Powers is also a two-time Emmy winner, with his first award coming from his part as both consultant and featured guest on the PBS show “The Piano Guy,” hosted by Scott Houston. The show teaches piano to a large audience, being aired on over 150 stations across the country.
His second Emmy came from his musical composition and arrangements for the documentary “The First Lady of Television,” which covered the career of Ruth Lyons.
Living with his wife Annette, with homes in both Columbus and Punta Gorda, Powers’ music reaches a wide number of people, whether he’s playing in private parties or at a club. With OSU classes starting this week, he keeps a busy schedule, but took some time out to speak with the Sun Bay Paper on his career, and how his lifelong love of music first emerged.
“Well, it all started with a record player,” Powers said. “I really loved to play records. When I was a kid, my dad likes to joke that I was born with a phonograph needle. My love of music was when I heard my very first note. I just love listening to music, and that’s still my thing.”
In fact, Powers lists his influences as everybody and everything, noting that he is “always listening and is always looking for something new and fresh, and trying to discover something I have never heard before.”
It didn’t take Powers long to go from listening to music to actually creating it. He began playing piano around the age of four, and while he enjoyed it, he also learned that he could develop his ear by listening to music off of a record and playing it on the piano.
“I think that’s when it started to become fun,” Powers said. “It’s always been a big part of my life.”
His first gig was came at the age of fourteen, where he played at a birthday party, earning twenty dollars. From there, he played everywhere, from the organ at a roller rink to taking part in a dance band at wedding receptions.
“I still do that,” Powers said. “I do wedding receptions and private parties, corporate events, writing, recording, and producing.”
Powers also did a lot of solo work at the start of his career, playing five to six nights a week at piano bars. Eventually, though, he wanted to become more involved in the jazz scene. It was there, in 1985, he met Gene Walker.
“There was a friend of mine who was a singer, and he needed me to be his accompanist,” Powers said. “He was going to sing a couple of songs, and Gene was playing a gig at a restaurant called Joe Kelly’s Oyster Dock. I played two songs, and then Gene stood up and gave me the book, and I ended up playing the whole night.”
From there, he became very good friends with Walker, and did a lot of work with him, becoming his musical director. This opened the door for Powers to play with other Jazz musicians around Columbus.
“Along with this came some corporate events and opportunities,” Powers said.
He relishes the opportunities to play different styles of music, from rock to jazz. Aside from Walker, he’s played with musical and entertainment luminaries such as Steve Allen, Joan Rivers, Mark Farner, and many more.
“Steve Allen was in town doing a corporate event, and all the musicians they hired were in Columbus,” Powers recalled, saying that he was part of a 15 piece band that was brought in to play with Allen. “There were two pianos on the stage, Allen’s piano and mine. When Steve was up talking and doing monologues, I had to back him up with some background piano music.”
“It was a fun gig,” Powers said. “Steve Allen was a genius.”
On the rock side of things, Powers also remembered getting the chance to play with Mark Farner, singer and guitarist with Grand Funk Railroad, at the Riverbend Festival in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“A friend of mine who was a keyboard player for Farner couldn’t make a gig,” Powers said. “I always loved listening to all that Grand Funk stuff growing up in High School, and always though Mark had a great voice.”
Powers philosophy on being a professional musician has afforded him the ability to adapt to the variety of acts he has played with throughout the years.
“The big thing about music is the knowledge of music,” Powers stated. “You need to know different styles and genres of music to be successful. It’s about being a student of music.”
“The versatility to be open to different genres really rounds yourself out as a musician and as a person,” Powers said. “You should be open and adaptable to all styles.”
However, having a career that spans decades takes more than just knowledge of music.
“I believe if musicians want to play full time, they should enjoy it and enjoy the fact that it is for the people,” Powers said. “If they can make themselves feel wonderful making other people happy, I think that’s part of the secret.”
In his work at Ohio State University, teaching the next generation through musical theory classes, Powers tries to imbue both technique and passion for music to his students. Teaching, though, is not simply a one way street.
“I learn a lot from the younger generation,” Powers said. “There’s a lot of information that I can give them, but I learn from them as much as they learn from me. They’re up to date with the latest technology, and they can research everything really quickly. But I like watching their eyes light up when I show them music they don’t even know about.”
“It’s fun being in the business, entertaining people,” Powers said. “Every day it’s a different hat, so you don’t know what’s coming next.”
Powers has two gigs coming up this fall at the Fort Myers Beach-Sanibel Welcome Center. His first is an Invitation Only party in the Center’s Studio on September 19th. That will be followed by another performance on December 5th at the Welcome Center’s grand opening, which will be open to the public.