“I had my first drum set at nine. I was beating on the pots and pans at home and all over the furniture. My mother got tired of that. I was destroying the furniture and bending up all the strainers. I was using the strainers for tom-toms. Each pot was made for something-the snare drum, you know. I had dents in them. And very time she’d go to cook she had to be hitting them, knocking them into shape to cook. The poor strainer caught hell. But had a good sound.”
Drummer Shannon “The King of Treme” Powell is one the most sought after drummers and percussionists in the world. His powerful technique is steeped in the funky drum beats that emanate from the streets of New Orleans.
Powell grew up in the Treme neighborhood right outside of the French Quarter. Treme percolates with the sounds of Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs, marching parades, Jazz funerals and church revivals. A devotee of legendary Banjo player Danny Barker, Powell began playing music at Barker’s Fairview Baptist Church in 1974. A fast learner, Powell became a member of Barker’s Jazzhounds and had his first paying gig at Jazz Fest at t the ripe age of 14. Like many jazz men in New Orleans, Powell honed his skills in church and public schools. He was a member of the Bell Jr. High concert band and by high school he was a member of New Orleans Finest, trumpeter Leroy Jones’ first band.
His early influences include neighbor James Black, Ellis Marsalis and the men at Preservation Hall. “Everything I learned was being around the great musicians of New Orleans. You know my mentors were David Lastie and Mr. Danny Barker. Danny Barker was first and then I fell into the hands of David Lastie who is Herlin Riley’s uncle. They kind of raised me as a young musician and I started calling them my family”, states Powell. New Orleans Jazz tradition passes from elder musician to younger player and Powell was prodigious in his ability to recall the tempo’s and songs of the traditional jazz players. As childhood friends, Powell and Ben Jaffe of Preservation Hall sat at the seat of the jazz masters, learning and absorbing the music. “As a kid I played a lot of hard core traditional music being around Preservation Hall. I learned from being in the streets at a young age hanging in the Quarter. I used to go to the concerts at the Municipal Auditorium and sometimes I would get in from meeting people that were part of the show and sometimes I would sneak in. I was so small, I could sneak in easy. That’s how I ran into Kidd Jordan and Clyde Kerr and all the people that were playing in the orchestra.” To this day, many musicians seek Powell out to validate a song or tempo. Powell has played with all of the greats including Trio gigs with Ellis Marsalis, Tommy Ridgely, Johnny Adams, Kermit Ruffins and he lived in Germany while working with Lillian Boute. Powell spent six years touring & recording with Harry Connick Jr’s Band, they released two Platinum albums “When Harry Met Sally” and “We Are In Love”. Powell adds, “Harry and I used to do a lot of New Orleans things together like Basin Street Blues. He was a guy who likes to entertain his audience and he used what he had on the bandstand.” Powell has also toured extensively with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Diana Krall. With numerous recordings in his portfolio, Powell also recorded with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and appears on the critically-acclaimed, Shake That Thing.
Powell who still resides in Treme leads his own band The Shannon Powell Quartet which features Jason Marsalis (younger brother of Wynton, Branford and Delfeayo) on vibraphone, Steve Masakowski on guitar and Roland Guerin on bass. When not playing music, Powell oversees his thriving neighborhood soul food enterprise.
Artist Biography by Eve Abrams. Excerpted from “Preservation Hall: Portraits By Shannon Brinkman and Interviews by Eve Abrams” (LSU Press)