Doc Powell


Given Doc's reputation for musical excellence it's no surprise the guitarist was able to assemble an all-star lineup for his album "Laid Back". Laid Back features performances by bassists Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller, percussionist Sheila E., flutist/saxophonist Najee, soprano saxophonist Boney James, keyboardist Patrice Rushen, pianist Bobby Lyle and tenor saxophonists Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum. "Its just a perfect example of reaping what you sow," the guitarist says, explaining how he was able to pool such stellar talent for his album. "My reputation speaks for itself."

On his Discovery Records album Laid Back, guitarist/producer/arranger Doc Powell creates luxuriant contemporary jazz with a cool R&B underpinning. Produced by "The Doctor" himself the album features 11 tracks ranging from satiny fusion to soul-kissed balladry and sensitively rendered interpretations. These various musical settings provide Doc with a forum for his unique guitar technique - a warm sound accented with occasional bursts of virtuosi flash.

Doc's ability to bring out the best in a song has not gone unnoticed by the music industry. A revered session musician Doc Powell rose to renown as a fixture of Luther Vandross's recording and touring band. During a career spanning 15 years Doc has performed with such heavyweights as Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, George Benson, Dionne Warwick, Al Jarreau, Teddy Pendergrass, Vanessa Williams, McCoy Tyner and the late Phyllis Hyman. His distinct guitar sound has been heard in popular commercials, hit movies and Emmy Award-winning soap operas. But Doc is more than just a supporting player. A compelling solo artist in his own right, he received a Grammy nomination for his 1987 interpretation of the Marvin Gaye classic, "What's Goin' On."

The result of this musical summit is a contemporary jazz masterwork. Avoiding the indulgent improvisations that marr some modern jazz recordings, Doc plays memorable melodic passages over insinuating grooves. It's a considerate approach that makes Laid Back a richly satisfying listening experience.

"It's a very melodic record without being too aggressive or showy," Doc says. "When I play I don't think about trying to impress people with how fast I can play. I concentrate more on playing from the heart. That makes it more of a spiritual experience for me. It's that emotion that excites me."

Laid Back marks Doc's third foray into solo recording. The guitarist savored his first taste of solo success with the release of his debut album, Love Is Where It's At. His critically acclaimed 1994 follow-up, Inner City Blues, released on Doc's own independent label -- West Coast Records, garnered a top five spot for the single "We'll Make It Last" on R&R's NAC chart for over three consecutive months, making the release one of the top albums of 1995.

"I think this new album is more contemporary," Doc says of Laid Back, "with urban/r&b and gospel influences. The sound on the new record stems from a personal desire as a guitarist and producer to do something different and grow. Spiritually speaking, I feel a lot of music coming out of me lately, and I have to get it out. It's like a pastor having a lot to say to the congregation."

A spirituality of a different sort surfaces on Doc's smooth interpretations of Whitney Houston's "Lover for Life" and Angela Bofill's "Tropical Love." Employing sunny musical strokes Doc renders these songs with warmth and emotion. A similar sensitivity can be heard on ballads like "You Won't Be Alone," "From the Heart" and Doc's lilting paean to his wife, "Charlene."

But melody is only half the story here. Laid Back is also about the almighty groove, which the guitarist drives home with funky tracks like "Sunday Mornin'," "Sunrise" and "Let's Dance." The title track is a masterpiece of late night funk where Doc and saxophonist Boney James exchange musical phrases over an insistent groove.

"I wanted a song with a strong groove, the same sort of groove you hear on those George Clinton records that make you want to dance all the way through," Doc says. "Boney and I just wanted to have fun on it. It's funky but it's cool."

For Doc Laid Back is just the latest chapter in an illustrious career. Born and raised in New York he started playing guitar at age 6. By his mid-teens Doc was recording and performing live, capturing the admiration of much older and seasoned musicians in the process. Indeed, before reaching his 21st birthday Doc was chosen as Musical Director for the legendary Wilson Pickett. The job served as an internship that prepared the guitarist for what lay ahead.

Soon after the Pickett gig concluded producer Fred Petrus spotted Doc performing in a New York City club. Petrus invited the guitarist to record in Italy with a group called Change. At the time, Change consisted of studio musicians and session vocalists, including a then-unknown singer named Luther Vandross. Doc found himself Musical Director for one of the hottest new groups around, as well as for another group -- The BB&Q Band.

The BB&Q Band's debut album produced a Number One R&B single. The success of this project escalated Doc's career to another level, making him one of the most sought after musicians in the industry. Aside from working with a plethora of well-known recording artists, Doc performed the Jeffrey Osborne theme song to the soap opera "Loving," and contributed to films like "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "The Five Heartbeats," "Turner & Hooch" and "Hero."

Now with the release of his third solo album the gifted guitarist, producer and arranger takes center stage and pushes his artistry to lofty new levels. Laid Back is the strongest showcase yet for Doc Powell.

Doc Powell has been in solo orbit ever since leaving his long-time stint as axeman behind Luther Vandross. "The Doctor" posted one of 1996's biggest jazz albums with LAID BACK. It spawned three hits including "Sunday Morning" and "Laid Back." The album contains guest appearances from Boney James, Patrice Rushen, Stanley Clarke, Najee and Marcus Miller

Remarkable is also his project Double Scale released at Windham Hill Records 1999. He gathered some exquiste artists and plays in Sassy.

A review about Doc Powell - 97th &Columbus

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