American Routes Shortcuts: Shannon Powell

Mar 17, 2017

Shannon Powell
Credit American Routes

Each week, American Routes Shortcuts offers a taste of the upcoming American Routes episode. This week, it’s Timekeepers: drummers and rhythm makers from New Orleans and beyond. Today, Shannon Powell is live in the studio. He showed us how it’s done on the drums and chatted about music in church, growing up in the Treme.

For the full episode, tune into WWNO Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 6 p.m., or listen at americanroutes.org.

SP: I was a little boy and I used to be playing outside, right next door to the church, my and my friends, and we would hear this great rhythm coming out of the church all the time. You know, the ladies were playing the tambourines and they had the gentlemen on the organ, and actually the preacher was the drummer. You know, he preached and played drums with the snare drum and the bass drum.

(Demonstrates)

SP: And I’ll tell you, when you’re talking about a spirit, see the ladies would play this:

(Demonstrates)

SP: You know, everybody else is clapping on 2 and 4, you know, and as a kid I’m trying to put this together because I’m like “Wow, that almost sounds like Second Line!” But you know, back then, the old people used to always tell you, “no, that’s not Second Line, this is God’s music!” You know.

NS: But right at the middle of it, as much as the preacher, was the drummer.

SP: That’s right. You know, the service was always about the music. More than anything. You know what I’m saying, when those people came out of there, they were soaking wet, you know what I’m saying? They lost a few pounds.

NS: So, it carries you to Preservation Hall, to the streets, tell me about taking the spirit to these other places.

SP: That’s right, well that’s when I found out like I said earlier that the music was all related. You know, listening to the pastor in the church playing those press rolls and then being able to be introduced to Preservation Hall with Mr. Said Frasier and Paul Barbarin and Louis Barbarin and hearing exactly what I was just telling you, a very similar song:

(Plays)

SP: See, so that’s the same rhythm!

NS: Love takes many forms.

SP: And then they had another thing that they played:

(Plays)

SP: So that tells me that the drummer that played on that record with Fats was from the church, cause that’s the same beat he played.

NS: And a little Professor Longhair whistle doesn’t hurt

SP: Alright. So, you know the music is all related.

NS: So, do you feel like you’re somebody that has to defend traditional music?

SP: Well, a lot of young musicians today, all over the city of New Orleans, they just don’t have the understanding about how important it is that we uphold the tradition and the respect for the people have had paved the way for us to be able to do what we’re doing today. A lot of those great musicians played for dirt cheap in New Orleans and never got the acclaim that they deserved.

NS: Well they had other jobs, they were plasterers and carpenters and plumbers

SP: That’s right! Today’s time is so different, you’ve got to be humble. I learned a lot of that from Mr. Barker.

NS: Did you? Danny Barker.

SP: You know, he taught me and a bunch of other young musicians how to make the job look like it’s fun.

NS: Showmanship.

SP: Don’t be lookin’ at your watch trying to see what time it is; I hate when guys say “oh man, I got a job tonight.” A job? What are you, a plasterer? What are you, a carpenter? I said, “well no, you’re going to a party.” That’s the way I look at my life. Everywhere I play it’s a party.

For the full episode, tune into WWNO Saturday at 7,  Sunday at 6, or listen at americanroutes.org.