JIMMY POWELL (By Steve Walker)
Jimmy Powell grew up in the West Heath area of Birmingham (West Midlands, UK, that is, not Alabama). After leaving school, he was apprenticed as a lathe operator in Kings Norton while at night he fronted a local band called the Detours. His powerful vocal style soon began to attract attention and in 1961 he turned professional after joining an up-and-coming local group called the Rockin' Berries.
In November of 1961, the Rockin' Berries, including local singer Clive Lea as well as Jimmy Powell, followed the well-worn path to Germany, where they were given a residency at Hamburg's famous Star Club. The following year the group were auditioned by TV pop producer/ Decca Records talent scout Jack Good who showed little interest in signing the band to a contract but indicated that their vocalist Jimmy Powell had some potential. The rejected group went back to Germany to continue their bookings at the Star Club but by the summer of 1962, Jimmy Powell along with two other group members left and returned to Birmingham. Jimmy contacted Jack Good who promptly signed him up to a recording contract.
The first record release for Jimmy Powell on Decca 11447 was a belting version of Buster Brown's 'Sugar Babe' (Fire 507), which showcased Jimmy's considerable talent as a leather-voiced r&b performer. While the record did not chart, it is Jimmy Powell's best known song and got his career off to a good start. Two more singles soon followed but by early 1963, the Beatles were making a big impact on the British charts and singing groups, not solo performers, were now the 'in' thing.
Jimmy Powell went down to London where he became involved with the local blues scene at the Marquee Club. Jimmy's new manager Malcolm Nixon, introduced him to a hot blues act that he'd named the Five Dimensions and after an audition, Jimmy was given the position of lead vocalist. About six months later, a second vocalist/harmonica player named was Rod Stewart was added to the group. According to Jimmy Powell, Rod stayed as part of the line-up for about a year. Rivalry between the two singers led to Rod leaving and taking some of the band with him to back Chuck Berry on a British tour (the Dimensions were unable to do the tour because of contractual commitments). In 1964, the Five Dimensions were hired to provide backing for Jamaican singer Millie Small on her hit recording of 'My Boy Lollipop', with Jimmy Powell supplying the harmonica licks. (NOT Rod Stewart, as is often alleged.)
Jimmy was signed to Pye Records in 1964 resulting in the release of a couple of singles. The first of these - 'That's Alright' was composed by Jimmy, while the B-side, 'I'm Looking For A Woman' is a remake of the 1955 Bo Diddley number (Checker 832). Due to changes in the group line-up, the second Pye single - a re-make of 'Sugar Babe' backed with 'I've Been Watching You' - had future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones on guitar and bass, along with drummer Clem Cattini. Although Jimmy Powell (sometimes with the Five Dimensions) went on to record a number of records during the 1960s, their considerable popularity as a live attraction was never reflected in terms of record sales as none of the singles sold enough copies to get into the charts.
In 1966, Jimmy Powell was signed to Miki Dallon's short-lived Strike Records label and later to Dallon's Young Blood label in 1969. Despite further record releases in the early 1970s and retaining his popularity as a live performer, Jimmy Powell later faded from the music scene. He remains without a doubt, one of the strongest vocalists to emerge from the West Midlands in the 1960s.
CD: Jimmy Powell and The Five Dimensions - Sugar Babe (Castle Music CMRCD 640, 2003)
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