Uncle Nef
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Uncle Nef

New Orleans, LA | Established. Jan 01, 2017 | INDIE

New Orleans, LA | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2017
Duo Blues Blues Rock




"Uncle Nef 100 Club, London, August 8th, 2018"

“It's not often a New Orleans drumming great struts into the 100 Club armed only with drum sticks and a fantastic blues guitarist by his side, and lets rip a raw, tour de force set featuring Leadbelly, Nirvana and Louis Jordan, tinged with heartfelt originals. Uncle Nef ‘King of The Treme' Shannon Powell and guitarist Darren Hoffman, stunned the crowd with a heart-stopping set full of pathos, including a so-stripped-down-it-was-barely-real 'St. James Infirmary', alongside swinging originals that had the crowd Lindy Hopping with reckless abandon. In a city that has produced some of the world's most revered drummers, Powell stands tall in the lineage of New Orleans' rhythmic giants: a torchbearer of the city's culture with rich vocals evoking the spiritual churches, street parades and jazz clubs he has clearly been immersed in. Powell's honeyed drawl set the scene immediately "Hey where y'all at baby? Eh las bas...We gonna get loose with some of this good old blues, alright?" Kicking off with a shot of John Lee Hooker's 'Shake It Baby', the rollicking duo headed straight into bold territory with a raw guitar-led original 'That Was That' about the most joyous of themes... heartbreak. Having voyaged from Mississippi to New Orleans, it was onwards to Seattle with the most unexpected of tracks, Nirvana's 'Tourettes' was pure emotion on a plate. Hoffman's influences shone through most on 'Jelly 292' fusing Hendrix with Duke Ellington. Ever the storyteller, 'Beat to Eat' (penned by Hoffman) refers to "beating a drum to make a living, a metaphor for physical labour," he told me backstage. "Shannon's been drumming since he was 10! I took this life lesson of discipline and wrote the main riff for him to tell his story." A huge contributor to traditional and modern jazz idioms, having worked with Danny Barker, Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton Marsalis, Powell is also a veteran of New Orleans' rich rhythm and blues scene (backing up such greats as Snooks Eaglin and Dr. John), their last track was the gorgeously mellow Fats Domino 'Sick And Tired' given a blues twist. An unlikely duo, once student and teacher, now collaborators: Powell, a proud African-American kept call-ing the younger, white Hoffman, "My nephew", perfectly embodying the spirit of cross-pollination and refusal to accept boundaries, racial or musical, so common in New Orleans. The chemistry crackled between them, talking to each other through reverb and frenetic kick drum gesticulation. In one of their first gigs outside the US, the sound was a complete contrast of jangly guitar riffs and honeyed Southern R&B vocals; Powell's shuffling backbeat a perfect counter to Hoffman's deep, fat tones and lyrical soloing. The 100 Club is no stranger to anarchy, as the pictures peering down of The Sex Pistols and The White Stripes attest: somehow this was the perfect setting for Uncle Nef and their experimentation of sonic pathways and possibilities.”

"Uncle Nef, “Blues” (Ropeadope) [EP Review]"

"First off, the leaders representing Uncle Nef are drummer and vocalist Shannon Powell and guitarist Darren Hoffman. Okay, that explains that though with Powell aboard it’s easy to have certain expectations – rarely a good idea – of what direction the music might take. The title of the four-cut EP, Blues, offers evidence to the material though at first listen the results still come as a bit of a surprise.

The disc opens with Hoffman’s guitar almost acting as a bass on the John Lee Hooker staple, “Shake It Baby.” Brooklyn-based Sami Stevens enters sounding, with the help of over-dubbing, like a hip group of R&B backup singers. Powell, who’s been digging in on drums and who, of course, can play any style, finally comes in on vocals and is instantly recognizable. Hoffman offers some stinging guitar that, understandably, speaks of a more modern era.

“Sinbad’s Blues,” a Hoffman original, works out on an ultra-slow beat with the big B-3 organ manned by Kyle Roussel providing a wonderfully thick bed of sound. The guitarist bends notes and electrically extends the style to move it further out. Bam, bam goes Powell.

Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floors” is in good hands with Powell at the microphone. Hoffman settles down to some solid basics on this one. It ends with a burst of drums and Stevens’ multiple voices stretching out the final note.

