Clearly that old joke has never applied to Rick Powell — Bam to his friends, and that’s just about everybody — one of the busiest and most musical drummers in the Cincinnati scene. The Lebanon High School graduate relocated to Toledo, then came to prominence here nearly three decades ago as the skinsman behind The Raisins, one of Cincinnati’s most beloved and twisted Pop bands of all time. But his musical journey started when he was a teenager.
“I remember the first time I got paid for a gig … done, over,” Powell says with a laugh over coffee at Bob Evans. “Where I grew up, the only way you could make money was working on somebody’s farm baling hay or cleaning out a barn or splitting wood. Heinous stuff. As soon as somebody handed me money for playing drums, I was like, ‘OK … I love this country.’ ”
Powell remained a Cincinnati fixture after the raisins’ breakup in 1983. He’s currently playing with three bands — drumming and singing with Bucket and Tickled Pink, and playing percussion and singing with The Bluebirds. And if you listen closely, you’ll hear his voice jingling for a good many local advertisers. Solid proof of why demand for Powell is so high is all over his sophomore solo CD, Eat the Fat Drink the Sweet, following the 2000 release, Rick Powell and the Troublemakers.
In most cases, a nine-year gap between albums would be an indication of writer’s block, clinical procrastination issues or substance problems, but Powell has no colorful tales on those fronts.
In fact, he has been almost pathologically busy, recording multiple albums with The Bluebirds and Bucket and playing out every chance he gets. Over the past few years, he occasionally wrote songs, determined that they weren’t quite right for any of his current outfits and held them back for himself. Eventually, he had enough for Eat the Fat.
“I was holding out to do it with (producer) Ric Probst who did the first one,” says Powell. “But he lives in Milwaukee and he’s had a kid and just didn’t have time. I finally just said, ‘I’m just going to do it on my own.’ And all my gear started breaking down, so I was like, ‘I’m going to buy a computer and learn how to record on this thing.’ I basically did the whole thing and then called Scott Covrett and said, ‘Put some guitar on it.’ And then I had Bob (Nyswonger, old raisins bandmate) come over and replace my keyboard bass parts.”
After occasional horn parts from Eric Campbell and Ben Walkenhauer and mixing and mastering by Mind Ignition’s Alex Lusht, the Blues/R&B/Rock/Soul-tinged Eat the Fat finally shimmered into shape.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Eat the Fat is that Powell had any time at all to create it. Between band memberships, sessions and various and sundry paying gigs, his calendar is packed to overflowing and his head barely has room for all the hats he wears.
“I’m a serious blue-collar musician,” Powell says. “I play multiple nights a week. I’m in Tickled Pink and I start thinking about writing for that band, or this is Bluebirds now or Bucket, so you start to compartmentalize. Next thing you know, I’m playing at a wedding reception. That brings you right back down to earth.”
Typically, Powell is drumming and singing simultaneously, so on the rare opportunities when he steps out from behind the kit to move to the front of the stage the change in scenery can alter his performance. Lacking the sense memory cues of drumming, Powell sometimes has to reconstruct exactly how to perform a given song.
“If I’m playing it comes out one way, if I’m not it comes out another.” Powell says. “It’s probably just having to do it a certain way because I’m doing something else. And I feel like I’m not contributing enough by simply singing the song. You mean all I have to do is that? What else do I do? I’m not a good dancer. I don’t have a really nice ass.”
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