Last night, the primal sounds of fife and drum music were echoing at the Turner Family Picnic, an annual North Mississippi Hill Country tradition, and Bo-Keys leader Scott Bomar, Ponderosa Stomp graphics designer Kerri Mahoney and I were there to listen.
Since the death of Rising Star Fife and Drum Band founder — and Turner family patriarch — Otha Turner, his granddaughter Sharde Thomas (pictured above and below) has led the group. Last night was no different, as, under a hazy half-moon, Thomas blew her cane fife and, followed by a trio of drummers, traversed the packed dirt ground that was once home to her granddaddy’s farm. Her mother and aunts fried catfish and sold cold beer and hot sandwiches. Curious city slickers took photos, drank too much, and kicked up dust. When Thomas tired, friends like Kenny Brown, Junior Burnside and R.L. Boyce were quick to pick up the slack, performing Hill Country anthems like “Jumper On the Line” from a plywood stage.
Like most traditions, the picnic has changed over the last 50-or so years, even as it has stayed the same. Otha and his daughter, Bernice Turner, who helped with the band, died on the same day in 2003. The grandkids are growing up — a few weeks ago, Thomas started her sophomore year in college. The goat meat sandwiches had sold out by the time we arrived, and this year, for the first time, the family charged a $2 admission to the picnic.
Yet once we were ensconced with cold beers in one hand and catfish and Wonder bread sandwiches in the other, the swirling, Africa-meets-the-blues music pulling us into the mass of dancers, it was as if we were on board a time machine and traveling backwards to that first time Library of Congress musicologist Alan Lomax stumbled into the Turner’s end of summer celebration and documented it for all posterity.
Adding particular poignance to this year’s event was the fact that earlier in the day, the Mississippi Development Authority’s Division of Tourism dedicated a marker to Turner’s brand of fife and drum music on the Mississippi Blues Trail. It’s located in downtown Como, Miss., directly across the street from a marker commemorating the lifework of Mississippi Fred McDowell. Next time you make the drive between Memphis and New Orleans, be sure to check it out.
Poetic justice on a grand scale as the infectious strains of Roy Perkins’ “Drop Top” is currently getting massive airplay in a new Gogurt commercial on kiddy cable tv. I’ve seen several different kids repeat it after just one viewing- “BA DA BA DA DAAAAA – DROP TOP!” All hail ROY!
Yat raconteur and one of the last great WWOZ dj’s – Billy Delle, recently counted down his top ten Swamp Pop records on his radio show. I grabbed a stack of post its and commenced to a writing.
Starting it off with his own freewheeling scat interpretations of iconic New Orleans R&B hits Delle segued into what defined the Swamp Pop sound and what the genre and each song meant to him personally. The following is his list:
I had been seeing these guys’ names in the paper for awhile now, playing in Kenner and Metairie, and have been intrigued: Pee Wee Guidry & the Country Boys featuring Joe Timmons.
I saw where Pee Wee has played with pianist/singer Kenny “L” Lachney, according to Kenny L’s bio page for the West Bank Musicians Hall of Fame induction class of 2007. Kenny L ain’t perfect, but he can be a welcome oasis these days in the dying world of classic local R&B/swamp pop, and I’d seen him countless times backing Bobby Lonero during Lonero’s yearlong stint at the Third Rock Tavern in Kenner in 2006-07.
So with that association, I finally went and checked them out in Kenner at Dolly’s Bar on Williams Boulevard. Walked in to the strains of “Matilda.” They also did “Fool to Care,” “Sweet Dreams,” and other tunes of that ilk. A four-piece group: bass, drums, 2 guitars. Lead singer (Timmons) had the George Jones widow’s peak hairstyle going, diminished somewhat by a receding hairline. Guidry had the Charlie Daniels-style cowboy hat with a few lucky charms in the band–a feather or piece of animal fur or something.
Pretty competent musicians. They “swung” a little bit more than your average swampers like Treater. It’s a tiny setting with no cover, so the expectations weren’t high. I’d go see them again.
I must be getting old: Kenner is a lot easier to get to these days than the West Bank–and the Old Scorpio (now named Memories) has been kicking it lately (with Junior Lacrosse on Thursdays, for one, and Gary T just there last Saturday), and the Old Firemen’s Hall has reopened in Westwego, but I haven’t made it out there recently. Marrero is scary these days, and The Man is on the lookout for drunks like me–easier to deal with than the swarthier restless natives …
They hate CDs, but apparently they like the Interwebs okay. The mad geniuses and longtime Stomp supporters at Norton Records (label co-owner Miriam Linna moderated a memorable oral history with Question Mark at the 2009 Ponderosa Stomp Conference) have launched a new podcast to feed your ears, beaming out straight across the cyber-spaceways from their Brooklyn-based Sputnik.
