Beloved for bringing Dixieland Jazz into Nashville mainstream, legendary country singer-songwriter Freddy Powers’ story lives on in a new memoir due on May 15th, the fifth anniversary of his death, via Natural High Books/Baker & Taylor. Co-penned by his widow, Catherine Powers, and music biographer Jake Brown, The Spree of 83: The Life and Time of Freddy Powers chronicles his personal life in tandem with his storied songwriting career up through losing his battle with Parkinson’s Disease in 2016.
A forward by Tanya Tucker sets the tone of the reverence Powers held within the music community. Additional contributions from Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Big & Rich, Sonny Throckmorton, Paul Buskirk, Floyd Tillman, Larry Gatlin, and more confirm the legacy left in the wake of Powers’ star-studded career.
To write the book, Brown and Catherine Powers unpacked 60 years worth of artifacts from his time in the business, including old journals started in the ‘70s and ‘80s on tour busses. In those diaries, they discovered entries from the time he and Haggard were living side-by-side in separate house boats, writing No.1 hits that live on past both of the late legends.
“The other big reveal for me,” says Brown, “even though I already had heard of the legendary ‘Freddy Powers Chords’ was to understand on a deeper level just how unique and influential a guitar player Freddy was from Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard to Big & Rich, Frank Liddell, Rattlesnake Annie, Sonny Throckmorton and on and on, and the true credit he really deserves for introducing Dixieland Jazz into the country mainstream for the first time.”
Powers produced Nelson’s Grammy-winning Over The Rainbow LP, and penned No.1 hits with Haggard, who in the book, calls his sidekick Powers, “one of my favorite people in the world.”
Haggard’s 1983 ACM and CMA nominated song, “I Always Get Lucky With You,” was the first of several hits he and Powers would write together. It had been over two decades since Powers had shared his work with anyone. “I’d gotten burned a couple of times on people recording songs I wrote without crediting me properly as a songwriter when they hit the charts,” Powers shares in the book. “Still, I had more songs in me, I just didn’t know if anyone else wanted to hear them.”
One day in Haggard’s room at the Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in Lake Tahoe before a gig, Powers recalls grabbing his guitar to sing “I Always Get Lucky With You.”
“When I finished the song, he just stared at me for a moment saying nothing as if he didn’t know how to tell me it was a shitty song,” Powers said. “But instead, he jumped up out of his chair and said something about how the title of the song alone was a hit. When Merle said that, it was like a lightning bolt of confidence that hit me and that moment, unbeknownst to me, was the launching point of my songwriting career.”
The song was a highlight of one of Haggard’s best-selling albums, Big City, in 1981. George Jones then cut the song in 1983 and took it to No.1, also snagging Song of the Year nominations.
John Rich lauds Powers in the book for his “unbelievable” song, calling him a “jewel.” The artist, half of Big & Rich, states, “The definition of a classic is something that was loved when it was brand new, and the older it gets, people love it even more, and I think that’s Freddy to a T. He is the definition of a classic.”
Brown, who worked side-by-side with Powers’ widow, Catherine, to pen this book found a touching theme throughout his work. After that song took off, the songwriter indeed returned the favor. “One poignant subplot within Freddy’s story,” Brown begins, “was the consistent number of country songwriters and stars who credit Freddy with giving them their first foot in the door.” He cites Pauline Reese, Mary Sarah, Django Porter, Clint Strong, and Lucas Souza—just to name a few.
The author found that after bending over backwards for so long, Powers’ generosity was reciprocated when his Parkinson’s began impeding his career. Friends like the above mentioned took over when he could no longer sing, playing his songs and preserving his legacy. The Spree of ’83 captures all of that, retaining those stories into perpetuity.
“His influence is remarkable, as the book chronicles in true depth and span, so it was really amazing to talk to all those artists about how Freddy helped inspire and impact their careers,” says Brown.
Anecdotes like these compound in the memoir for an inspiring story to all readers. It preserves Powers’ contribution to music, from songwriting advice to the background information of the music business. His widow, Catherine hopes the message of his legacy is conveyed about “being your own judge when writing a song, to how to be a bandleader and performer.”
There is much to be learned from Powers’ broadly-spanning musical influence over his career. After years of marriage, and sifting through wait remains of Powers in physical form, Catherine enjoyed hearing stories she hadn’t before, and finding music of her husband’s she had never listened to. She also uncovered keepsakes like his pilot’s license, awards and plaques he had received, but never mentioned.
From her perspective, the lessons to be learned from Powers’ personal life and impressive musical career include, “Being generous with your time and passing on what you’ve learned to those behind you, the how-tos and what-nots in the business. And appreciating those who make you shine and honoring and showing respect to them and their talent.”
In addition to the book, fans can stream a dynamic collection of new music, available on all digital platforms, including a 60-Song, 2-disc studio/live collection of Freddy Powers’ best-known hits, featuring musical duets and collaborations with many of the aforementioned music stars. Along with the Official Book Soundtrack, fans of Freddy’s Dixieland Jazz and legendary Comedy routines are given a front-row seat with Freddy Powers & The Powerhouse IV: LIVE IN VEGAS – ‘75! and Freddy Powers & The Powerhouse IV: LIVE IN RENO!
Check for upcoming special announcements on free bonus content including never-before-seen music, live performances, and fan giveaways here.