Hoffman strums some fat chords on a very earthy, traditional blues, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night (In the Pines).” It is emotionally delivered by vocalist Sami Stevens. The somber, somewhat gospel flavored tune, rounds out a disc that begins on a somewhat puzzling note and winds up believable and sincere."

by Geraldine Wychoff - Offbeat Magazine, New Orleans

"Shannon Powell And Darren Hoffman Reintroduce Themselves As Uncle Nef (Interview)"

Shannon Powell, OffBeat‘s August 2005 cover story and the King of Tremé, has launched a new musical partnership with guitarist Darren Hoffman, though their relationship goes way back. Now performing and recording as Uncle Nef, Hoffman and Powell were once teacher and student but have graduated to musical family. The duo recently dropped its debut EP, Blues, and celebrated with a performance at d.b.a. Already in talks for a tour and full-length LP, the two spoke with OffBeat.com about Uncle Nef’s genesis and its future.

How did the idea of Uncle Nef come about?

Darren Hoffman: Shannon was my drum teacher when I was studying music at UNO and we worked on a bunch of projects together, mostly projects that I produced. In 2010 I started living in New York part time to bring all of those projects to the next level. I lived between the two cities over the past few years, and recently switched back to the guitar, which is the instrument I played primarily when I was a teenager. When I came down [to New Orleans] in March of this year after to attend the second line and memorial for Charlie Sims (co-owner of the legendary Donna’s Bar and Grill), I called Shannon and said, ‘Hey man, why don’t we just get three or four hours in the studio just to do some guitar and drum duo stuff?’ He said, ‘Alright.’ He wasn’t too sure what to expect, but we did it. And then we said ‘man, we got to make a band out of this. And so we named it Uncle Nef. It kind of described our friendship.”

Shannon Powell: He was coming to take lessons from me and he was attending the University of New Orleans jazz department studying percussion. In March, he came up to me with this project. With this particular project I was really interested because I always like to showcase a variety of styles of music, even when I perform with my band. I have about three different bands. I have a seven-piece trad jazz band, I have a quartet and I have a trio. So I’m always interested in playing different styles of music. This particular style of music is a style of music I don’t get a chance to play as much as I would like to so I was very, very interested when he brought the idea to me. And, as he mentioned, we didn’t know what was going to come out of it, but nothing but greatness has come out of it. It really came out good. I hope other people like it too, but I think it’s really good. And it gives us a chance to showcase me in a whole ‘nother vein because so many people are used to me playing gospel, jazz and traditional New Orleans style music.

very interested when he brought the idea to me. And, as he mentioned, we didn’t know what was going to come out of it, but nothing but greatness has come out of it. It really came out good. I hope other people like it too, but I think it’s really good. And it gives a chance to showcase me in a whole ‘nother vein because so many people are used to me playing rhythms and gospel and jazz and traditional New Orleans style music.

How does Uncle Nef’s sound differ from what you’ve worked on in the past?

Shannon: Well it’s a traditional blues sound that people in this generation need to hear. You know I came up in the Tremé in the 60s and 70s—so I grew up listening to nothing but the best of hardcore blues. Professor Longhair, stuff like that. I performed with all these people. Growing up in the Tremé you are surrounded by some of the best blues in the world. So you know, my thing –and their thing too– is not only are we trying to capture this great traditional blues sound, but we trying to enlighten a younger audience today that missed a whole lot of that.

Darren: I grew up listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix. I listened to Nirvana. I listened to Albert King. And then later in my twenties, I got into Jack White and the White Stripes. So that kind of opened me up a lot. Even before the The White Stripes, in high school, I was into the blues guitar and drum-duo thing. For some reason it was something I liked to do. It gave me a lot of freedom. So when I switched back to guitar about a year ago, I was like ‘If I’m going to do something on guitar, why don’t I just get the best drummer in the world?’ In terms of style, I wanted to draw upon Nirvana and Sonic Youth and the subversive nature of stuff like that; that gritty feeling that we share in electric blues, as well. All of that kind of comes together in what you hear on our EP. To people who know who Louis Jordan is, the sound we are coming up with is sort of a mix of a Louis Jordan and Jack White kind of thing.

Uncle Nef is just beginning, but what’s next?

Shannon: We are trying to keep this thing rolling. We want to go on tour. The road is where I belong. I was telling Darren, ‘you come home and sit down and sit around for so many years, you start missing the road.’ You see I’ve been on the road so much I’m used to different climates at certain times of the year. And when I’m home in New Orleans I just get only the New Orleans climate so I miss out on that. In certain places, like when it’s summertime, I like to be where it’s cold. When it’s winter time, I like to be where it’s hot, you know what I’m saying?

