitar. I’ve always been very interested in drums and if I wasn’t a guitar player I would have been a drummer.”
If a music chart were put in front of you, could you read it?
“I could but I would need time. I studied music in two conservatories and reading music was necessary. Like anything you need to practise reading to be able to do it fluently.”
Do guitar cables really make a difference? What make are yours?
“Don’t go with the cheapest option. You want the right quality that keeps the sustain and the tone quality no matter what the length of the cable is. I usually go with Mogami Gold or Monster Cables.”
Is there anyone’s playing that you’re slightly jealous of?
“Jealous is not a word I’d like to use, more like: admiring. If I had to choose one it would be Stevie Ray Vaughan. He had the right amount of rock and blues, mixed with jazzy chords and jazzy phrases and made beautiful instrumentals.”
Your studio is burning down: which guitar do you salvage?
“It would have to be two-in a double case! My all original 64 Strat. I consider myself lucky to be able to own and enjoy one such instrument. And my reissue 57 Strat that I got from my parents when I was 18, before I started my career. That guitar cost more than a few of their monthly salaries at that time, but they believed in me and decided that I was in need of a good quality instrument. I have had it with me on all my concerts ever since.”
What’s your favourite amp and how do you set it?
“I go between a 1966 Super Reverb, Mesa Boogie Mark 4 and a Fender Bassman. Super Reverb requires a simple setup, bass-5, mid-6 and treble-7 with reverb on 3. It’s a true jewel because of the year it’s made and the condition and it would basically work more or less on any setting.
“The Mark 4 I’m primarily using the second (orange light) channel, and I bypass the equalisers. For my sound it requires only bass-3, mid-4 and treble 4-5. For the Bassman I connect the first and the second channel, with bass and mid on 5-6, treble on 7.”
What kind of action do you have on your guitars?
“I usually have a slightly higher action because I use my 64 Strat for regular playing and for slide.”
What strings do you use?
“DR handmade Strings ‘Pure Blues’ and have been using them for years. I’m using a custom set, 11-46.”
Who was your first influence ?
“Elmore James, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King, Eric Clapton, BB King, Albert Collins, George Benson, John Scofield, Joe Pass.”
First guitar you lusted after?
“Fender Strat, it was a love at first sight, and I still play Strats till today. The first Strat that I owned in high school was a 1981 USA Strat.”
The best gig you ever did?
“Probably in an intimate club somewhere. New Orleans Jazz Fest with a nine-piece band was very nice. Memphis in May we’ve played quite a few times and Memphis was my home base for three years. And playing my hometown Belgrade for 75,000 people was something that I’ll always remember.
“Being part of an amazing line-up of the Experience Hendrix tour and being the only female guitar player for the past five years was quite an honour.”
And worst playing nightmare?
“We played a show at the prestigious winter ski Olympic place in France, and although they had heaters onstage, the moment I started the set my hands just froze. And the whole first song I was just busy thinking, ‘How am I going to get through this 60 min?’ And my solution was... I was going to play slide the whole gig. And I did.”
The greatest ever
Do you still practise?
“I do. I enjoy my down time, in between tours, in my music room, with some online lessons, practising, composing, writing songs etc. Same thing on tour. I try to always reserve some time for practising new things.”
Do you have a pre-gig routine?
“Yes, but it’s usually earlier in the day. I’m not one of those guitar players that you’ll see practise fast licks in the green room and backstage minutes before the gig. I like to get onstage totally relaxed and eager to play.”
If you could put together a fantasy band with you in it, who would the other players be?
“Steve Gadd on the drums, Marcus Miller on bass, Cory Henry on organ. I don’t think these choices need any explanation.”
Who’s the greatest guitarist that’s ever lived?
“I don’t believe in comparing guitar players. But taking into the consideration the time when he was active, and the way that he was channelling the old blues players and making a whole new sound for the generations of guitar players to come, it would be Jimi Hendrix.”
Is there a solo you really wish you had played?
“Sure. Stevie Ray’s Lenny.”
What’s the solo or song of your own of which you’re most proud?
“As a project, Trilogy - a triple cd that spans blues, funk and jazz - is the project that I’m the most proud of. There’s not a bad song on the 23-track release and I wrote most of the tunes. Specially the Volume 3 - jazz volume - is unique in a sense that I’ve been testing new territories and sounds. Working with Delfeayo Marsalis, Tom Hambridge, Joe Bonamassa, Robert Randolph, Bernard Purdie, Cody Dickinson (Mississippi Allstars), etc has made this a very special project.”
What would you most like to be remembered for?
“That I’ve inspired more girls to pick up guitars and that I’ve proved that you don’t have to be born in the USA to have a career playing blues-influenced music around the world.”
And what are you up to?
“Concerts in many countries, some of them very dear to me - like Great Britain! Looking forward to taking my fabulous band to all these incredible places and spreading our joy of playing together.”