Jeff Powers, It’s All About The Songs

Written by on May 24, 2012 in Interviews, May 24, 2012, News To Shout About! - Comments Off on Jeff Powers, It’s All About The Songs

With Singer/Songwriter Jeff Powers, It’s All About The Songs

Jeff Powers

“While living as an illegal alien and partying like a rock star in Mexico City for seven  years, I cut my teeth with various blues bands. Though I moved to Mexico City to perform and teach classical guitar. I soon dropped out of the cozy and well-paid classical world to live and play in the down and dirty clubs, jails and places at the end of dirt roads.” (Excerpt from the biography of singer-songwriter, Jeff Powers)  After receiving press materials from this colorful Cleveland, Ohio-based musical troubador, All Access Magazine (AAM) definitely wanted to speak with Jeff (in the interview referred to as JP, for his full name) about the complexities of the songwriting process, the state of live music in Power’s native Ohio and of course, how one can ‘live as an illegal alien and party like a Rock Star in Mexico City!” Here’s how it went.

All Access Magazine (AAM): Why did you choose to become a musician in the first place?

JP:  I have to credit my father for cultivating a love for the guitar. He bought me a guitar when I was nine years old and signed me up (for) four years of lessons but it wasn’t until I heard Jimi Hendrix that I wanted to be a musician. I still remember the exact place and time when I heard “All Along the Watchtower.” I was fifteen years old. And at that moment I new, without a doubt, that I would play guitar for the rest of my life. I guess it wasn’t a choice to become a musician it was that I had no choice.

AAM: Talk about some of the tunes on your recently-released self-titled album?

JP:  “Wild Child” (the Ballad of Brian Power) is a remembrance to an urban legend and a friend who affected me profoundly (both negatively and positively). He was a very exciting and funny guy (as long as you weren’t the one being made fun of) who was crazy dangerous and deeply flawed who arm-robbed many stores and businesses with guns and hatchets, drove like a madman, got high with the best of ‘em  and was the first Bulimic I ever met. I predicted (to him) his demise would be a car crash and so it happened. I think the guitar track is one of the best on the CD. “Gypsy Girl” (ode to Ani DiFranco) was inspired by a radio interview with DiFranco. I was always surprised that back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s very few girls were involved with Rock Music. I always thought they would have a lot to say from their own perspective. Listening to Ani’s articulate conversation about her music and life was an eye opener…She is quite bold. Ani is one of the torch-bearers and because of her and a few other fearless women today you can hear many girls rockin’ and doing their thing. The song isn’t about Ani but is a tribute to her and all the girl rockers.  “13 Seconds 67 Shots (Kent State Massacre)” was written on the fortieth anniversary of the Kent State massacre (May 4th 2010) after reading a well researched and interesting article in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. The song is about the injustice perpetrated on the American public by an immoral Government. Four students were slain and nine seriously wounded on May 4th 1970. The National Guard opened fired on the protesting students and until now no one has been held accountable. I wrote the song in the style of Neil Young’s “Ohio” to evoke that time. I think I laid down one intense cool guitar part too. Another one of the topical songs on the CD has to do with the after math of Hurricane Katrina. I lived in New Orleans many years ago and have visited the city various times since then. I love that place and everything about it. The culture, the music, the food, the nightlife, and the people are all magical to me; and when I saw what seemed like an attempted land grab and just very shady goings-on I had to write a song in tribute to the Crescent City. Luckily the events were so well-publicized that the land grab never happened. I think the song will sound beautiful to the listener whether they are familiar with the topic or not. On “Just Because He’s Wrong” we hear Grammy award-winning guitarist Jose Alvarez playing a smoking beautiful guitar part over my accompaniment. I love garage rock and an astute listener might notice that the main theme/chords to “Just Because” borrow the theme/chords to the classic Link Wray instrumental “Rumble” (minus the swing beat). “Longest Train (Long Gone)” is just a steady rockin’ groove (almost a swamp pop thing) with Colin Aberdeen (of Syracuse Tex-Mex blues group Los Blancos) laying down one cool electric slide guitar. He uses metal finger picks to get that steely sound. One other ong I’d like to mention is the love ballad, “Let’s Take a Ride.” One night while I was sleeping I just jumped out of bed grabbed my guitar, opened my mouth and in one fell swoop wrote this song. The harmony, lyrics and melody came all at once including the verses, chorus and bridge! Of course I did a little tweeking but it was all there. That probably won’t happen again (laughs). I think it’s a perfect love ballad.

