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So Long, Johnny Powers

Posted: Fri Jan 20, 2023 9:52 pm
by Mister Moon
Detroit rockabilly hero Johnny Powers passed away last Monday, aged 84.

During the second half of the 50s, he recorded a handful of now-revered singles for labels like Fortune and Sun, and starting in the 60s, he turned into record production working for the Motown group of labels, for example.

I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing him in 1993 (damn - that's 30 years ago, and it seems like yesterday), and I can truly say he was a totally charming and cool person. More about that later.

Thanks for everything, Johnny. You will be missed.

Johnny Powers a.jpg

Johnny Powers b.jpg

Johnny Powers, early Detroit rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, dies at 84

BRIAN MCCOLLUM Detroit Free Press

Johnny Powers liked to say, “They called me the northern Yankee with the southern heart.”

Powers, a singer and guitarist who emerged in the mid-1950s as one of Detroit’s early rock ‘n’ roll trailblazers, died Monday at his home in northern Michigan after a series of health issues. He was 84.

Known for his work with iconic labels such as Detroit’s Fortune Records and Memphis’ Sun Records, Powers retained an avid international cult following well into his later years. Acclaimed for songs such as “Long Blond Hair” and “Honey Let’s Go (To a Rock and Roll Show),” he continued to embrace a style and sound that harked back to a metro Detroit era of cruising, record hops and drive-in hamburger joints.

Powers would go on to work at Motown Records in the 1960s before making his own business forays with a pair of Detroit studios and song-publishing interests.

Alongside Detroit peers like Jack Scott and Don Rader, Powers was among the crop of musicians who transitioned from country music to rock ‘n’ roll in the ‘50s, helping set the stage for southeastern Michigan’s rise as a rock music hotbed.

Born John Pavlik in 1938 on Detroit's east side, he grew up in a family of Polish heritage in Utica and bought his first guitar for $2.50 when he was 15. Taught to play by a neighborhood friend from West Virginia, he was soon performing with the local country band Jimmy Williams & Drifters at Macomb County spots such as Bill’s Barn and Colonial Hall.

Powers was still in his teens when he became enchanted by Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Honey Don’t,” catching the rock ‘n’ roll bug.

“It was new. It felt good,” he told the Detroit Free Press in 2003. “I was in a band playing these country songs, and they’re square dancing. And all of a sudden this rock ‘n’ roll stuff — whoa! The energy level it gave you, the adrenaline, was unbelievable.”

In 1957, Jack Scott’s first national release, “Baby, She’s Gone,” showed Powers which way the winds were blowing in Detroit and beyond.

“I loved that record,” Powers said. “I said: ‘That’s it, I’m going to do me a record.’ ”

Still going by the surname Pavlik at the time, he headed to Detroit’s Fortune Records and paid for a recording session. There, he said, studio operator Devora Brown bestowed him the name “Johnny Powers” after spotting him munching a PowerHouse candy bar.

“People say, ‘Johnny, you sound a lot like Elvis, like those imitators.’ But I’m not. I hate to hear that,” Powers said. “I just happen to have that kind of voice. And that’s probably what got me with Sun Records.”

Powers’ brief stint with Sun in 1959 produced singles such as “With Your Love, With Your Kiss.”

“The most exciting thing was being there for the birth of rock ‘n’ roll — experiencing the crowds, the guards holding people back, getting your clothes ripped off,” he told the Free Press.

Powers is often categorized as a rockabilly artist, but he flinched at the label.

“They call it that now, but it was rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “The term ‘rockabilly’ today is from when country music finally gave in and the artists started bouncing their music a little more. But our music was called rock ‘n’ roll.”

At Motown, Powers rubbed shoulders with the company’s roster of young talent and said he drove Stevie Wonder home from the studio as the ’67 Detroit riots flared.

Powers said he was always proud to be associated with Detroit’s rich musical heritage, claiming it as a badge of honor throughout life.

“We had the best creativity here for one big reason: the people who immigrated here,” he said in 2003. “We had the best jazz musicians, the best R&B musicians, some of the best country musicians. With that combination, you couldn’t get this anywhere in America or the world. It had the R&B touch. That feel of the musician and his instrument, you can’t write it on paper.”

As the decades rolled on, Powers continued to record while performing regularly in Michigan and overseas. He'd been hoping to make a European gig this spring, but his final performance turns out to have been a Las Vegas concert in 2018.

Powers is survived by his daughter, Yvonne Peltier; three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A private funeral will be held Sunday in Utica.


This is from 1957 - PLAY IT LOUD !!!

Re: So Long, Johnny Powers

Posted: Sat Jan 21, 2023 8:36 pm
by Mister Moon
This was signed by Johnny 30 years ago - the page in the "Sun Records" book by Escott & Hawkins where his photo appears. I also brought him some records to sign. I will look for them and post them later.

Powers book.jpg

Re: So Long, Johnny Powers

Posted: Sun Jan 22, 2023 10:24 pm
by Mister Moon
Here's Johnny patiently meeting fans in Redon, France - 1987 :

Re: So Long, Johnny Powers

Posted: Tue Jan 24, 2023 2:16 am
by Rickeap
I've just listened to some of his songs on Spotify. I like them

Re: So Long, Johnny Powers

Posted: Tue Jan 24, 2023 2:24 am
by Rickeap

Re: So Long, Johnny Powers

Posted: Tue Jan 24, 2023 7:37 pm
by Mister Moon
He recorded several songs for Sun ("Trouble" is one of them), but only two were released originally, in September 1959, as Sun single 327 - "With Your Love, With Your Kiss" / "Be Mine, All Mine". The former is no doubt the very best of the bunch - it showcases Powers really singing his heart out, while he is backed by stellar Sun musicians Martin Willis on tenor sax, and Jimmy Van Eaton, among others. It's one of the last great rockin' performances to be heard on a Sun single.

Re: So Long, Johnny Powers

Posted: Tue Jan 24, 2023 7:43 pm
by Mister Moon
Here's Johnny performing the song live 52 years later (2011), with the same passion :

Re: So Long, Johnny Powers

Posted: Fri Jan 27, 2023 7:05 pm
by Mister Moon
His second single, made for Fox Records of Detroit in 1957, is my favourite Powers release, and I took my copy with me, together with the Sun book, the day I was going to meet him, for Johnny to sign them. Here it is, just out from my dusty vaults. A priceless memento, now more than ever :

Powers Fox a.jpg

Powers Fox b.jpg