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Artist Spotlight  
Michael Powers
By Robert John, correspondent to BarrelhouseBlues.com
rj@barrelhouseblues.com
© 2005 BarrelhouseBlues.com - All Rights Reserved
 

Michael Powers is a modern purveyor of powerful, emotional and spiritual music. Some people might call it Blues, but it is more than that. It is modern Blues without boundaries. And that's the way he likes it. Michael prefers not to be categorized with labels. They are a barrier to a wider acceptance of music that moves people through a personal and spiritual connection. And his music is for everyone. Not just the fans of a particular genre.

Michael has been involved with music all his life. From his early days touring the country with the Adlibs, to his current solo career, Michael's musical journey has been a long and diversified one.

His new CD, "Onyx Root," on Baryon Records has garnered him a 2005 - 26th W.C. Handy Blues Award nomination for "Best New Artist Debut." We think if you give a listen, you'll understand why.

BarrelhouseBlues.com ("BB") is pleased to present this interview with Michael Powers. We spoke with him recently and found his dedication and passion for his music is an extension of his dedication and passion for life. And his music is for everyone...

BB: You’ve been involved in music for a long time. Is your new CD, "Onyx Root,” your first solo effort?

MP: Yes. This is my first record as Michael Powers. I’ve played on a lot of other people’s stuff but I never really sat down and tried to do it myself, you know. I had a lot of help working in the studio with Steve Jordan on drums, Neil Jason played bass...and I had a great producer, his name is Steve Rosenthal – he owns a studio in NY called the Magic Shop, down in Soho. He works with the Stones and people like that. And I’ve played with Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, Robert Cray. You know I had a band with Rick Derringer. We were going to go to England to record but then Cyndi Lauper took him to play lead for her.

BB: How did you get started on your musical journey?

MP: When I was 12, I had an opportunity to listen to Jimmy Reed. He was working across the street. My father had a restaurant in Bayonne, NJ, and I used to deliver these sodas, because they didn’t have machines in those days. And Jimmy Reed and his wife were playing in the back, where they served the dinners, you know. So I was 16 or 17, I’m not sure, and I used to go back there and make like I was working, but I wasn’t, I was like checking them out. And that’s how I learned my first chord. You know, my first barre chord and I ran home like that. And then I, you know I just, fell into that kind of music. That was like my basis for getting my band and things together. You know, Blues. The British Blues thing came over too. And I was very interested in that.

BB: That really started a lot of people...

MP: Yeah the Yardbirds, Stones and all that. Clapton, Page and Beck man. I’d eat, sleep and drink that.

BB: On your website, it mentions you were with a group called the Adlibs.

MP: Yeah, they were from my hometown too.

BB: They did the song, “Boy from New York City.”

MP: Boy we never expected that. It’s the same thing as my record, I can’t believe it. It’s like the time came back at me, you know?
Because we were always playing, the Adlibs, but nobody thought it would go through the charts that quick. Tommy Taylor, he was our manager and he was the writer of that song.

BB: I can remember listening to that song when I was a kid.

MP: Yeah, it’s what they call a bullet. Cause’ at the time, in the charts, the top ten, it was saturated with Beatles and the Supremes. And it was in the 200’s like in the Hit Parade and Billboard. And then, in not even a month, it was number one, it was incredible. So, you know, we got to do the Dick Clark caravan. The Monkees and Brenda Lee and all. That was like, pretty cool. That was opening my eyes.

BB: And you were in high school at the time?

MP: Oh yes, and then I got an opportunity after that to work with James Cotton. Cause he was coming through and his guitar player got bronchial pneumonia. So at the time they needed somebody real quick and I happened to be in the right spot at the right time.

BB: It’s amazing to reach that level of success that early in life.

MP: Oh, man. It’s funny too because I think I was just born to do what I do. We had this theater across the street from where I live. It was a big opera house. And like, Chuck Berry, and remember Alan Freed? He used to throw these Rock n’ Roll shows in the tri-state area. And he used to come to this theater man and like the Shirelles, Martha and the Vandellas, Chuck Berry, all these Rockers would be in there. And I used to see em’ walkin’ and like these cars, these crazy looking Cadillac’s and stuff and that’s what I wanted to do. But at the time, my family was into the religious thing. You know, they were trying to discourage me. But I just kept on doin’ it.

BB: How long did it take you to make the CD, "Onyx Root?”

MP: We did it in July and August in the summer of 2003. Working every day. 12 hours a day and it was great. If we couldn’t get the song down by two takes, we moved on. It was just magic. Everything that I grew up on and wanted to do, is in that record. Everything is me.

BB: And all the tracks were live?

