Freddy Powers is affectionately known as the ‘Ol Blue Eyes’ of Country Music, according to the L.A. Times, and if you were to “ask country superstars Willie Nelson, George Jones or Merle Haggard (they’ll)…tell you that he’s one of country music’s best-kept secrets.” The Texas Country Music Hall of Fame inductee has been to the top of the Charts as both a producer (Willie Nelson’s Grammy-winning “Over the Rainbow” LP) and songwriter, penning many # 1 hits with sidekick and fellow legend Merle Haggard, who declared “Freddy Powers is one of my favorite people in the world,” while Willie Nelson adds personally that “Freddy’s strongest suit, I always thought, was his rhythm guitar playing. He was a great rhythm guitar player, and he wrote some great songs with and for Merle.”Sizing up Powers’ influence on country music, Country Music Television has noted that throughout his 50-year career, Powers has “demonstrated a dedication to broadening the perimeters of country & western, particularly in creating a fusion of country honky tonk and swing jazz. This interest runs throughout Powers’ career,” while his hometown Austin Chronicle has affectionately concluded that “Powers’ name stands alongside some of country music’s most enduring classics.” Now, for the first time, in the pages of his memoirs, “THE SPREE OF ’83,” Freddy recounts first-hand the highly-entertaining and emotionally-touching story behind his decades-long roller-coaster ride through the music business, to the top of the charts, and his inspiring struggle in recent years battling Parkinson’s disease, all while his legacy endured through generations of fans. Helping Freddy tell his story are exclusive interviews from fellow country music legends WILLIE NELSON, MERLE HAGGARD, John Rich, Tanya Tucker, The Voice finalist/Powers’ protégé Mary Sarah, and hosts of other Nashville luminaries.
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Texas Country Music Hall of Famer Freddy and wife Catherine Powers were married for over 25 years, with Catherine managing Freddy’s career as a prolific performer and songwriter, where he is most celebrated for co-writing numerous # 1 hits for Merle Haggard, notably including such fan fav’s as “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room Tonight,” “I Always Get Lucky With You,” “Natural High,” and “A Place to Fall Apart” among countless others. Freddy is the recipient of Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Nashville Songwriter’s Association International, the Texas Music Academy, and the Texas Guitar Association, the CMA Triple Play Award, and the BMI # 1 Song Award among other coveted distinctions and honors.
Read an Excerpt
"The Spree of '83"
By Freddy Powers, Catherine Powers
Waldorf PublishingCopyright © 2017 Freddy Powers and Catherine Powers
All rights reserved.
Over the Rainbow
Freddy Powers: It was the 8th of August, 1987 and the temperature in Redding, California had been in the 100s and up for a few weeks, and the thoughts of winter were beginning to come into my mind. Not only was I winding down the summer, I was also winding down a life that I had lived for the past six years, and as I was driving in my pickup loaded down with guitars and amps and all the things that I would be needing for my change of life, I started thinking about how it all came about. Here I was on my way to Nevada to start my new life back where it all started.
My mind wandered back to a day in 1980 in Reno, Nevada when I was visiting with Willie Nelson at Bill Harrah's house. By the time the 1980s came along, I had already spent 20 years of my life on the music circuit playing throughout the United States, mostly in Nevada lounges. At the time, I had a Dixie band where I also performed comedy and it was a great bunch of road musicians. After years on the road in the mid-1970s, we'd finally landed a dream-sit down gig at the Eldorado Hotel/Casino in Reno. The family who owned the hotel, the Corona family, was a wonderful Italian family with three boys, one girl and father Don Corona running the family business. They were always good to me and all my memories of the family and casino are among my favorites.
