May 2010: Scott E. Powell '66
by Erin Reid, Associate Director of Stewardship and Special Projects
Scott E. Powell '66 is an orthopedic surgeon and team physician for the United States Soccer Federation Women’s National Team. But he is certainly best known as a founding member of the rock 'n' roll band Sha Na Na.
During his years at Hotchkiss, Powell sang with the Glee Club and the Blue Notes, recording a little heard album called "Goin' Nowhere." At Columbia University during the tumultuous l960s, Powell joined the a cappella singing group, The Kingsmen, whose usual venues included the Yule Log lighting ceremony and the psychiatric ward at St. Luke’s Hospital. Their repertoire included some 1950s songs. At a show at an on-campus luncheonette, the group played two of these oldies again and again by popular demand as the audience swelled to 250. When the older brother of one of the band members got the idea of gold lame outfits from Bye Bye Birdie and 1950s garb, instruments were added, and Sha Na Na was born.
Sha Na Na quickly began to get offers beyond college performances. One audition for a gig took place in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen where the band got a two-week contract for which they were paid $50 a night, split among 12 band members. They played Fillmore East, the Electric Circus, and other venues, opening for such bands as Three Dog Night, Santana, and Canned Heat. Then came an unexpected turn of events when, after they had played only seven official performances, a hippie-looking guy approached them in their dressing room and said, "You guys have got to go to Woodstock."
Hence, on an August day in 1969, a helicopter, also carrying Joe Cocker and his band, picked up Sha Na Na in a field in upstate New York. Powell remembers a spine-tingling moment when, cresting a hill, they gradually saw in the distance thousands and thousands of people and a stage the size of a matchbox. Powell recalls, "We landed and went backstage. It was terrifying to look out as we were waiting to go on in our eighth show ever, the only band at Woodstock without a record deal. We went on stage at sunrise on the final day, just before Jimi Hendrix, who despite his reputation, was incredibly articulate and smart." The band received a $300 check that bounced, but they left Woodstock with a record deal and true celebrity status.
When Powell returned to Columbia as a senior, the band was playing 250 shows a year. He set up his classes on Mondays through Thursdays to leave the weekend for performing. One of their early gigs was at Yale, a show produced by Hotchkiss classmate Barry Svigals and Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau. Sha Na Na played Fillmore West with the Kinks and Taj Mahal, jamming with Carlos Santana, the Pointer Sisters, and Mike Bloomfield. The band went to Europe and Japan and traveled on the Festival Express, a train across Canada with Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, and The Band. Back in the States, they were invited to a benefit with Stevie Wonder and Roberta Flack for the Willowbrook School for Children, put together by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. During the encore of "Give Peace a Chance," Powell recalls Lennon tapping him on the shoulder and saying, "Go ahead, lad, sing a verse."
The band played Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, and Boston's Music Hall. They headlined for Bruce Springsteen’s first shows outside of New Jersey, where Powell remembers, "You could already see how great he would become." In 1976, Sha Na Na, with Scott as "Santini," began working on what would become their syndicated television series, taping 24 shows in three months. The shows aired on 250 stations and in 38 foreign countries. The band was approached about doing the movie Grease and went on to record five songs on a record that sold 28 million copies. Powell was thinking about pursuing a career in acting when his friend Doug Kenney, who wrote Animal House, asked him to play a small role in Caddyshack. While shooting for three months in Plantation, Florida, he realized that this was the best set he would ever be on.
Powell found himself at a crossroads. While in Boston visiting his college roommate who was finishing his vascular surgery fellowship, he scrubbed in to observe surgery. One of the doctor's patients was an alcoholic who was near death from drinking, and Powell was intrigued by the one-to-one relationship between doctor and patient, far different from playing before thousands of screaming fans. He was intrigued by the idea of studying medicine, but, having majored in English, he wondered if he had ability in science. Yet, always motivated, Powell left the band in 1980, did his pre-med work at Columbia, entered the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at age 38, completed his internship at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, began his residency at the Hospital for Joint Diseases at age 40, and completed a fellowship in sports medicine at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Los Angeles. In 2005, Powell co-founded Stetson Powell Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Burbank with partner Bill Stetson, and it has evolved into a very busy practice. His work as team physician for the US Soccer Women's National Team affords him the opportunity to travel to the World Cup and the Olympics. He is Clinical Professor of Orthopedics at USC Keck School of Medicine. He also volunteers his skills for MusiCares, the outreach arm of the GRAMMY Awards®, to provide free healthcare for musicians in need, and he is on the board of directors of United Cerebral Palsy and the Arthroscopy Association of North America. He is married to oculoplastic surgeon Cynthia Boxrud and has two children.
Powell credits Hotchkiss with teaching him discipline and for giving him a strong work ethic. "Whether it was writing the daily English essay or taking a language I didn’t particularly like, Hotchkiss gave me the tools to succeed. In addition, the lessons learned by playing sports were vitally important for learning teamwork and building personal relationships." His message to students is simple: "Anything is possible. Follow your inner voice and let the journey happen."