Tale of pain and redemption told all across the nation
“I’m back to dancing with the devil,
I ain’t better yet.
Got a demon on my shoulder like he never left.
I thought I’d never play that card again, I lost a bet.
And now I’m down here on my knees again…, don’t take me yet.”
As these words reverberate through air with a beat that urges the listener to move with the music, the pain in the voice delivering these words is so raw it is almost disturbing. Delivered by a bearded, tattooed, jeans wearing, barefoot guy who looks nothing like a rapper, the lyrics make you close your eyes and wonder what has caused this man so much pain.
This man is Keith Powell, or as he is known in the music industry, Big Po. Powell was born in 1981 in West Monroe, to Kerry and Rhonda Powell. When he was 3, his parents divorced and his dad moved to Union Parish on Lake D’arbonne. Every weekend, Keith would go and visit his dad and they would fish, swim and spend hours on the banks of the lake.
Coming from a broken home is not easy for children, and it was no different for Powell. Going back and forth from mom to dad and watching his mom struggle as she worked to support him and herself left wounds in his young heart. However, he remembers falling in love with music at a very young age, sitting in the back of his mother’s car riding to day care and singing, “dance in the kitchen til the morning light, Louisiana Saturday night,” and attending church with his grandparents, Sonny and Blondell Bumgardner.
During his eighth and ninth grade years of school in 1996 and 1997, Powell really began to focus on his love of music. He and his buddies would record music at his house and they wrote their own music and lyrics. As a matter of fact, in 1998, at the tender age of 17, Powell recorded an album in Diamond Recording Studios. However, as with many young people who have wounded hearts, he began to experiment with drugs and alcohol. His experimentation graduated to the actual distribution and selling of drugs and he was in trouble with the law even as a senior in high school.
He graduated from high school in 2000 and began classes at ULM. However, his first love was music and he ended up dropping out of college in 2001, and went to Nashville to record an album. By this time, his style had evolved into what his music is today. A combination of country, rap and soulful lyrics that hinted at the wounded heart beneath the tough guy exterior, and Big Po was born.
While Big Po had some small early successes, it seems the world was not quite ready for his music style. Big Po was way ahead of his time with his country rap/ hip hop style and he was not embraced by the music world.
For the next four years he struggled in the music business, and with his drug and alcohol use. In 2006, Big Po decided to try and turn his life around. He got married and moved his family to Union Parish, out on Ruggs Bluff Road. His baby girl, Kylie, was born that same year and Powell settled into married life, fatherhood and working a pipeline job to support his family. While he was doing well and making good money, he could not shake the drug and alcohol demons that dogged his every step. In October of 2008, Powell took pills, got drunk and he and his wife climbed in his truck. This would prove disastrous, and on Highway 552, Powell fell asleep behind the wheel. That truck flipped four times. He was ejected and his life was altered forever. His back was broken, as well as his hip, his shoulder and six ribs. He remembers waking up in that hospital bed and not being able to move his legs and he thought to himself, “what have I done? I’ve ruined my life.” It was at this low point of his life that he fell on his religious roots and begged God, “If you will get me out of this, I will do anything. I’ll tell people about you.” For the next three years Big Po took a back seat while Keith Powell had to relearn how to walk. During this difficult time he was completely disabled. He lost his job, his marriage and almost his will to live. Powell was taking pain pills on a daily basis just to wake up and function. He became dependent on the drugs and hit a low he didn’t even know was possible. Once again he started selling drugs, dodging the law, and became, in his words, “a nuisance to family and others.” His lowest point was when his daughter found him passed out choking on his own vomit because he had overdosed. “I had no hope,” Powell says, the despair clear in his voice. “I was a junkie, a drug addict that would never amount to anything.”
In 2011 Powell had been high for three or four days straight when he happened to drive past Point Assembly of God church. In a desperate move that would prove to be a life-saving decision, he turned his truck around and drove to that church where he went in, fell on his knees and begged for rescue from the life he was leading. “These people helped change my life,” Keith chokes out the words, “the whole church opened their arms to me.” He became involved in the church, helping with the youth, music and singing in the choir. It wasn’t long before he felt his first love, music, pulling him back into her arms.
In 2015, Big Po made his big comeback with his album God’s Country. From that point on, Big Po has focused his time, talent, and determination on his music. His style of music comes from lots of different influences. “You take Garth Brooks, Lynyrd Skynard, Hank Williams Jr., Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg; mix it all up and that’s what you get with me,” he chuckles. In 2017, Big Po and his band recorded Gumbo Soul in his mobile home in Union Parish. Most of those songs were written right there on the banks of Lake D’arbonne, including “Think About It,” his biggest hit to date.
Two of his recent albums, Lone Wolf and All In have hit #3 in the world on iTunes preorder. Big Po has traveled all over the United States, performing in Colorado, North Carolina, Florida, Missouri and many others, but his honey hole spot is Indiana. His huge following of fans have dubbed themselves Po Folks, and they are fiercely loyal and love that Big Po’s message is one that they can identify with and feel in their very souls. Big Po is just grateful for the opportunities he feels that God has blessed him with. “I feel like I am a vessel to imperfect people, sinners, and lost souls…, I’m blessed to be able to take my story, my battles, my struggles and lifestyle, put it in music, and help folks who may be where I once was. Po Folks are my people and it doesn’t mean we are poor…, it means we are rich in spirit.”
Rich in spirit certainly conveyed how some Po Folks felt as they swayed to the beat and felt those words at a recent show in Monroe. Big Po includes his message in every show. His message is a story of struggle, pain, addiction and battles, but ultimately it is a story of redemption. A message of hope for those in the midst of those same battles.
When asked about his goals, Big Po confesses that he would like to get more love locally. More fans here in North Louisiana where he grew up and wrote most of his music. His Union Parish roots run deep and one of his major goals is to headline the Watermelon Festival.Hewantstogivesomething back to the community where he grew up and fell in love with the culture, lifestyle and people of Louisiana. Big Po Music can be found on Face-book, Instagram, YouTube, Spotify, Pandora and other popular music venues. Those who’ve never attended one of his shows may not know what to expect. They just may leave changed,moved,anewfanand most definitely a Po Folk.