Phillip Barry Powell

In 1959, Carl Powell and his family returned to the Muscle Shoals area in north Alabama and opened an Electronic Supply Company on Jackson Highway in Sheffield. Phillip Barry Powell was born on January 23,1960,across the street from the W. C. Handy Home in Florence Alabama. This same small town is also the birthplace of Sam Philips. As a boy Phillip fished near the abandoned docks where Handy had worked as a water-boy. It is said, Handy got his first musical influence from church and the songs the workers sang as they loaded the barges. Phillip grew up on the Tennessee River. His uncle farmed in the flat lands just down stream from Muscle Shoals, across from Seven Mile Island, and most weekends were spent on the family boat or on his uncle's farm. In 1963 Rick Hall opened FAME Studios in Florence. Rick managed to scrape all the necessary equipment with the exception of the most important commodity, Recording Tape. Rick approached Mr. Powell and asked him to stock the media, allow Rick to receive a couple of reels, do a recording session and clear the account when FAME received payment. It is not clear how long that arrangement went on, but there were times when a very important client was in town, Rick would run out of tape in the middle of the night and call Mr. Powell's home. Carl would get dressed, gather the children that were awakened by the phone, stop by his store and deliver two reels of tape into Rick's hands. Phillip recalls a few encounters with studio performers and soon to be stars, although he can't positively identify any one person for sure, except for Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section Members.

A few years later when some of the Rhythm Section members opened Muscle Shoals Sound, history repeated itself and Carl provided the same service for the great music that was sure to follow. The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was just a few blocks up Jackson Highway from Powell Electronics. As a preteen, Phillip would sometimes make deliveries to the studio. The Powell family, like most families in the "Bible Belt" in the 1960's, were very religious and Phillip was instructed not to hang out with the Musicians. He was told that the studio was not the type of environment where he should allow himself to be influenced. Phillip would make his delivery, stick his head into the control room, get a good look around, go back outside, down the side of the building, lean his head against the blocks of that old casket factory and listen to the thump of
the Rhythm Section as they made musical history. One of Phillip's strongest influences was an album by Jim Capalti entitled "Oh How We Danced", recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound, maybe on one of those days Phillip hid in the grass outside the studio.

No doubt some of those sounds made their way into his music. His song writing is a synthesis of almost all 20th Century forms, from Tin Pan Alley to Elvis to contemporary
popular forms. Around an innate sense of melody he builds strong, simple chord progressions to create a style that brings these forms to mind, yet he never copies any of them. His style is his own. As such, he is doing what every great American songwriter from Stephen Foster and Leadbelly to Ryan Adams have done, he assimilates history and adds his own voice. Intensely spiritual, beautifully crafted, Powell's songs are guaranteed to touch the soul as well as move the feet.

Jake Berry

  • Member Since: 2006
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