By Jacob Katel
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Not long into our conversation, Poppa E settles into his preferred intimacy zone by dubbing me "Brother Eric. " So take it from a brother: The 60-year-old blues guitarist — and pretty much permanent Tobacco Road fixture — is on a roll these days. A tune of his, "Terraplane," was just nominated as Blues Song of the Year by the International Academy of Independent Artists. And he recently returned from three days of performances in Mexico at the fifth annual Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival. "There were guitar players from all over the world," he says, clearly amped. "Paul Pigat from Canada, Esteban Bello, Twelve Strings from Berlin. It was an incredible experience."
Born and raised in Manhattan, Poppa runs his own Black Owl record label out of Miami with the help of partners in New York and London. As a much younger guy, he was a session percussion player for Sussex Records, which put him in the same room as Bill Withers on many occasions (yes, that includes the recording sessions for "Lean on Me").
When pressed (really hard), he does have one particular favorite Tobacco Road memory. "It would have to be the evening of February 23 of this year, when the legendary Graham Wood Drout of Iko Iko and I played together upstairs in the Cabaret. The house was packed, we told all kinds of stories — the warmth and love in the room was incredible. In fact the entire week leading up to that show was incredible. Graham came over to the house and we talked politics, ate pizza and drank beer, and played some real blues all night long."