Vail mourns the loss of beloved musician to COVID-19

Every local musician has their song. For Rod Powell it was the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” said friend and musician Shannon Tanner.

Armed with old classics like that and others by Neil Diamond, James Taylor, Jimmy Buffett and Crosby, Stills & Young, Powell pioneered Vail’s music scene, building a community in the process.

When Powell died Saturday Of COVID-19 — one of Colorado’s 26 reported casualties of the coronavirus sweeping the country — he left a hole in the local aprés-ski scene, Tanner and fellow musician Scott Rednor agreed.

“Aprés-ski, that’s the social part,” Rednor said. “That’s ‘after ski,’ you drink your beers, you take your shots, and you listen to music.”

Video of Rod Powell and Shannon Tanner

Powell was king of the crowd pleasers, the consummate entertainer, the two musicians agreed. And if you heard music walking down Bridge Street 30 years ago, there was a high probability it was Powell.

“He became very, very good friends with thousands of people. He had an innate ability to remember people and their names,” Tanner said. “He was like my brother. We were hooked at the hip every day.”

Tanner learned March 10 that Powell had been hospitalized with pneumonia.

“The moment he went in, they intubated him immediately,” Tanner said. “He never spoke another word after that. He never ever, ever spoke another word.”

Nancy Powell Wilson, who lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, said test results for her younger brother took about five days to return — a frustratingly long time.

“It was a hard time,” she said. “I couldn’t even go out there because no one could go into the hospital at the time.”

Her loss was especially tough because the siblings were that last of their family, Powell Wilson said. “We knew we had each other. We knew we were there for each other.”

The pair grew up in the mid-size city in northwest Missouri, raised by musical parents, Powell Wilson said. Their father played violin in the city’s symphony for years and their mother taught piano and sang at funerals and weddings.

Powell inherited their musical talent, playing in local bands before making his way to Vail in the early ’80s.

He played with The New Christy Minstrels and another band named Crossroads, Powell Wilson said. He even cut a record in Nashville, but it failed to earn much time on the radio waves.

In Vail, Powell found a home at Pepi’s Bar and Restaurant, where he rubbed elbows with locals and international celebrities alike.

One Christmas Eve, at Powell’s behest, movie superstar Gregory Peck called their parents to wish them a happy holiday, Powell Wilson said. He caught glimpses of Princess Diana and her young sons, William and Harry, once. He also received an autograph from former President Gerald Ford.

Once, after playing one of Dan Fogelberg’s songs during a set, Powell Wilson, said her brother learned that Fogelberg had actually been in the audience.

“He took $20 out of his tip jar and said, ‘If you’re playing my songs, I better get my tip,’” she said.

Like the bar’s namesake, Pepi, Powell grew to be a staple of Vail, Tanner said — building a musical career that lasted decades with steady work and steady friends.

Any time he played, Powell would pick out the notes to his favorite from the Eagles, but another one of his favorites was Jimmy Buffett’s “A Pirate Looks at 40,” Tanner said.

Often, Powell and Tanner would play together.

“He had a schtick where if I walked in he would really want me to sing bad and he would really build me up,” Tanner said. “It was a comedy bit. But then we would kill it.”

Tanner said he and others are organizing a jam sometime later this year to memorialize their friend.

“We’ll have to do it in a big room because people are going to fly in for this thing,” Tanner said. “It’s going to be the biggest Vail Jam we ever did.”

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