In reality, my Eldorado days had me all oiled up and ready for the Spree of 83 and that rock and roll style of living. Leading up to the point when I met Merle Haggard, from the mid-70s on, I'd been named the Entertainment Director and had a show there with my band. I was known as 'Ambassador of Good Will,' and had the power of the pen. This meant I could buy anything for anybody I wanted to. I kept half of Reno drunk for those four years! I lived on top of the hotel in the penthouse suite, and the party always ended up in my suite just about every night. Why not, everything was free. The hotel wasn't dumb about giving me the power of the pen and putting me up in that suite either because these guests of mine would wind up staying half the night with me, getting so drunk they were almost out of their minds, and this was all on the house to turn them loose in the Casino. Need I say more?
The Austin Chronicle: "Hired to lead the house band at the Stardust, the flagship enterprise of Allen Glick's Chicago Mafia-backed Argent Corp. In the plush red booths at the back of the lounge ... Powers spent his evenings drinking with notorious gangsters like Lefty Rosenthal and Tony Spilotro, who were running operations at the Stardust behind titled fronts like 'Entertainment Director'. Rosenthal and Spilotro would later become the inspiration for Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci's characters in the film Casino."
Freddy Powers: Reno was a top-notched party town back then, especially when you're the most popular entertainers in town and the star of a nightly show living on the top of one of the hottest hotel and casinos in a penthouse suite. I had my pick of a WHOLE lotta ladies to choose from every night, and I say Ladies because some of them became good friends I even wrote a song about it:
There are some ladies
that know I did wrong
Because I was weak
When I should have been strong
There are some that I loved
And some that I used
Some that were willing
And some that refused
We took of the things
That would cloud up our minds
And loosen resistance
For a sexual time
The touch of a woman
The world's greatest high
I'm addicted to women
Till the day that I die
Many big-time entertainers came by to see my band back in those days, and a lot would sit in with the band, including Willie Nelson. I remember Willie was playing Harrah's when I was across the street at Harvey's Hotel/Casino once when he came over to sit in with me and my band. They wound up having to shut down the gambling tables around the lounge because it filled up with so many people that were crowding in to see us. It got so crazy so quickly that the dealers couldn't tell who was playing on the tables and who wasn't.
I'd actually first met Willie way back in the late 50s shortly after I'd gotten out of the Marines. I'd come straight back to Texas with my heart set on breaking into the music business. I'd grown up in a musical family that played Dixieland Jazz for local town dances in our hometown of Seminole, and when I'd returned back home in my early 20s, I went to Barber school in Dallas to make ends meet while I was getting things going- Johnny Gimble was actually a classmate of mine. While I was playing in Dallas, I began taking guitar lessons from Paul Buskirk – my hero and mentor, and a major influence – who in turn introduced me to Willie when he was just another young country singer-songwriter. In fact, I actually wound up being one of the first country artists to ever record one of Willie's tunes, 'Heartaches of a Fool,' back in 1955!
Willie Nelson: The first time I remember seeing Freddy, he was playing in a Banjo band in Arlington, Texas and it was like a noon-time show at some club; that was many years ago. Then we ran into each other up in Houston when he was down there with Paul Buskirk, and he and Paul and I played a lot of music together and had a lot of fun.
Catherine Powers: He was living in Arlington, Texas in an apartment complex back then where one of his fellow neighbors turned out to be Paul Buskirk. Before he'd ever first introduced himself to Paul, every day, he would see this guy dressed in a nice suit walking around with his instrument, and Freddy was like, "Wow, this guy looks like somebody I need to meet," and so whenever he would see that Paul was pulling into the parking lot, Freddy would open up his door and start singing and playing his guitar as loud as he could to get his attention, and that's how he first caught the attention of Paul Buskirk.
Freddy Powers: "Paul was a wonderful friend of mine! My first paying job was with him. He was such a father figure to me. We played Europe and Vegas together, my gosh, son. I knew him so well. He was even the one who introduced me to marijuana, hahaha! Paul was hardnosed when it came to music. He was a serious player, and a serious musician!"
"We met in Dallas in the 1950s. I had just gotten out of the service and was there to become a barber. Paul drove a big ol' white Buick. I would sing extra loud by the window and Paul heard me one day, and came to talk to me. He hired me and things moved fast from there. We started doing a noon day Jones show in 1955. It was a news/weather show. Neil Jones was the emcee and Paul was the sidekick."
