Tony Powers’ “Don’t Nobody Move (This Is A Heist)”: Just Keep Moving

By on April 26, 2015

When pioneering 1981 music video “Don’t Nobody Move (This Is A Heist)” began airing on Night Flight in the early 80s, pre-MTV, we think it’s safe to say most of the viewers watching at home didn’t have any idea who Tony Powers was, but he’d already had an incredible career as a singer/songwriter by that point, and we thought we get a little nostalgic and tell you about it.

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If Powers sounds like a made-up name, it is. Born Howard Stanley Puris, Powers is a born and bred New Yorker. He grew up in the East Bronx, and lived in Manhattan, and he’d probably be the first to tell you, in a city like New York, you gotta just keep moving, and that’s just what he did. In the late 50s he kept moving by gravitating first into songwriting after the puerile lyrics he’d written to the melody an old gospel tune (“Go Tell It On The Mountain”) were clever enough to get him a meeting with none other than Lester Sims of Bourne Music, known for his sartorial elegance and for having an ear for a good tune.

Powers, in his early 20s at the time, soon landed a job at Trio Music, the publishing company of the great Leiber and Stoller songwriting duo, whose offices were located in the famed Brill Building, an eleven-story art deco office block at 1619 Broadway, near 49th Street, in Manhattan. It was virtually a songwriting factory, where mostly young 20-ish songwriters were often teamed up together to co-write songs for artists that the publishers were working with: we’re talkin’ about the great songwriting teams like Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman, Burt Bacharach & Hal David, Neil Sedaka & Howard Greenfield, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, and Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich.

In 1962, one of Powers’ earliest co-writes was the nostalgic-tinged doo-wopper “Remember Then,” co-written specifically for a vocal group called the Earls, who were looking for a follow-up hit to their colossal “Life Is But A Dream.” Powers partnered with songwriter Beverly Ross for what turned out to be first songwriting smash hit. Powers then ended up partnering with Ellie Greenwich for the Exciters’ 1963 hit “He’s Got The Power,” and Jay & the Americans’ “This Is It.” And the hit just kept on coming, for Phil Spector’s Philles productions like “Today I Met The Boy I’m Going To Marry” (sung by Darlene Love), and “Why Do Lovers Break Each Others Hearts,” sung by Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans.

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Powers kept moving, and transitioned over to Don Kirschner’s Screen Gems-Columbia Music — Kirshner had previously run Aldon Music with co-owner Al Nevin, and had hits with songwriters like Carole King, Barry Mann, and Neil Sedaka, among others, so Powers naturally gravitated towards Kirschner too, and more hits followed. He wrote“Lazy Day” for Spanky & Our Gang, and “98.6” for Keith (those were both co-written by George Fischoff).

He even wrote the tune “We’re The Banana Splits” (with Ritchie Adams) which was intended to be the theme song for the 1968 Banana Splits TV series but the television and advertising executives thought the “Tra La La Song,” another Adams composition co-written with prolific songwriter and producer Mark Barkan, was a catchier theme.

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Powers co-wrote songs with Jeff Barry, Artie Kornfeld, Jack Keller, Al Kooper and Barkan, but he says he finally had to quit powering out the pop tunes this way because he found “writing solely for commercial purposes was far too limiting and restrictive,” and he moved on, once he was freed up to write songs that he felt was closer to his own working-class perspective, tunes that took a look at the human condition from a socio-political point-of-view.

Well, I was in this police station, being booked for garlic breath
In the corner was a cripple, they was kicking him to death
From a cell somewhere I heard this woman scream ‘You’re hurting me’
On the wall there was this poster: “Holy name society”…
Oh!

These new songs were darker, angrier and full of biting wit and sarcasm, and humor, too, and they had the look and feel of New York. They also, of course, were best served by Powers singing them himself — he’d sung demos as a songwriter and was beginning to develop a kind of spoken word rant-rap style that no one else was really doing — and soon he had a club act he’d put together for cabaret and club shows, mostly in New York, performing at big venues like the Savoy Ballroom, and in Los Angeles, at smaller clubs like the Troubadour in what is now West Hollywood.

At some point Powers moved to L.A., and he was offered a recording contract with Columbia Records, but in 1971 he decided to release an album of his own material on his own label, Home-Made (the full name of which was Home-Made (My Real Name Is Howard Stanley Puris)), and he also got into acting, which is practically de rigueur if you’re living out in L.A. and performing in clubs. He started appearing in small acting roles in movies and TV in the early 1980s, and he soon began rubbing shoulders with a lot of actors and actresses and creative people of one type or another.

Which brings us back to “Don’t Nobody Move (This Is A Heist),” which was conceived by Powers and director Brian Owens as a three-song “MusicFilm” — it was Powers’ description, just one word — which was pretty much a way to combine his various interests, including acting, singing/spoken-word rapping and New York, too, into a kind of miniature film with a narrative storyline, shot on film and then transferred to video. No one else was doing anything remotely like this at the time, and Powers enlisted a lot of actor friends to help him fulfill this dream of being the first to do so.

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The Heist MusicFilm was shot guerrilla-style (without permits) on the streets of Manhattan, with his actor friends, including a (thin-looking) John Goodman, Treat Williams, Peter Riegert, Marcia Strassman and J.C. Quinn coming out in the middle of the night to appear in cameo roles (Williams had even flown his private plane in from Ohio, where he was doing a play, to climb into Powers’ shower for his scene before climbing back out, hopping back in his plane and flying back to Ohio).

For the second MusicFilm, Odyssey, actress Lois Chiles appeared on the Staten Island Ferry for the cold night shoot of Powers’ song “Odyssey,” and the cast and crew experienced a three-hour thunderstorm (the song, by the way, was later recorded by the another former New York-based band, Kiss, for their album, The Elder), and the third MusicFilm, which Powers himself directed, was for his song “Midnite Trampoline,” which features Powers in the role of a small-time gigolo/boy toy named Vito La Cuenta. It was shot in the SoHo loft owned by Powers’ friend Gary Herry, who designed and built the sets.

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By 1982, Powers had created a 26-minute verison of “Heist,” “Odyssey” and “Midnite Trampoline.” On its own, “Heist” won several awards, including the Silver Medal at The 26th Annual International Film and Music Festival of New York, the Gold Medal at The 1st International Music Video Festival of Saint Tropez, and was Details Magazine’s “Video of the Year.”

Not only was a regular feature on Night Flight, but it was shown frequently on HBO, and in 1985, Sony released it as a Sony Video Album, and they also released it as an EP.

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Powers kept moving, and gravitated further into acting, appearing on the TV series “The Equalizer” (1986-1989), “NYPD Blue” (1993-1994), “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” (1995), “The King Of Queens” (1999-2001), and in small roles in movies too — he’s probably best known to this day for his role as “Jimmy Two-Times” in Martin Scorseses’ Goodfellas, but he also appeared as Captain Mason in Cadillac Man, and one of his last film appearances was as New York Savings bank manager John Modica in Stephen Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can.

He’s continued to pursue his musical interests too, releasing the self-produced albums Under The Cover of Darkness in 1996, and Who Could Imagine in 2007.

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.