EZZELL — When one thinks of a music studio, a high rise in New York City or Los Angeles might come to mind. To get to Wardell Potts Jr.’s studio, a dirt road will get you there.
Potts is a career music producer, drummer and fan of all genres. In his home studio in rural Lavaca County, he hosts a live internet radio show, produces hit songs and writes new tunes with his drum set and keyboards all while a few feet away from his bedroom.
Originally from Philadelphia, Potts moved to Los Angeles to become a career musician in his early 20s. He is a jazz-turned-funk drummer, describing his own musical tastes as pop, R&B, jazz, classical and even country. Thanks to the ability to work from home, he and his wife Gayla Massey moved to rural Texas where he creates music and talks about it too on his internet radio show.
Award-winning records, posters and vinyls hang on the walls of his home studio. A recording booth for his drum set, mixing boards, an electric keyboard, microphones and his Beats headphones also consume the space where, instead of skyscapers, he can see cattle and a freshly mowed landscape from his window.
In high school, Potts played in the jazz band and was part of the track, basketball and gymnastics teams. He then went to Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va. to study music.
While on a holiday break in college, he received a call about recording drums in Los Angeles. His friend and fellow drummer Tony Wescott had been called too but could not go to California at the time, so Potts made the trek.
He put his drums on a bus and traveled five days from the East Coast to California where he saw palm trees for the first time and broke into the industry following his audition with then-newly formed SOLAR Records.
The first record Potts recorded on, Shalamar’s “Big Fun,” was certified gold. Then the second, The Whispers’ “The Whispers,” went platinum. Both were released in 1979. The success didn’t stop with those two.
In his career, he has worked on projects with household names like Will Smith, Janet Jackson, and the Commodores to name a few. He also has writing, arranging, performance and production credits associated with countless other acts across the music business.
Mr. Pocket is the nickname others in the industry gave him. This hints at the drumming lingo for a groove someone can find themselves in when playing.
“I don’t even use the name,” he said. “You don’t have to go around bragging, because it speaks for itself.”
Prayer is also an activity, Potts said, that has made him who he is.
He and his wife are chaplains, and his grandfather, father, cousins and sister have been pastors. At one point, he was even asked to return to Philadelphia to stand in as a pastor.
When he left home for Los Angeles, he said his mother told him she would pray for him everyday. That was something he would one day look back on, realizing the prayers worked.
“Religion is the foundation of me,” Potts said. “I think that success really helped me to recognize how blessed I was.”
“A lot of people say ‘You made it. You made it,’ and I don’t look at it like that because I’m still trying to get there.”
His relationships with other musicians are also aspects of his life he realized later on were big moments.
When initially auditioning with SOLAR Records, founder and co-owner Dick Griffey chose Potts to be the house drummer for the company. Only later in life did Potts realize Griffey was also a drummer.
Potts said if another drummer chose him to represent the record label, then he definitely knew what he was doing.
Since moving to rural Lavaca County, Potts joined the First Baptist Church in Hallettsville where he worships and plays drums for the church.
“There’s nothing more intimate than playing drums in church,” he said.
He is also still creating music and producing records while hosting his radio show.
Working with members of the Texas music scene is also in his future. He is working with Austin Boogie Crew Records for new music set to be released early next year. His band Dynasty also has a new record out on streaming platforms and in vinyl.
On the internet radio show, he also plans to start featuring more new country in addition to his Throwback Thursdays, indie jazz, worship and other themes.