"Later we started doing the Pat Boone Show around 1955/56. We played service clubs and officers clubs in Europe. We had a show with three banjos, three vocalists, and a tuba. Paul had a gypsy wagon built on wheels with a stage and lights in the 1960s. We would pull up on a Saturday afternoon to places like furniture store parking lots and Paul would sweet talk the owners into letting us play. We made good money! Paul was never a honky-tonk player. He was so far advanced and beyond us, he was like a professor of music, and he got better with age!"
"Here's a funny story for ya'. One time a young guy came up to him at the National DJ Convention Festival in Nashville in the 1950s and said, 'Paul Buskirk, the greatest mandolinist in the world.' Paul remarked, 'The only one in the world!' That was Elvis. Elvis had a WSM corncob pipe and was surrounded by girls, by the way. Willie was a standup DJ when they met. With all absolutely due respect, Paul could eat Bill Monroe alive. Buskirk was from a different mold. If I hadn't met him, there's no telling which direction I'd have gone."
Willie Nelson: The first time I heard Paul, he was playing with Johnny and Jack out of Memphis, TN, and then I heard him again when I ran into him down in Houston. I taught guitar with him down there, he had a music studio, and so besides making some records together down there, I would teach guitar in his studio.
Freddy Powers: We all had some great times together traveling around the country. I'm sure Willie misses Paul as much as I do, God rest his soul ...
Catherine Powers: Once he got out of the Marines, Freddy got married immediately because he'd been brought up to focus on having a family while young, but his goal and dream was still to be a professional musician. His oldest daughter was born in 1954, and because he still had to be the breadwinner, he worked in the oil industry with his father and opened up his own bar knowing it guaranteed him a place to play, and another thing he did to put food on the table was he went to barber school. Back then, a lot of musicians went to barber school, because 1.) he could control his schedule, and 2.) make money during the day and still go play music at night. So that's how Freddy kept food on the table and his career going at the same time in the early years.
Freddy Powers: "My first professional gig was in 1953 in Dallas at a place called Diamond Jim's, way down on Elm Street, and on my opening night, I got hit in the middle of the face with a salt shaker that they threw at me so hard it damn near knocked me crazy. That was my introduction to Dallas nightclubs ... and show business."
"I got my start playing over in Hobbs, New Mexico. They had those old Honky-Tonks that hired bands. Lots of people would come through there, like Bob Wills. That's when I got interested in songwriting. All of those old acts would come through and I'd get to see 'um live – closest thing to 'show biz.' That was in the (late 40s)."
Catherine Powers: His parents were both always very supportive of Freddy's musical development growing up, and it's kind of sweet, because though I'm not going to say in any way that his parents loved any one child more than they loved the other, Freddy was "Sir Frederick" to his Mama and Daddy. So much so, that on the last day of his mama's life, she still addressed him as "Sir Frederick," and that nickname stuck around the house when Freddy was a kid because one of Freddy's first bands was Sir Frederick and his Little Men. Because his parents came from musical backgrounds themselves, not only were they extremely supportive when he was still living at home, but after he'd gotten out of the service and was getting his start in the music business touring around Texas, his parents would follow Freddy to watch him play. The family moved to Arlington when Freddy did, and when Freddy moved to Houston, the family moved, so even though he was the middle child, wherever Freddy lived, they followed him.
As a matter of fact, with his baby brother Jerry, Freddy was more than a big brother to him, he was his hero. He was his idol, and when you would say Freddy's name to Jerry, he'd get this smile as big as Texas on his face because he was so proud and looked up so much to his older brother. Whenever Freddy would pull back into town when he'd been out on the road, his whole family – mother, father, brothers, sister – would all get the instruments out and they would play music together. His sister would play piano, his daddy would play fiddle, his brothers would play bass and lead guitar, and Freddy would play rhythm on his banjo, so they were a very close family.
