Johnny Powers, Long Blond Hair
Johnny Powers Johnny Powers
Photo right: Johnny Powers (left) with Memphis Mike 2001

Johnny Powers was born John Leon Joseph Pavlik, in 1938 in East Detroit, Michigan, the oldest of five children. He later moved with his family to the small town of Utica, Michigan, approximately twenty miles north of Detroit. During the early years of his life he was exposed to music, as his father's side of the family played at many local dances and weddings. Later he became entranced by country music while listening to the radio, which inspired him to learn guitar.

"I started listening to Lonnie Baron, who was an old country singer who had a show on WDOG radio. I used to sit by the radio and try to play along and copy him on this old guitar that I bought for $2.50 from a neighbour named Tony Lawson. I met a fellow named Marvin Maynard, who was a guitar player from West Virginia living in the area. Marvin showed me how to play and we worked together for about two months just goofing off - but that's how it all started!" Johnny then joined a local country band called Jimmy Williams and The Drifters in 1954.

"We played dances at a place called 'Bill's Barn' and had a radio show every Saturday in Marine City, Michigan, on WDOG (It's now called WSMA, I believe). We had five or six pieces in the group and played straight-ahead country music." Johnny got his first taste of recording experience with Jimmy Williams and The Drifters, who cut a single on the Drifter label. He soon became interested in a 'new' sound called rock'n roll - long before music writers began categorizing various styles into rockabilly, Doo Wop and R&B.

"I first became interested in rock'n roll after hearing Jack Scott's record of Baby She's Gone. He was from this area and we became friends. Then I heard a guy by the name of Elvis Presley, who nobody knew of around here at the time. Jimmy Williams' brother Russ told me about this guy called Elvis. He played me this record called Milk Cow Blues Boogie and that thing just turned me on. I liked it - country with a rock beat. l started footing around with it and following Elvis quite closely. The more I listened to him the more l got interested. I started putting that beat to the country songs I had been playing."

In 1957, Johnny Powers auditioned for a local label in Detroit, called Fortune Records. "I went to Fortune, because it was about the only label that was active at the time and I wanted to get a record out. It cost me about a hundred dollars to record the session." Fortune released Honey, Let's Go To A RockAndRoll Show - Your Love on their Hi-Q label. "I remember the studio in the back room had a dirt floor with an old lamp stand with a microphone draped over it - One mike for the whole session! What you got was what you got!" After the Hi-Q record was released Johnny began doing a lot of record hops sponsored by local Detroit area radio stations. "Ernie Durham of radio station WJLB played my record and I performed at his record hops. Ernie was a very popular black discjockey and I was one of the few white performers who would appear at his shows."

At this time John put together a group called Johnny Powers and His Rockets. "I had Stan Getz, who had played bass with Jack Scott, on guitar, my old friend Marvin Maynard played bass. and we had Clark Locker on drums. We played on local television shows, record hops and dances in Detroit, upstate Michigan, Ohio and different places in the south." John's next release was recorded in 1958 for the Fox label. Rock Rock and Long Blond Hair became a regional hit in different parts of the country, reaching as high as number three in Seattle, Washington.

"We did those sessions at United Sound in Detroit with Marvin, Stan and Clark. Tommy Moers and Charlie Grey, who was involved with Casnet Record Distributing, became my managers. Tommy was very instrumental in my career and stuck with me throughout, took care of everything. He dressed me up and put me in the studio to do demos. In fact, most of the things you hear by me in the bootleg market are demos from this period. He was also responsible for my signing with Sun Records. He and Don Zee, a Detroit area Disc Jockey owned a little studio in Utica, Michigan, where we cut many sessions." Tommy Moers' eventful trip to Alabama led to Johnny's record contract with Sun.

Sun released With Your Love, With Your Kiss and Be Mine, early in 1959.

Top-right picture courtesy of Memphis Mike