A singer-guitarist from Belgrade, Serbia, Ana Popovic grew up hearing her father’s collection of American blues and soul records.
“I was 2 or 3 years old, listening to Howlin’ Wolf and Bukka White,” Popovic said. “Later on, (it was) Sonny Landreth, Jimi Hendrix, Elmore James, Robert Johnson and the three Kings — Albert, B.B. and Freddie King. That was on a daily basis.”
Popovic picked up the guitar as a teen, but didn’t get serious about the instrument until a few years later. Living in the war-torn former Yugoslavia, however, she harbored no dreams of being a professional musician.
“There was no way I would think, ‘I’m going to play blues for a living,’ ” she said. “America was very far from me.”
Although Popovic earned a degree in graphic design in Serbia, the blues band she joined in her teens found steady work despite the war.
“From the moment we started, we got shows,” she recalled. “Before we knew it, we played four times a week. Of course, it was a difficult situation, a hard living during that time in Serbia for anybody. Most people didn’t have a job, but we did, so we stayed with music.”
In 1999, Popovic moved to the Netherlands to study jazz and world music. She formed a band there with Dutch musicians and launched her international career.
“In a year, I was fully supporting myself,” she said. “I was playing music all over Europe.”
Performances and recording projects later brought Popovic to the U.S. In 2003, she recorded her second album for Germany’s Ruf Records, “Comfort to the Soul,” in Memphis. In 2011, she stayed in New Orleans for three months, making her sixth album, “Unconditional.” Lafayette slide guitar master Sonny Landreth and New Orleans keyboardist Jon Cleary made guest appearances; Grammy-winning British producer John Porter helmed the project.
“I don’t rush,” Popovic said. “If I do a Memphis or New Orleans record, I like to stay and inhale the city, check out the places, check out the musicians. You really need to feel the city.”
Popovic returned to New Orleans to record most of her latest album, the three-volume “Trilogy.” New Orleans musicians George Porter Jr., Ivan Neville and Mark Mullins contributed to the funk and soul-oriented volume one, “Morning.” More New Orleans talent, including producer-trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and drummer Herlin Riley, participated in volume three of “Trilogy,” the jazz-bent “Midnight.” Popovic recorded “Mid-Day,” the blues rock-based volume two of “Trilogy,” with Tom Hambridge in Nashville.
“I took what I love from each of the three cities,” she said.