Norma Powers-Marlowe: Daddy would have given us anything, any kind of lesson pertaining to anything musical or any other kind of education that we had the ambition and get-up-and-go to go do it. So my father and mother were absolutely supportive of Freddy, or any of us if we'd wanted to do that.
Elston Brooks, Ft. Worth Star Telegram:"The real break came when NBCTV's TODAY show came to Texas. Producer Don Silverman, a ragtime nut, heard about the boys and asked for a special audition. It was at the un-musician-like hour of 9 a.m. in Powers' empty Arlington nightspot ... They made the show. Later Silverman invited them to New York for more appearances on the 'Today' show. A spot on the TONIGHT SHOW followed. TODAY and TONIGHT were just logical culminations of day and nice practice for Tuba man Bobby Hollingsworth. Freddy Powers: 'Bobby had only played the tuba for a short while in the Waco High School Band. I thought it would be an interesting sound to go with the banjos, but the first night it was awful. It was 117 years before he could take that vacant building in Arlington and make it into his Crestview Club. I just named it after the Arlington telephone exchange. If I had known the banjoes were going to go so good, I've had called it the River Boat.'"
Catherine Powers: Back then in the early 50s, Freddy had this nightclub, and one day, he got wind of the fact that Tonight Show was coming through town, and at the time, his band consisted of three banjos and a tuba, The Powerhouse 4. So he picked up the phone, called Today Show host Dave Garroway and told him he had this really unusual band that would be a great fit for the show, and at first, they'd told him they were really busy and didn't know if they'd be able to get over to see him play, and Freddy cleverly said, "You all gotta take a lunch break, right? You come over to my bar and we'll feed you lunch and do our show for you." Well, they were so bowled over by his show that he was invited not only to appear on Today Show, but also its companion Tonight Show, which back then was hosted by Steve Allen.
By this time in 1953, Freddy had already had a little bit of stardom, and Willie Nelson was still trying to break into the business and saw this and gave Freddy "Heartache of a Fool" to record, which made Freddy actually the first artist to record a Willie Nelson song, and to get radio play for a song written by Willie. Willie would play as a feature act at Freddy's club back then too, so through that their friendship grew, and they started touring around Texas together doing shows together. The funny thing about that was, back then, though both Willie and Freddy smoked pot, neither Willie nor Freddy knew yet that the other smoked. So when they'd all be out on the road together – Freddy, Paul, Willie and his wife at the time Shirley – and they would stop, because Freddy and Paul didn't know Willie was a pot smoker, they would take off and go their way and hide from Willie to get stoned while Willie and Shirley were going the opposite direction to do the same thing! The laws were so strict back then – especially in the Lone Star state – that getting caught with one joint could land you a stiff prison sentence. So after that, when they were on the road, to make sure they didn't get caught, they would sneak out into the middle of the desert where they could see cars coming for miles, and get high.
Freddy Powers: "My sister wrote a song for Hank Thompson, she wasn't a performer or anything, but she played the piano and wrote great songs. I think that's where the idea came from, when she cut that tune, I started thinking, "Hey ... maybe I could to that?"
Catherine Powers: Freddy's songwriting career got its start in the 1950s too when he was a writer on "There She Goes" by Carl Smith, and Freddy's father had been so impressed with his talent for writing that he'd paid for Carl to go in the studio and demo the song and record it. Freddy had run home and excitedly told his wife at the time, "We've broken into the business, we have a song coming out on the radio," the whole nine yards, but when it came out, Freddy's name was nowhere to be found on the songwriting credits. He'd been cut out, and all the money his father had invested had been lost, and in those days, if you didn't have a name as a writer to go and try and fight somebody that was already reputable in the business, you didn't have a chance. Then Freddy had a song recorded by The Wilburn Brothers where his name was on the record as a writer, "Nothing at All," but that's exactly what he received in the way of songwriting royalties. It was another one of those rip-offs, and that discouraged Freddy and he gave up on writing for a while to focus on being a performer and just writing songs for his band.
