It’s a bit difficult to come up with enough superlatives when discussing Bodie Powell. As a man, he is one of the best you could ever have the privilege to know. And boy howdy has his life been interesting in myriad ways. For starters, when he was just a little feller playing with the neighbors next door, he probably seemed just like you and me at that age. But I’m reasonably comfortable asserting that none of our neighbor friends had a daddy named Red Sovine. Chalk one up for Bodie. Later, after those godawful high school years the movies try to make us see in a wonderfully nostalgic light, Powell packed up his bass guitar and hit the road with a mélange of unknown touring acts. Like, uh, Dave Dudley. Roy Rogers. Wanda Jackson. Perhaps you begin to see now that the superlatives apply to Bodie’s musical back trail as well.
Out there on the road, Bodie learned some things. One was that he had the talent to do what he loved at the highest levels. Another was that some place called Texas he kept playing in seemed like a pretty good spot to put down some roots. Didn’t hurt that there was a pretty girl there to set those roots down beside. And in time, although he could have made his bones and had a solid little career in Nashville, Powell moved south and settled down to stay. He married that pretty girl, and he and Donna set about living lives awash in wonderful music and the kind of memories and moments that make souls worth having to begin with. She would often collaborate with him on his music, and the two of them were always a sight to behold down in the Fort Worth Stockyards. Last Stop Café marks the last station on the line for Donna’s direct input; cancer got her but not before she was able to help write and inspire this record. Her beauty and impact are all over this, just as they’re still deeply imprinted on anyone who ever met her.
Bodie loved that woman. Still does, you can see it written all over him as he smiles through red-rimmed eyes when her name comes up. He’s no quitter, though. Still out playing and doing what he does best, still opening hearts and sharing joy with a blend of stone country and Western swing that fits like a broke-in baseball glove. A material talent, this Bodie Powell. Last Stop Café drips goodness at every turn, the kind that evokes Granny and Mama and all that used to be best in this world. It may be too Mayberry for some, but it’s perfect for anyone who understands what it takes to square things with the man in the mirror. And if you’re here reading this, the house money says you’re just fine with that.
So much goodness on this record. I mean in terms of the musicianship, the singing, and the content. All of the above. Just plain old goodness. Remember when that was enough? Hell, remember when that was the dadgum goal? I do. I miss it. And Powell takes me right straight to that time. Every note here is in its place, an expertly crafted mural of time and love and bareknuckle affection, the kind that springs from a soul and washes life’s worst spots clean as new. It’s a gem from the title track on.
A proprietor of 60 years
Since ’53 hasn’t changed a thing
But amongst the coyotes and tumbleweeds
He’s a king
Two gas pumps, full service
Clean your windshield, check your oil
No choice of regular or super
The sign just says ‘petrol’
Get a plate lunch, $2.99
A cabin for an overnight stay
The road is long and lonely
Past the Last Stop Café
If I was going to go back and ask the Lord for one thing, it’d be the words to explain to you how those lines sound when Bodie sings them. His is one of the warmest, smoothest, yet nuanced and effective baritones anyone’s ever trotted out. The delivery here is assured yet haunted, brimming with allegory and metaphor yet as comforting in its way as mama’s arms are to a newborn babe. Maybe that description is in the ballpark, but I promise you on my own Mama’s grave it does not do justice to this song. If you’ve ever lit a shuck for new horizons not knowing what’s next, if you’ve just flat struck out, if even once in your life you’ve found yourself looking at the present knowing it’s about to be the past and wondering if the future’s worth the ride, you owe it to yourself to own this song. Forget how perfect the musicianship is. Forget how beautifully the melody babbles along. Just buy it and lose yourself in its embrace. Because it’s a waltz with perfection, and also with the spectrum of life’s imperfections which make this journey we all share so vibrant.
The beauty and the wonder don’t stop there, either. Bodie Powell’s seen it all, lost it all, and still makes it a point to live it all every day regardless. Goes back to that thing about him being a damned good man. You ever run into him down in Cowtown on a night off, he won’t tell you about the influences he’s had and who he’s played with. Won’t brag about the time he spent working with some guy named Cash. What he will do is is shake your hand and shoot straight with his spine lined up and shoulders squared. He’ll talk with you, compliment you on your own successes, and then fade away as faces in the neon night so often do. If he has his way about it, you won’t ever know you were talking with greatness. But on the flip side, if you ever see him up on the stage, you’ll know. Right then, and deep down in your bones, you will know.
We never know which way the wind will blow
Or when or where the next turmoil will be
But I’ve found a solid rock when troubles flow
Holding out a saving hand for me
Fairweather friends, fairweather sailors
They’ll leave you stranded on life’s shore
One good friend who truly loves you
Is worth the pain your heart endures
Maybe he’s singing about Donna, maybe he’s singing to her, maybe it’s none of that and he’s just reminding you and me of simple truths we used to know but far too often forget. I don’t know. Don’t have time to care, either. Too busy appreciating the knock upside the head pointing out how simple this living thing is when you boil it right down.
If any of what you’ve read here appeals to you, then I appeal to you: go right now to http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/bodiepowell and start finding out for yourownself. I’m plumb out of superlatives. But next Sunday I get to hear Bodie play down in old Cowtown, and I know for a fact he’ll be channeling the ghosts of the cowboys and top hands who once rode those dusty streets. He’ll be reminding me of Andy and Barney on the one hand, but showing me a hard-won wisdom and a salty grit on the other.
Music doesn’t come much more Western than Bodie Powell. You can find bigger names. You can queue up more famous songs.
What you can’t do is find a man or some music more genuine. That right there is what a wise man might term plenty good enough for me.
~ Dave Pilot
Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs. When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline. When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas. Visit Dave Pilot on Facebook.
Outlaw Magazine. Country, Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk, Americana, Punk. As long as it is real, it is OUTLAW. Overproduced mediocrity need not apply.