Ricky Powell was a person you thought would be around forever. When you went to the West Village, you’d most likely see him. Radio in hand, West 4th St. or The Rickford Institute Hat on crooked, a king in his court with live commentary all the way. It’s a sad day when we heard that The Rickster had passed on. In more than twenty years of DJing, there were plenty of Ricky Powell stories and sightings. We respected him because of his body of work. The four books he put out. The text messages of: “You ready for a print, yet?”, or a message through Instagram talking about Brother Jack McDuff (and his autographed “The Worm” forty-five from Jack). A true NYC street legend who will be sorely missed.
We all leave after the gig, and the next day I get a call. “Dude, Ricky Powell just left last night. He said he had to get home to watch Sports Center.” In true Powell fashion, he took a cab all the way from Central Jersey to his Charles St. apt.
I met Ricky Powell over twenty years ago. I was a fan of his photography, had a copy of Oh Snap, and thought it was a good idea to book him to do a slide show at my DJ night called The Soul Circuit. So I got in touch, I can’t remember how I got his number, and that was that. He made his way down from the City on the night of the event and we were excited. He did inform us that he ate a space cake before he came down. But he was The Rickster, that was part of the charm. The night went off without a hitch. He hand placed those irreplaceable slides of history in our rented slide machine. A lot of heavyweight photos were shown. Some personal photos would pop in here and there. Some topless girl. A dog from his block. People shooting hoops. Then he and I went back to back, slide for record. He’d put up LL, I’d drop “Rock The Bells”. He’d show KRS-One, I’d thrown on “You Must Learn”. It was a memorable night. Since the trains weren’t running, we had arranged for him to stay at Chuck Cheeba’s place. Chuck was a stand-up dude, a businessman, and he could be trusted to handle Ricky Powell. We all leave after the gig, and the next day I get a call. “Dude, Ricky Powell just left last night. He said he had to get home to watch Sports Center.” In true Powell fashion, he took a cab all the way from Central Jersey to his Charles St. apt. He called me the next day to “bill” me. We went back and forth for quite a while and I finally sent him a check. (I wish I still had the return check with the patented Ricky Powell hand style signature on the back!).
There will be no one like Ricky Powell. Powell captured a time in NYC that doesn’t really exist anymore. Whether it’s the photos (or being the subject of lyrics) of the Beastie Boys in their early days, tour shots with Run DMC, street photography capturing some of the most iconic people of all time, or just the everyday goings-on of the man, he’s going to be sorely missed. Ricky Powell was at the right place at the right time in our lifetime. He captured these moments that will live on forever. His warm and sometimes abrasive NYC attitude was part of his character. But that was the charm. His body of work was well respected by people all around the globe, and it saddens me to know we lost another true legend this year. Rest In Power, I hope you’re “krunching on a tasty knish somewhere, snapping away with your transistor radio in hand, telling those new jack cornballs to ‘act right’.”