Freddy Powers: "The Wilburn Brothers had some kind of hits out there on the Grand Old Opry, and I wrote a song with them. I soon found out that I was signed up with a publisher that was really unscrupulous. I never saw any money from that. I don't know what happened back in the days. I didn't have an idea on how to collect any money, and I sort of got disenchanted on selling songs."
Excerpted from "The Spree of '83" by Freddy Powers, Catherine Powers. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Powers and Catherine Powers. Excerpted by permission of Waldorf Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
“The Spree pf ‘83” is a conversation with music greats. The cast of characters contains headliners of country music and TV. The book approximates having a casual conversation with old friends on the patio, talking, reminiscing, and sharing jokes and funny stories, except that these old friends are the giants of country music. Eavesdropping on these personal reflections is entertaining, enlightening, and just plain fun to read. Times were different in ‘83. There was no social media to report on every move, to tweet, to post funny stories on line. And funny stories were many: “We went out on the highway and one of the guys in the band and I wrapped ourselves in tin foil, put plastic bags over our heads, stuck antennas on the bags. We had a huge amplifier in the car, and played that warbling whistle you always hear in flying saucer films. Cars pulled over, trucks pulled over, people were shouting. Not one paper printed a word about it.” There are also background stories, stories of family, extensive charity work, and just plain enjoying life. “One day it was raining, and Merle and Freddy and Dean and I put on a play, made costumes and everything, and they recorded it as we did a play on the houseboat.” The essence of this book can be summed up in this, “And if there were any bad days, they somehow have been erased from my memory. Or maybe it’s like one of Merle’s hit songs, ‘These were the memories I choose to recall.’” Waldorf Publishing and NetGalley gave me a copy of “The Spree of ‘83” in exchange for my unbiased review. I am not a follower of country music; I knew nothing about these events or these performers. I selected this book because the description fascinated me, and I heard Merle Haggard play at a church. I was entertained all the way through. I am sure that true fans will unquestionably love the stories in this book.
Freddy Powers was probably the least known singer, picker, song writer in country music. He was best friends with Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. In fact, he sang Willie Nelson's very first song that he wrote. He and Hag worked together for many years, writing songs for themselves and for George Jones, Jane Fricke, and many others. This is a must-read for anyone who has enjoyed country music and loves to know the people who have given their lives over to it. Starting with a foreword by Tanya Tucker, this book is made of many memories from his early childhood .. all by his family and friends who knew him best. Freddie started out as a joker, and not much changed over the years. He had a tremendous sense of humor. One of the stories told by Haggard is when Freddie more or less taught himself to fly a plane .. one of those lightweight planes that are put together by hand. He would fly over the lake they loved on and whenever he saw nude ladies sun bathing, he would fly back and grab Merle and the two of them would make new friends. His life was life a roller coaster .. he had ups and downs ... he did drugs .. he drank .. he partied ... but he had his guitar, which was the true love of his life. Catherine, his wife of 25+ years, was a very close second. Freddy and Catherine both had hearts of gold. They were extremely involved in the Special Olympics for years, The kids loved him .. and why not? He was the biggest kid around. While still a relatively young man, he developed a few tics here and there, but he didn't pay attention. It was not until later that Parkinson's took over his entire body and he could no longer play his guitar. Freddie passed away in 2016 at the age of 84. The stories told within are priceless. The reader hears from people such as Merle Haggard, WIllie Nelson, Tanya Tucker, John Rich (Big & Rich), and hosts of others, including band members, mangers, who tell their stories as only they can. I grew up loving country music and country stars. My father, one year, played guitar for Ernest Tubb when we lived in Memphis. I had a huge crush on Faron Young ... I think I was about 9 or 10. And I actually saw Elvis Presley perform at the Memphis State Fair in 1956. This is well written with stories, song lyrics. love and laughter. Many thanks to Freddy and Catherine and Jake, as well as Driverseatmedia for the advance copy of this wonderful book. Definitely going on my 'keeper' bookshelves.