AAM: Who do you consider to be some of your most important musical influences, and why?

JP: When I was young my father had me listen to a lot of classical guitarist like Segovia, Bream and John Williams plus jazz guitarists like Wes Montgomery, but a light bulb went on after I heard Jimi Hendrix. I was already strongly moved by sixtie’s pop and garage rock but Hendrix turned my world upside down. I listened over and over to Electric Ladyland and what was called “Cry of Love” at that time. Also, Johnny Winter blew me away and I listened to his first two albums a ridiculous amount of times. Even though I saw the world through Jimi’s eyes I was also moved by singer songwriters like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and John Fogerty too. I probably listened to After the Gold Rush (Neil Young) more times than any other album. That’s probably why so many people comment that I sound like Young. When I first started writing songs I realized I had that little magic were it seemed as if someone else was writing the songs and I was there to channel them.

Later in the Eighties I lost my love for pop music because of the terrible rock music that was on the radio at that time. I began studying classical guitar and got my performance degree at the Cleveland Institute of Music. I spent over a decade exclusively playing the classical repertoire so composers like Bach, Barrios, Villa-Lobos and especially the modern South American composer/guitarists like Brouwer and Morel influenced me a lot but then I heard Stevie Ray Vaughn in concert. Listening to him was a spiritual experience…he had the magic and a great technique. Well, he saved me from my musical wanderings and I started performing in blues bands and writing songs again. Now, it seems that great songwriters like Dylan are my main inspiration and I’ve been writing songs daily and have about three-hundred songs in my pocket.Jeff Powers

AAM: Which do you prefer, recording or playing live, and why?

JP: I must say that recording is a painful process that gets in the way of writing and practicing music. Writing songs is definitely my biggest thrill in life but I’ve learned a lot from my attempts at recording. Preparing a song for recording forces you to answer all the questions like: is the form complete, are all the lyrics really finished, is it in the right key among many other considerations.

Performing live is a complete thrill and is another art altogether. Performing is very spontaneous and an immediately rewarding art. It’s pretty difficult to balance all that has to be done like trying to be spontaneous and write songs everyday but leave time to keep your performing skills sharp which includes practicing your instrument keeping your vocals sharp, arranging and rehearsing…oh yeah, and doing the business of music (which is a huge undertaking itself).

AAM: Who are some of your own personal favorite music acts?

JP: It’s come full circle and the artists that move me today are Bob Dylan, Neil Young and many of the new wave of singer songwriters. Also, I love the blues, folk and world beat like Taj Mahal, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Ali Farka Toure and a lot of garage rock bands like the Black Keys and the Sonics. I love the Chicago electric blues (like Magic Slim and Johnny B. Moore), the Texas blues like (SRV and Freddie King) and the funky bands in New Orleans like Galactic and the late great Snooks Eaglin. In places like Chicago and New Orleans the great music is in the clubs and on the street not so much on the recordings or at large concerts…it’s hard to capture that spirit on something as 2 dimensional as a CD and the intimacy is lost in the big concert places. The list of personal favorites goes on and on. I definitely love the artists that are self contained that write, record and perform their own songs (especially when the songs sound complete and full with just a guitar and voice).

AAM: Looking down the road five years from now, where would you like to be in regards to your music career?

JP: Living in a big mansion on the hill with a fat bank account is my five-year goal. Just kidding, though it would be nice if I could just keep writing and performing my songs without the stress of making a living at it? That means more financial success from performing, CD sales and song licensing. Basically I’m getting by as a full-time musician now but I’d like to perform my music everywhere possible.

AAM: Care to share any parting thoughts?

JP:  Even though I hear a lot of people complain about the music today I think there are more great musicians, songwriters and performers than ever. It’s harder to find them because you won’t hear their music on the popular radio stations and they aren’t signed to the major labels but they are out there. We have to support the indie artists and go to their concerts and buy their music. It’s a new world and there will probably never be good popular radio programming again (not that it was ever great) so we have to find the small Internet radio programs, college radio programs, blogs, etc. and support them and their efforts. Also, we have to support the smaller concert venues and local music cafes, clubs and halls…that’s where the real action is.