Thursday, March 3, 2011

Raw Powers: The tales of Cousin Eric

Eric Powers with Clay Wheels at the Comet Tavern in Seattle. (Andy photo)
This one time, at band camp ...Eric Powers found his drumming groove.

At age 34 now, my cousin the sticksman has been pummeling helpless drumsets for some 26 years. He's covered the gamut of musical styles, starting with the school concert band in Morgan Hill, Calif., to rocking out with Whiskey Sunday overseas and with legendary Stooges guitarist James Williamson with Careless Hearts in his beloved San Jose.

There's been a lot of 'epic' experiences in between those above noted musical bookends, and we fired off a list of questions and he let the memories roll:

• Why drumming, what got you into it? Did you bang on stuff around the house?
Ben Heidrich photo

I'm not really sure if I banged on things around the house….I don't recall doing anything like that. I do remember a single drum that was always 'put away' and 'only for the 4th of July' that was around the house….I'm sure any kid would have beat the hell out of something like that. It was off limits. Mom an Dad didn't want to hear that. I understand now. The drumming thing came randomly one weekend day when my dad and I were in downtown Morgan Hill having lunch at Mission Trail Deli. I was 8 years old. Across the street was the Music Tree, a store that had musical instruments for sale and rental. The store's still there. We went over to have a look at the guitars, amps, trumpets and the cool part, the drums, after lunch. I asked Dad if I could learn, and I got signed up right then and there for lessons with a guy named Steve DePorceri. Took lessons there for two years or so, or at least until I was old enough to start in the school band program in fifth grade.

• I know you started in school band, any good stories about your early years? What about the trip to England? Didn't you drum with Louie Bellson?

I played in every school band there was from fifth grade until I graduated. I was a skateboard kid and a band geek. My school district had a super-great music program that was supported by crazy fund-raisers and constant activity. Junior high was three years of concert band in the morning, jazz at night, competitions all over the state, international tours (London and all over Europe). High school was the highly regarded "Live Oak Emerald Regime Marching Band and Color Guard" from July until rainy season. Band camp, etc. We did jazz in the offseason. Lots of stupid teenage antics on band trips. I was into skateboards and punk and heavy metal, so I was naturally drawn to a little mischief at times.

Whiskey Sunday (Courtesy photo)
Careless Hearts in SF (Angeline King photo)

Anyway, my high-school band teacher got Louie Bellson to come to our school and play with the band and give a talk and a drum clinic. He had recently married a local gal and moved to nearby San Jose. I guess he was well known for helping out at schools and telling his story in his elder years. This was extra cool to me because my junior-high band would play Count Basie tunes. Louie was my favorite drummer on those old Basie records I listened to for the recent years to learn how to play jazz drums. I liked Louie more than Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa. My band teacher probably still has no idea how much of a big deal it was to me.
Long story short, we played a concert one night at the school, he invited me to do a little old-school 'drum battle' at the end of the show and I think I pretty much choked, but I got by -- it was an epic night, for sure. He signed my snare-drum head that night. It's hanging on the wall in front of me right now. I think that was 1992.

• When was your first time on stage with a rock band? What was it like? You were young, did they have to sneak you into the club?

It was with The Brownies at Oasis Nightclub, Downtown San Jose. Totally ridiculous. I rehearsed with the band for the first time earlier that night. It was basically a tryout, and we end up playing later that night at a downtown club. It was a pants-shitter for me. They were all 5-10 years older than I was. I had an electronic kick drum pedal rig that night. I'm not really sure why. It wasn't mine. This was around 1992-1993. I was around 17 years old. I was definitely snuck into that place! Many, many show nights back then were spent either in the back room, or outside. I got in undetected a few times, but I never drank. I was just happy to be able to watch the other bands and hang out. I have a few funny stories about getting kicked out of these same places.

• Name your bands, from start to now. You've gone from ska to punk to rock to country with your latest band Careless Hearts.

I'll give you (attempted) genres, too.

LAME - skate punk party crap
Stone of the Sun - it was bad, bad
The Brownies - ska/reggae/dancehall (RIP Tim Kahikikolo 3-3-11)
PALE (later we changed the name to HANK) - post punk/alternative
Willies Conception - hip hop (Brownies side project)
Sloe - post punk/alternative/indie
Hotbox - filled in for So. Cal tour only
Clay Wheels - skate rock
JP & The Rhythm Chasers - western swing (mostly fill-ins)
Greenhouse Effect - stoner rock/doom
Whiskey Sunday - punk. drunk.
The Pimpsticks - '50s/'60s swing
Careless Hearts - indie/Americana

Pimpsticks (Eric Stanger photo)
Careless Hearts with James Williamson (Poke Choppums photo)
The Modern Soul Quartet and/or the Hamm's Bear Trio have also shown up and rocked the spot, on occasion.
I still have one or two more projects I'd like to do someday.

• What's your favorite and why?

