Powell then became internationally know when he worked and toured with Luther Vandross. Powell has worked on some of Luther Vandross' biggest hits and is featured prominently on the Vandross' hit Stop to Love, which other guitarists have emulated his sound from that single. Powell says his work with Vandross showed him something important that he has carried on in his solo career. He says, "Luther always surrounded himself with the best musicians and was blessed to have some great personalities who knew how to support his career. Some of the greatest musicians aren't necessarily the best supporting players."
Doc Powell's resume became even bigger when, because of his success with Vandross, he started getting session work with other R&B performers. He worked with Aretha Franklin, Teddy Pendergrass, Jeffrey Osborne, Ashford and Simpson and Dionne Warwick. Powell also continued to work with such contemporary jazz heavyweights as Grover Washington, Jr., Bob James and McCoy Tyner and brought to them the same R&B magic he did with Vandross. Even though he enjoyed his session work, Powell continued his gig at Mikell's to continue to establish himself as a solo artist, and to perform his original works. He says, "My favorite part of being a musician is being able to pick up my guitar and start creating music that tells my own personal story.
Powell just released a new CD on the Heads Up label called Cool Like That. Powell says that on Cool Like That, he wanted to try some different things. He says, "It's nice to be diverse, but at the same time have continuity. I've played music for a long time and I have worked with a lot of people, and I just want to kind of stretch a little bit. I'm very excited about the reaction that people are giving me. They have received it well."
Powell uses funk, fusion, gospel and even classic rock to show his diversity on his CD, but says he tries to keep those forms of music in perspective and "without going very deep into them. Just keeping it user friendly for contemporary listeners, giving people a bit of color and diversity, something different without turning into something that's not familiar to them."
For instance, Doc Powell takes on one of The Beatles classic songs Let it Be. He says, "I don't believe in covering a song, especially a classic song, and not giving it new life. I played it with a steel string, acoustic guitar and I also did a vocal version of it, so it now feels kind of pop. It always did have somewhat of a church aspect to it, so now it's got a little hip hop vibe and it's jazzy."
Powell's goal for Cool Like That was "to make a groove-oriented record that people could snap their fingers to. We wanted something that just kind of represented what the music was, and at the same time, identifiable with who I am." He wanted the title track, which was named by Powell's wife, to "set the tone for the entire album. "There are some classic songs from what I call the finger-poppin' era of soul jazz, like Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, Street Life and Grazin' in the Grass," says Powell, "and I wanted to compose material that recaptured that era."
The title track of Doc Powell's Cool Like That has the flavor of guitarist Wes Montgomery and how he would sound if he was still alive today. "What I tried to do was to be just reminiscent of the classic sound," says Powell. "Once you play octaves on a guitar, people think of someone like Wes Montgomery, and octaves are a very powerful way to show that very new voice, very nice voice on the guitar. You don't hear it every day," Powell continues. "Wes Montgomery did the California Dreamin' album and different records that had pop tunes on it. If he wasn't doing like pop songs, he was coming up with original material. What kind of statement would it be? That was what I was thinking when I was recording that song," says Powell.
Cool Like That features diversified sounds featuring many special guests. Helping Powell are saxophonist Kirk Whalum, Michael Lington and Ron Brown, keyboardist Kevin Toney, trumpeter Mark Ledford, bassist Reggie Hamilton and percussionist Munyungo Jackson. Of the opening track on Cool Like That called Push, Powell wanted to show that the CD was going to be about his guitar prowess. He says, "The title comes from the attitude I think is necessary to succeed at any endeavor." Push features Kirk Whalum's sax, adding harmony to a kicked-back rhythm that's easy and seductive. The attitude comes from Whalum's solo and both he and Powell try to compete against each other. Powell salutes his mother on the track Sweet G, where Powell performs on a Martin acoustic classical guitar and works with Toney and Brown. Jackson is featured prominently on an African flavored song called Hatujambo, which means We are Well. Powell says, "the title is in the Kenyan language and the tune reflects the story of a slave ship coming across the ocean with drums as a means of personal communication."
Doc Powell's Cool Like That continues to show his diversity in music without compromising on who he is. He says, "the theme of Cool Like That is about enjoying life and staying strong and steadfast in our determination to push right through our obstacles. It's easy to be consumed by the little things in life which take away our joy, but at some point, it's okay to just lay back and let it go. Cool Like That is as cool as Doc Powell.