Friday, June 02, 2006

Bobby Powell: When You Move You Lose

I can't upload any photos for this week's post! I'll add them in later...

Meanwhile, here is a slice of Louisiana soul, recorded at Marshall Seahorn and Allen Toussaint's Seasaint Studios, by Bobby Powell, and produced by Senator Jones.

Bobby was born around 1941 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He began singing in church at 4, and playing piano at age 6. Bobby was educated at the Southern University School for the Blind, and was encouraged to take up music as a profession. Powell was heavily influenced by his beginnings in the church and singing in gospel groups, and it was only in his third year at college in 1964 that he began recording secular soul tunes for Lionel Whitfield's Whit label. He recorded I Want To Know in 1964 at Deep South Studio in Baton Rouge. Leased and released on Atlantic Records, it failed to catch fire, and Powell never got another chance on a national label.

Powell secured his biggest success with his fourth 45, a cover of C.C. Rider (number 1 in 1965 on the regional Cash Box R&B chart, and Top 20 nationally). He obtained another hit with the funky Do Something For Yourself (No. 21 R&B) in 1966, but his most impressive recording that year was I'm Gonna Leave You (No. 34 R&B), which mixed blues guitar and a gospel chorus with great effect. Some of Bobby's songs were leased to Jewel Records at this time. Bobby achieved some regional success in 1969 with In Time, covered Cry To Me with passion later in the same year, and reached the charts again in 1971 with a powerful gospel-style remake of Baby Washington's The Bells (No. 14 R&B). But his recordings were not getting the attention they deserved.

Excello Records in Nashville released Bobby's first LP, Thank You (EX8028) in 1973. It continued in the vein of southern soul, with covers of Van Morrison and Art Neville. Musical styles had changed, and this was Bobby's last collaboration with Lionel Whitfield.

Beginning in the late 70s, Powell began recording for Senator Jones at his Hep'Me label. Jones described Bobby thus:

"Bobby Powell is blind, but its just like he can see. When I go to Baton Rouge to visit the radio stations, Bobby is always the one to show me around the city. Bobby rides his bicycle all over Baton rouge for exercise, so its just like he can see..."

Despite some sizeable regional successes Bobby failed to reach the national charts, but did record some more classic deep soul and blues. He recorded a number of soul and slow blues numbers, favouring covers of Ray Charles and B.B. King as well as original material by Senator Jones. You will also hear Bobby Powell playing organ and singing background vocals for other artists such as Johnny Adams.

I've chosen the song When You Move You Lose as a representative of Bobby's Hep'Me years. It is not the song of the same name written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, but a slow blues number written by Senator Jones and his brother Raymond. At first, Bobby has a relaxed delivery that belies the power within his voice and the heights he can take it to. I think one of Bobby's amazing skills is to infuse blues songs with gospel intensity. Another time, I'll post another classic, The Glory of Love.

Bobby Powell - When You Move You Lose (Hep'Me 176)

During the 80s he functioned as a perennial opening act in Baton Rouge - regardless of who came to town, Powell performed the opening gig. He returned to gospel music in the 1980s, recording the LP Down By The Riverside (Hep'Me 130).

In 2002, WestSide Records released a compilation of Powell's 1960s singles, titled Into My Own Thing: The Jewel and Whit Recordings 1966-1971. His Hep' Me recordings are being rereleased by Aim Records this very month as Louisiana Soul. Get a copy!

Information about Bobby Powell was found at, and from liner notes written by John Ridley.


Red Kelly said...

Where oh where is the "Hep'Me Story" box set?? (or even a decent discography for that matter?)

Excellent cut... thanks, brother!

Red Kelly said...
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Rob Whatman said...

Thanks, Red Kelly, glad you enjoyed the N'Orleans soul!