I think my favorite band I've ever been in would be Sloe. We put in a lot of time and energy and did a lot of great things together. It was mayhem. I'm forever proud of that band. We've recently started back playing together a bit. It's really fun.
That said, I love playing with Careless Hearts now. It's a similar feeling with these guys, but without the Tequila and clown shoes.

• Best gig?

I think it might have been opening for the Skatalites at the Cactus Club/San Jose. It was a weird one, because they usually played 'nice' places, but it was at our home base. Exciting for us all.
Then again, the James Williamson/Careless Hearts gig is up there, as well. Sometimes a great night overseas on the road with some whiskey and 10 raging people in the crowd is the best gig ever.

• Every musician has a nightmare gig story ... what's yours?

The worst one was at this legendary dancehall in a tucked away town called Brisbane. The place is called the 23 Club and all kinds of serious country and jazz guys have played there over the last 100 years. I was playing with JP & The Rhythm Chasers, filling in and really not too familiar with their tunes and I definitely wasn't from the '50s western swing scene. My drums were big, boomy, clear acrylic jobs at the time, so I hit up my pal Joey Meyers to borrow one of his many vintage 'cool' kits so I didn't blow the place out and I thought I'd look like I fit in a little better. I didn't set up the kit at home beforehand to make sure I had everything I needed. I had stacked up weeklies, tablecloths, barstools and duct tape helping me limp through the evening to make a somewhat usable rig. It sucked. I sucked, and we probably sucked.

• There are times when you've been in like 3-4 bands at once. How do you make it happen? Is time management one of your strengths?

Time management definitely became one of my strengths. I was on a pretty regimented and BUSY schedule my whole life through school. After I graduated high school, it was no big deal to work a full-time job and dedicate 3-4 nights a week plus all weekend to the band(s). It came naturally. I like it. Girls don't like it so much. The trick is keeping your calendar up to date. It's much easier nowadays with smart phones and things like that. There are sometimes conflicts, but not as many as you'd think.

• Speaking of strength, do you attribute your well-muscled arms to drumming?

Absolutely. 12-, and sometimes 16-ounce curls, have a really positive impact, as well.

• What's the key to being a solid drummer?

Listen and play lots of different kinds of music. Do it a lot. Playing with different people is a really great way to learn. Listen to the other guys, and don't show off. You look stupid when you show off. I think AC/DC's music is a true definition of the word 'solid.' Play like them.

• Name your top five drummers.

• Chuck Biscuits - He played fast and precise, but still had enough in him to throw in snare drags and little jazz-ish fills without lagging at all. I spent many years trying to get those little DOA tricks down, then I ripped off the song 'D.O.A.' in a Whiskey Sunday song when I got it down good enough. He was also in Danzig and I was a big fan of them when I was in junior high…as you are well aware of.
• Earl Hudson - Nobody is as good as Earl Hudson. Earl Hudson deserves his own Washington Monument in DC.
• Louie Bellson - Hot-shit drum solos, but nice and tasty when it's swing time. He was famous for playing a double-kick drumset since the '30s or '40s. My favorite of the guys from that era, ever since I was a kid. I never took up double the kick-drum thing.
• Jimmy Chamberlain - He had the chops that none of his peers had during the 'grunge' days. He's a shredder, but has dynamics. Dynamics are key.
• Carlton Barrett - He taught me reggae music. The Barrett Brothers were the best rhythm section in the business. Reggae was huge for me when I was younger.

• When you and the Careless Hearts played with James Williamson of The Stooges, did he give you any invaluable tips? Did he give you the evil eye if you missed a beat? What was that experience like?

That experience was an amazing one. We all (Careless Hearts) felt really grateful that James was interested in playing with us, simply so he could get his chops up a little and rock out with some guys in a room with some loud amps. We ended up playing a gig and recording it for vinyl/DVD release. It was an amazing experience. Steve Mackay ('Funhouse' saxman) showed up for a few rehearsals and played at the show, too. We would endlessly ask James questions during the summer rehearsals, sometimes getting great stories out of him and sometimes getting a laugh. We are still pretty tight with James. He's a super nice guy. We're stoked for him, being back onstage after 30 years of not playing. That's a crazy story in itself. Funny, one of his tips was to not drink or party before you go onstage. He said the Stooges never did. Iggy was a different story. That blew my mind.

*Note: Andy, the blog's co-author, was a large part of my musical upbringing and reached out early on. He sent me mix tapes with bands that are legendary, but I had never heard before. These were instrumental in my upbringing. The tapes were played to death. He continued to give me music and tips ever since I can remember and I'm forever grateful. Carrie and Andy starting this blog is long overdue and I thank you for asking me to be a part of it.


  1. thanks for writing such a great article about San Jose's very own Ringo.

  2. Right on, Derek. Eric says we must meet you and hang out someday.

  3. Tequila and clown shoes make for a good party.