MP: Yes, no booths. We were all in the same room. Like the early days of recording. It was so live, all we needed was an audience there.

BB: That’s unusual for a lot of artists in today’s market. Many people use Pro Tools and computers. But I think it’s appropriate for the Blues because it’s an honest form of expression, so why not record it in an honest way? It’s just now being released?

MP: Yes. The record company is called Baryon and John Agnello is out there every day pushing it. It’s in a lot of stores, Tower Records and things like that.

BB: How do you feel about the Handy nomination. That’s quite an honor.

MP: You know something? I am like in Zion. I am shocked. Cause like I said, this is all new to me. And I’m just so thrilled.

BB: For a first effort that’s quite an honor...

MP: It’s God. I mean, I’m so happy.

BB: You mention God. I noticed your CD liner notes mention God also. Are you spiritual in nature?

MP: Yes. It’s everything. It’s everything to me.

BB: Will you be touring to promote the CD?

MP: Yes. They’re working on that now. Hopefully, we’ll have something out there by spring or summer. We got a few festivals. People have called me from the Pocono’s. Which is supposed to be one of the top festivals of the summer. I might be on the bill with Ruth Brown and some other artist’s that I really love. I’m really looking forward to it.

BB: I take it you’ll be in Memphis in May?

MP: Yes I will. I’ve never been there but I’m looking forward to it. It sounds like an exciting time for me. Graceland would be a good place to visit.

BB: Did you listen to Elvis much when you were growing up?

MP: Yes I did. As a matter of fact, I got a video on that I’m going to watch later. His story. It’s just called Elvis. About his life from when he was a truck driver all the way up to when he died.

BB: How did you get started on your musical journey?

MP: I remember in the house, my mother says I used to walk around with a broom. There was this show called Jocko. Jocko’s Rocket. It was this dance show like a Dick Clark show. When Santo and Johnny, the guys who made “Sleep Walk,” came on, no matter where I was in the house, I’d run to the broom. And I’d start faking the broom like it was a guitar. And she used to get pissed cause’ all the straw from the broom would be all over the house. So she bought me a guitar through Spiegel. Spiegel catalog or Sears Roebuck or something. She bought it with stamps. They used to fill up these books with stamps and you’d trade them in for a gift. So, I didn’t play the guitar, I would look at it, it was in the corner. I was afraid to play it or something. But I would use the guitar as my aircraft carrier for my little wooden soldiers or whatever. So this guy came by from the naval base, my mother had a party, and he picked the guitar up and started playing Red River Valley, this country western song. And I was off to the races. When he left, I picked the guitar up and I started playing it. That was just how it began. It became like a part of my body. I wouldn’t go anywhere without it. I used to get suspended from school for bringing the guitar instead of my school books.

BB: Who were your early influences?

MP: My mother would make me sit there so I wouldn’t go out on the street corner and hang out with the gangs. She would make me sit there and turn the records over. And, Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, those were the records that she had. And they were like those old hard records. You know, if you put them down too hard, they would crack, like a bite was taken out of them. 78’s! And if the music stopped and there was a silence, I would be in deep trouble. That was my job. To turn the records over. And that’s what I would listen to, Muddy Waters. And you know it’s funny cause’ today if I was to wake up and have a bad taste in my mouth or something, I’d put a Muddy Water’s record on and my day is set. That’s the way those records work on me. And that was the music. And I would never go out. I would just go in my room, the guitar and the mirror and a little record player. It played 45’s, 78’s and 33’s, and I would play these things until it was time to go to bed. And I would wake up in the morning with the guitar still there on my stomach and we’d go to school. That was my life. That’s the way it started.

BB: Who are some of the artists that you listen to today that inspire you?

MP: I listen to this station called 90.7 WFMU. It’s here in the city. And they play, remember how radio used to be back in the 60’s, they play albums. They would play like a whole album cut and then give you the history of who’s on there. This station is doing that. And that’s the way music has got to be again. People got to get information. It can’t be about selling speakers and things like that. So this station they play a lot of stuff and that’s who I listen to. And there’s this guy Buddy Miller. I listen to him. I like Ben Harper so much. And the Blind Boys of Alabama. That is my top, that stays on my CD player. And I still listen to Muddy Waters and I have the Yardbirds man and Jimi Hendrix. And that’s all I listen to. And I just bought a record by this guy, maybe you know about, his name is Tim Buckley. He has an album called Goodbye and Hello and I love this song called Morning Glory. I want to do that. And Tim Hardin, I love him. That’s what I like. And Dylan, Dylan’s my thing too. There’s a song by him I want to do also.

BB: So you have a lot of diverse influences there.

