But the music was the only thing keeping a steady beat. As Copeland toured and recorded, his heart was getting worse and worse. Just two months after he finished recording Jungle Swing in early 1995, he had a minor heart attack, after a concert in Denver. By May his heart was effectively useless, and doctors implanted the LVAD and began the long series of operations that culminated in this past January's transplant. All along the way, the New York blues community rallied to Copeland's aid, helping to pay bills not covered by his medical insurance with frequent benefits at the blues club Manny's Car Wash.
These days, Copeland is reticent about discussing his health. Sure, he's relieved that his new ticker is so far "a perfect match," and he'll drop a casual comment now and again about the steady diet of immunosuppressants and the weekly visits to the hospital. But his attitude toward the ordeal can best be expressed by a typically laconic Copeland quote: "I'm feelin' awright." Copeland would rather talk about what he expects to play when he takes the stage in South Florida: "I'll kind of mix it up off my last three albums: Jungle Swing, Catch Up with the Blues, and Flyin' High." If those albums are any indication, concertgoers can expect a bit of Memphis blues, a bit of New Orleans blues, a bit of Kansas City jazz, some African polyrhythms, and a whole lot of heart.
At press time, New Times learned that Johnny "Clyde" Copeland has been hospitalized again. The shows planned for the Musicians Exchange on July 4 and the Key West Beer and Blues Fest on July 5 have been cancelled.