Unless you’ve made sure an artist had a bed backstage at every show, helped Cash Money Records fly around in a helicopter on tour, or watched Mary J. Blige’s preparation for a show, then you haven’t had a touring history like Eddie Powell. He’s seen it all, including Patti LaBelle performing for a U.S. president.
“[Bill Clinton] would frequently come to the shows and invited us to the White House for his birthday party. He got on the stage and played his saxophone,” Powell told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the 30-plus-year touring professional explains how he helped Cash Money perform with a helicopter, talks Mary J. Blige’s involvement in her live show, and recalls his lasting memories of Takeoff. Read up!
What was the first major tour you were on?
I grew up in Buffalo, New York, and I was what they call a “runner.” I was the kid that went down to the theater to run errands and help out with the guys on the crew. So, Ron Byrd started taking me up and down New York State. He was a production manager for Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy, and Beastie Boys. So, I would go out on these little weekends — two to three-day trips — thinking I was doing something. Years passed with nothing happening until one day, Patti LaBelle’s show came to the theater, and they called me off guard. They said, “Eddie, can you come and help us with the wardrobe?” So, I decided to get on the bus with them.
Throughout high school, I worked in clothing stores, setting up a whole store, doing inventory, and doing window displays. I realized this tour’s wardrobe doesn’t seem organized. So, I start organizing and labeling things. The next thing I knew, the week was up, and the tour manager came to me saying, “You’re doing a great job. Would you be interested in staying with us?” I said yes, and I was with Patti LaBelle for seven years. I joined Patti on Dec. 9, 1989. Every day with that lady was incredible, man. I was around Coretta Scott King, Jesse Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Clinton — the president at the time.
Wait, what was the president of the United States doing at a Patti LaBelle show?
We would do shows at the White House. She would perform in Washington, D.C., and he would come to the shows. We performed in Alexandria, Virginia, which was the first White House. It was his birthday party, so they had a stage they put out in the yard. It was huge. From what I understand, she was one of his favorite artists. He would frequently come to the shows and invited us to the White House for his birthday party. He got on the stage and played his saxophone.
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After that, you were on the U.S. leg of Bobby Brown’s “Humping Around The World Tour” in 1993.
That was a fantastic time. Bobby Brown was at the top of his game. Mary J. [Blige] was coming along, and TLC was at the top of their game. Shabba Ranks was on that tour for a while, but he didn’t finish it. Some of the production on that tour was massive. Those shows were comparable to rock and roll shows, but there wasn’t social media.
For someone who has toured with as many acts as you have, what are the most exciting riders you’ve seen?
Some people would request specific lighting in the room, so you’re in a different venue every day. You have to arrange this, you have to carry the pipe and drape with you. You have to carry the lights, bulbs, and everything to set this particular atmosphere. Sometimes, they’d want dim lights, candles, and rose petals, so when a person walks in, they have whatever vibe they’re seeking. I have had instances where I had to create a bed in the room. I had to set up a bed with an entertainment system.
Even though you were around Mary J. Blige for decades, her recent “Good Morning Gorgeous Tour” was the first one you worked on. How involved is she?
She’s 100 percent involved in creating the stage, lights, video, wardrobe, and every aspect of it. It’s all her vision. She’s at rehearsal, day in and day out. She’s at choreography, band rehearsal, and full production rehearsal. So, she’s fully committed. With an artist like that, you love it because you don’t have to guess at any time.
[It] was a huge, simple show. What I mean by that is the production was great. She had four dancers. The band was on a hydraulic riser in the back. So, 90 percent of the time, she was on the stage alone. That’s rare for a singer to carry a show with just them alone for 90 minutes.
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What are some of the most memorable performances you’ve worked on?
They’ve all been phenomenal. I did the “Hard Knock Life Tour” with JAY-Z, DMX, Redman, Meth, and all of them. That was monumental. They were in their beginning stages. Those shows were phenomenal. I watched DMX perform every night. He’s one of the most electrifying performers I’ve ever seen. He stands there with no crew, no dancers. He could just stand there and rock from side to side. The energy he commanded was something I had never experienced before. For the Cash Money/Ruff Ryders tour, Cash Money was flying through the arena; they had a helicopter. They had inflatable Cristal bottles, Rolex watches, and Eve would come out of the ceiling in this crystal ball. This was larger than a rock and roll show.
A helicopter? What were the logistics behind that?
That was a Ron Byrd special (laughs). When you hang your lights and your sound during the day on the top of the ceilings, there are grids called “points.” Points are where you hang your lights, sound, video, and things normally under the front of the stage. I’m sure you’ve seen artists fly in before on zip lines; it’s the same kind of concept. What they did was get a hollowed helicopter. They would put it out at the front of house covered up. Then, they’d wheel [the] guys out in a box. They’d slide them under the cover, put them in the helicopter, and then everybody’s focusing on the stage once the show is going on. And we’d pull the cloth off, and then the lights would automatically hit the center. Now everybody’s looking, and now they’re in disbelief. It would lift up, and then it would zip line across and land on the stage, and you already know the rest.
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You were working on Chris Brown’s “One Hell Of A Nite Tour” with Migos, French Montana, and others. What do you remember about your time around Takeoff?
God rest his soul. What I remember most of all about Migos, in general, is they were cooperative and polite. I was wrangling the acts — I was one of the people getting everybody to and from the stage. My memory of Takeoff and Migos, in general, is they were always respectful businessmen and punctual. They were where they needed to be when you needed them to be there.
What do you have coming for the rest of the year and 2023?
Mary has some dates coming up, and we’ll execute those in December. I’m her tour manager. When I’m with an artist exclusively and they have downtime, I fill in the gaps. I’ve been taking some calls from a couple of people asking about my availability.