MP: Oh yeah. I used to follow Jimi Hendrix around like a bee to honey when he was alive. I used to hang with his drummer Mitch. There was a band that used to open for them called the Soft Machine. They were from England or Paris. I was into visuals. I love visuals. I think it has a lot to do with music. You know, colors. Colors stimulate the mind. The records, the covers, would send me. I would take my allowance, records used to be like 99 cents when I was buying them. A single was 45 cents. But the way I got into Hendrix was the way he looked. I never heard his music before. I said anybody that looks like that, gotta be good.

BB: And you were right.

MP: It’s so crazy.

BB: You’ve played so many different types of music. From “Boy from New York City” to what you’re doing now. Do you think you’ve found your home in the Blues?

MP: I’m getting there. I’m getting closer to my vision. Thank you for saying that because I think about it all the time. I know that I’m doing something, I just don’t know what to call it. I don’t want to call it anything but good music, you know? And I think that’s the way it all should be. Honestly, because there’s too many categories. And you know, somebody would miss you, because of what they would call you. You understand what I’m saying? A lot of people don’t listen to Blues because they got the wrong idea what it’s all about. And that’s a sin because they could miss out on something that could really move their soul. Because of what somebody labels it.

BB: You don’t want to be in that little box.

MP: Right, right, because it’s universal.

BB: When I listened to your CD, I got that impression. The roots are there, but you’re really stretching those boundaries. And when you think about it, that’s what the Blues is all about. Because if people hadn’t been doing that for decades, the Blues wouldn’t have advanced beyond the Mississippi Delta. Each new generation moves it a bit forward and broadens the boundaries.

MP: It’s so true.

BB: How do you maintain your enthusiasm for performing?

MP: It’s everything I live for. The hour and thirty minute set that I perform is what everything I've gone through over the years works up to. And the audience is everything too. And it’s all one. Clapton had a song called N.S.U. and the lyrics said, “the only time I’m happy is when I play my guitar.”

BB: If your could perform with someone you haven’t played with up to now, who would you like to share a stage with?

MP: I would love to perform with Jeff Beck. Jeff Beck or Keith Richards. One of those. I really enjoy their rebelliousness. They’re for real. And it shows in their music. The Stones are one of the bands, that to me...if it wasn’t for them we may not have known about Muddy Waters. I mean like, this generation. They had the vision. I know it was Brian Jones, he was the one that got it. And I would love to have a chance to play on a show with them. With the Stones. Open up for them, or do a song with them. That would be like my dream.

BB: You mentioned Jeff Beck...

MP: Jeff Beck is my man. He came to see me once. He was playing with BB King here in New York and he stopped in and he was drinking some Guinness and checking me out. I was so happy to see his face. And he still looks the same. I can’t believe it. That’s the thing about music. It’s like a youth serum or something like that.

BB: He happens to be one of our favorite guitar players of all time.

MP: He has no limits and he takes chances, and that’s what I do. It’s no stick to the set. It’s stick to maybe the blueprint, you know, and I work in and out of it. But every record that Jeff Beck puts out, I’ve got em’ all. Since “For Your Love,” you know. He was on that second side. Clapton was on the live side and he was on the studio side. Every solo and every song it’s fresh you know, and it’s balanced. It’s not predictable. That’s the point you know. It’s not predictable. Jimi was like that too. I saw him. I saw him on his birthday. I saw him there at New Year’s Eve for the taping of Band of Gypsy’s at the Fillmore. He did two shows and he did the same songs but they were like completely new each time he did them. And there was sound. It wasn’t just a guitar player. It was unearthly sound. Sounds that came from God I think. And Beck is the same way. When I listen to those kind of people, I get goose bumps. It saves me. You know it’s a funny thing. The last gig I can remember playing, Saturday, I was in upstate New York. I did a show and some guy was in the audience and he came up to me and he had this look on his face like I saved his life or something. And he couldn’t stop thanking me. And I didn’t really do anything that I wouldn’t do...so it’s gotta be something more than just playing guitar.

BB: It’s a divine thing. One last thing...what would you like your fans to know most about you and your music?

MP: That it’s for real. And just listen. It’s a joy. I let the guitar take me and people come with me. And I just want to say one more thing.

I had the pleasure of playing in Russia. I played there twice. And you know, we couldn’t even speak the language. But as soon as I started playing, it was universal. People were trying to get onstage, and the political thing came down. They said if we couldn’t control the crowd, they were going to cut the lights off in the stadium. You know it was like, it don’t matter who you are, the music is all that matters. And it will heal you. If you are sick, it will heal you.


© 2005 BarrelhouseBlues.com - All Rights Reserved

You may contact Michael Powers at:
Michael@baryonrecords.com
http://www.michaelpowersfrequency.com
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