In a city that has produced not only some of the most legendary musicians and revered drummers the world has ever seen, Shannon Powell stands tall in the lineage of New Orleans’ rhythmic giants. A torchbearer of the city’s culture and one of the finest drummers in the world. He’s also a great singer, his vocals invoking styles that echo the churches, street parades and jazz clubs of his hometown. Known quite often these days for his wonderful contributions to tradition and modern jazz idioms, having worked with Danny Barker, Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton Marsalis, Powell is also a veteran of New Orleans' rich rhythm and blues scene having backed up such greats as Snooks Eaglin, Earl King and Dr. John.
Darren Hoffman is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer originally from Miami, Florida. He grew up playing guitar in his youth, greatly influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Albert King and Nirvana, but switched to drums when he was bit by the jazz bug in his early twenties and relocated in 2007 to study percussion at the University of New Orleans.
Hoffman began hanging out with Powell at places like Donna’s Bar & Grill on Rampart Street and getting to know the wonderful cast of New Orleans characters that frequented it. The pair hit it off and began a friendship that ventured far from the classroom. While Shannon guided Darren in music and street-smart professionalism, Hoffman introduced Powell to new technologies and 21st century music industry practices. While many students of music today study almost entirely in the world of academia, Darren had the unique experience of being mentored by a living legend in a more traditional way, doing odd jobs and handling business for Shannon in exchange for knowledge and musical guidance.
When Darren enrolled at UNO, he had all but forgotten that he was once a guitar player, focused on a career as a professional drummer. He even started a music education technology company to further his own study as well as providing a tool for others. However, one afternoon in 2009, while Shannon was over at his house in Gentilly, Darren pulled out his guitar and jammed through some blues tunes with Shannon. Taken aback by what he heard, Shannon proclaimed, “Man! We gotta record!” but Hoffman shrugged off the notion as simply a fun idea that neither of them had time or resources to pursue. While Darren dismissed the notion to brandish his guitar skills, Powell’s enthusiasm planted the seed for a new project that would come to fruition years down the road.
Hoffman eventually moved to Brooklyn, NY to produce work for Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center, professors at Berkelee College of Music, Pedrito Martinez, Christian Scott Atundé Adjuah and more, but stayed connected to New Orleans, traveling back into town every couple months and maintaining his apartment in Gentilly. Powell, meanwhile, continued his reign as “The King of Tremé” playing and teaching locally and touring internationally with some of the biggest names in jazz and R&B, including John Scofield, Jason Marsalis, Evan Christopher, Dr. Lonnie Smith (the list goes on).
Fast-forward to 2017, after Hoffman got word of the passing of another one his mentor’s Charlie Sims, co-owner and chef at Donna’s Bar & Grill, he made plans to drive down for Charlie’s second-line parade and memorial. It was at this moment he had the idea to do a short session with Shannon of just guitar and drums to lay down some blues tunes like they discussed years before. He called Powell on the phone, “Hey man, you wanna get a few hours in the studio, just you and me?”
Armed with a Stratocaster and an over-drive pedal, Darren inspired Shannon to pursue the rhythm & blues songs they both love together, giving birth to a unique project for both musicians. After the session was complete, they gave it a proper name, which also articulated their relationship: Uncle Nef.
Originally conceived as a one-off project, Uncle Nef quickly turned into a band. It finds Shannon diving back into his R&B roots, bringing his shuffling backbeat and lively vocals with Hoffman on electric guitar providing a deep, fat tone and lyrical soloing. They focus mainly on a duo configuration, however occasionally are joined by special guests, such as New Orleans organist Kyle Roussel and Brooklyn based vocalist Sami Stevens. After the initial session, Hoffman took the tracks back to his own studio in Brooklyn to record the over dub guitar and background vocal tracks. The songs were mixed and mastered by legends of the New Orleans recording scene Steve Reynolds and David Farrel, respectively. The 4 songs completed songs make up their first EP, simply entitled “Blues.”
The result is raw, beefy and grooving, falling somewhere in the realm of Louis Jordan meets Jack White. It has a classic vibe with a modern edge that’s sure to make folks tap their feet. The “Blues” EP features a selection of blues standards like T-Bone Walker’s “Shake It Baby,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” and Leadbelly’s classic “In The Pines,” delivered in a fresh way with Shannon’s soulful voice and classic syncopated rhythms pulsing beneath Hoffman’s powerful electric guitar. There’s one original song as well, an instrumental entitled “Sinbad’s Blues”, a nod to the great Charlie Sims’s trusty knife “Sinbad.” Not only does Uncle Nef showcase the diversity of Shannon’s playing, reminding folks that though he’s got arguably the best syncopated second line beat you could ever hope to hear, he’s got a mean blues shuffle too. But Uncle Nef also represents the diversity of Shannon’s musical comrades by partnering with Darren, who comes from a different place and generation, yet they both end up inspiring one another to make something that is unique. So set those shoes a stompin’, get on down with Uncle Nef and join the family!
Uncle Nef’s “Blues” EP is set for release on October 27th through Ropeadope Records. Pre-orders begin September 27th. Uncle Nef will perform at DBA for their one-night-only CD Release event on Sunday, November 5th at 10pm.
uncle nef - blues
release date: october 27, 2017
Shannon Powell | Drums & Lead Vocals
Darren Hoffman | Guitars
Sami Stevens | Backing Vocals | Tracks 1 & 3
Lead & Backing Vocals | Track 4
Kyle Roussel | Organ | Tracks 2 & 4
Noah MacNeil | Piano | Track 3
Recorded at The Word of Mouth Studio, The Music Shed in New Orleans, LA & Guava Records in Brooklyn, NY.
Recorded by Tim Stambaugh, Darren Hoffman & Adam Kiel
Mixed by Steve Reynolds
Mastered by David Farrell
Executive Producer: Darren Hoffman
Album Photography by Liz Charky | Style by Yara Travieso