Darren: Well, we released the E.P. on a Sunday and we were back in the studio on Tuesday. We started recording an LP, and we have about half of it done already. No time to waste. We’re only on this planet for so long. We have some really great guest artists I can’t talk about just yet. But really cool guest artists are joining us. We’re trying to get as much work done as we can to bring it to the next level. The whole style of what we’re doing -the body of work- is going to evolve and grow organically, and we’re not going to stray too far from our foundation. The next record is not going to be like a Björk record or anything like that [laughs].

by Amanda "Bonita" Mester - Offbeat Magazine, New Orleans

"Uncle Nef, Love Songs (Ropeadope) - Album Review"

You wouldn’t think the world needed another version of “St. James Infirmary” at this point, but the one that closes out Uncle Nef’s first full album isn’t like any you’ve heard before. It’s guitar-driven blues-rock, but steeped in a punkish White Stripes aesthetic, with a couple of distortion-heavy guitar solos, open space in the arrangement, close-miked drums, and an organ that pounds a single chord throughout. This setting gives the song new life while making it the most ominous it’s sounded in a long while.

True to their name, Uncle Nef is an uncle and a nephew: the former is celebrated drummer (and here singer) Shannon Powell, the latter is young guitar-slinger Darren Hoffman (some tracks add sax or organ, but there’s notably no bass). The cross-generational lineup means that it’s largely about absorbing each other’s influences: On one hand, the duo’s original tune “Beat to Eat” is classic-model New Orleans R&B, while the song “It Hurts” (which has echoed guitar, a recited lead vocal and a droning violin) sounds like U2 at their most experimental. They find common ground on “Jam 292,” a Hendrix piece that allows for furious solos by both leaders. Another instrumental, “Tourette’s” is two minutes of tense intro followed by two minutes of outburst. Most of the tracks are tied together by ambient sound effects that add to the anything-goes feel of this album—not just a credible take on blues-rock, but a surprisingly quirky one as well. - Offbeat Magazine - New Orleans


"Blues" - EP - October 2017

1 - "Shake It Baby" - (T. Bone Walker & John Lee Hooker)

2 - "Sindbad's Blues" - (original)

3 - "Killing Floor" - (Howlin' Wolf)

4 - "Where Did You Sleep Last Night - (traditional)

"Love Songs" - LP - April 2019

1 - "That Was That" - (original)

2 - "Cabrito" - (original)

3 - "Beat To Eat" - (original)

4 - "Jam 292" - (Hendrix/Ellington)

5 - "It Hurts" - (original)

6 - "A-Side" - (original)

7 - "Caledonia" - (Louis Jordan)

8 - "Sick And Tired" - (Fats Domino)

9 - "So Alone" (original)10 - "Tourette's" (Nirvana)

11 - "St James Infirmary" - (traditional)



Uncle Nef is a rhythm and blues duo comprised of Shannon Powell and Darren Hoffman.

Drummer Shannon Powell stands tall in the lineage of New Orleans’ rhythmic giants; he is a torchbearer of the city’s culture and one of the finest drummers in the world. He’s also a great singer, his vocals invoking styles that echo the churches, street parades and jazz clubs of his hometown. Known for his contributions to traditional and modern jazz idioms, having worked with Danny Barker, Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton Marsalis, Powell is also a veteran of New Orleans' rich rhythm and blues scene having backed up such greats as Snooks Eaglin, Earl King and Dr. John.

Darren Hoffman is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer originally from Miami, Florida. He grew up playing guitar in his youth, greatly influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Albert King and Nirvana, but switched to drums when he was bit by the jazz bug in his early twenties and relocated in 2007 to study percussion at the University of New Orleans.

Hoffman began hanging out with Powell at places like Donna’s Bar & Grill on Rampart Street; the pair hit it off and began a friendship that ventured far from the classroom. While Shannon guided Darren in music and street-smart professionalism, Hoffman introduced Powell to new technologies and 21st century music industry practices. While many students of music today study almost entirely in the world of academia, Darren had the unique experience of being mentored by a living legend in a more traditional way, doing odd jobs and handling business for Shannon in exchange for knowledge and musical guidance.

When Darren enrolled at UNO, he had all but forgotten the guitar, focusing on his career as a professional drummer. One afternoon in 2009, Darren pulled out his guitar and jammed through some blues tunes with Shannon. Taken aback by what he heard, Shannon proclaimed, “Man! We gotta record!” This chance riff resulted in the 2017 release simply entitled Blues, a stripped down interpretation of raw blues with a modern edge.

The success of that record led to a natural progression toward their new collaboration, Love Songs. Here we find Powell and Hoffman stretching out, but not relaxing at all. The mood is highly charged and powerful, with Powell hitting hard and Hoffman shredding like a chainsaw on razor wire. There are some subtle love songs on Love Songs, but many tracks that speak to the full experience of love - the energy, the tension, the elation and the agony. Classic tracks are included to keep the concept in context - Caledonia, St James Infirmary to name a couple - with originals both fun and frenzied mixed in. It’s a wonder to see this unlikely Uncle/Nephew duo chart new territory with full appreciation of the past. 

Band Members