One thing’s for certain: Bo Powell lived a full life.
Though best known as a painter and muralist, Powell, who died Wednesday night at home at the age of 74, also worked as a roughneck, radio DJ, train conductor, long-haul trucker, race car driver, and chuckwagon cook. He was also an expert trick water skier.
Easily one of his most popular murals, of the Fort Worth skyline, spans a huge wall near the backdoor stage at Lola’s Saloon, one of his favorite hangouts. More than 100 people piled into the venerable underground music venue in the West 7th Street corridor yesterday to share stories and toast Powell’s memory. “He did it all,” co-owner and friend Brian Forella said.
Indeed. From a 2010 profile on Powell written by former Weekly staff writer Dan McGraw, the native Eastsider started painting at age 10 and after graduating from Polytechnic High School in 1957 enrolled at Texas A&M University, where he majored in business administration with a minor in commercial art. He worked on West Texas oil rigs during the summers. After graduation, he worked on an offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It was 10 days on the rig and then 10 days off,” Powell told McGraw. “But while all the other roughnecks were going into New Orleans to drink for their 10 days off, I was driving back to Fort Worth. I had just gotten married with a baby on the way, so I had to be home.”
Powell eventually returned permanently to Fort Worth, working for his father’s company, Bob Powell Display Art, and as a brakeman for the Rock Island Railroad. He also emceed shows at Panther Hall on East Lancaster Avenue. In Joe Nick Patoski’s biography of Willie Nelson, Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, the Texas author credits Powell with helping kickstart The Red-Headed Stranger’s career.
“KCUL-AM was the only country-Western-formatted station in such an important market, and getting played on that station was huge,” Patoski told McGraw. “What Bo Powell did for Willie Nelson’s career is pretty significant. The moment Bo hyped Willie there was a line outside the door, and it’s been like that ever since.”
By 1965, McGraw writes, Nelson’s His Own Songs charted at No. 14. A live album recorded at Panther Hall and released in 1966 with an introduction by Powell eventually went gold.
But it was when Powell returned to the railroad full-time that he began to fine-tune his art. But just his art.
“I don’t work as hard as I should in marketing and selling my art,” Powell told McGraw. “I don’t hang out with the rich people who buy art, because that’s not who I am. I just love to paint. The rest of the stuff will work itself out.”
Details on Powell’s funeral are forthcoming.