Norton house band the A-Bones will also be striking out soon for the mystic East, with five dates scheduled (starting this Friday) in Japan, sharing bills with the 5,6,7,8′s and Jackie & the Cedrics.
Mystic Knight of the Mau Mau and recent Lincoln Center debutant Mike Hurtt is also dusting off his suitcase to play gigs in Portland, OR and Spain with soul legend and 2004 Ponderosa Stomp headliner Gino Washington.
Play the video below to see Gino ride his pony with Hurtt’s Party Stompers in Detroit earlier this summer.
The Ponderosa Stomp Foundation was sad to hear today that Ellie Greenwich, one of the leading songwriters of the early rock n’roll era, has passed away.
Greenwich was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1940 and raised in the suburb of Levittown. Her first instrument was the accordion, though she gave that up in short order to form a high-school vocal trio, the Jivettes. In 1958, she released her first single as a writer and performer: “Cha-Cha-Charming,” as Ellie Gaye.
After graduating from Hofstra University in 1962 (where she met her future husband and writing partner Jeff Barry) Greenwich landed a job at the Brill Building headquarters of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and penned her first chart hits for Jay & the Americans and Darlene Love’s Exciters, the latter a group she’d work with for many years.
Along with Barry (from whom she separated in 1965,) Greenwich was responsible for such hits as “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “And Then He Kissed Me,” “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and “Leader of the Pack,” co-written with Shadow Morton. In 1991, she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
It was Greenwich, along with Barry, who gave rock n’roll teen bouffant queen Ronnie Spector “Be My Baby,” the hit that would turn her into an icon; a near-perfect expression of teenage lust and yearning that lives on as possibly the finest example of that era of songcraft. When Spector closed her set with it at Ponderosa Stomp 2008, the House of Blues crowd was absolutely rapt – even a little weepy.
On another personal note, during the Stomp crew’s first junket to New York City to host a show at Brooklyn’s McCarren Park Pool in July of 2007, several of us took a special walk to stand in front of the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway and take pictures in front of the doors that Greenwich and fellow writers passed through every day on their way to make the magic.
As the peacock-blue Cadillac with the gold trim and fur lining spun on a giant turntable in the Stax Museum of American Soul Music here, Al Bell, the final owner of the late, great record label, chuckled. Decades before 50 Cent with his customized Rolls-Royce and Akon with his tricked-out Lamborghini, there was Isaac Hayes with this pimped-out ride, an over-the-top gift from Stax to its over-the-top star, who wore slave chains like emancipatory bling across his bare, buff chest.
“The reason I chuckle is because I think of what has been born out of the rap and the hip-hop world, and then I look at what we were doing back then, and, you know, we were really ahead of our time,” Mr. Bell said.
His chuckle is rueful, though. When Mr. Bell, 69, stands by that revolving Cadillac, he sees the arc of his life come full circle, unexpectedly. The original Stax Records is long gone, Mr. Hayes and many other Stax artists, from Otis Redding to Rufus Thomas, have died, and, until recently, Memphis showed little interest in reclaiming or building on its soul-music heritage. Six years ago, though, the Stax Museum opened. And earlier this summer Mr. Bell was invited back to Memphis with a bittersweet mandate: to resuscitate the city’s once great music industry as chairman of the Memphis Music Foundation.
In 1940 or 1941 — the exact date is unknown — Mr. Paul made his guitar breakthrough. Seeking to create electronically sustained notes on the guitar, he attached strings and two pickups to a wooden board with a guitar neck. “The log,” as he called it, was probably the first solid-body electric guitar and became the most influential one. “You could go out and eat and come back and the note would still be sounding,” Mr. Paul once said.
The odd-looking instrument drew derision when he first played it in public, so he hid the works inside a conventional-looking guitar. But the log was a conceptual turning point. With no acoustic resonance of its own, it was designed to generate an electronic signal that could be amplified and processed — the beginning of a sonic transformation of the world’s music.
Paul died today, after a bout with pneumonia, in White Plains, New York.
Philadelphia-born jazz drummer Rashied Ali, a veteran of sessions by John and Alice Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, and the leader of his own Rashied Ali Quintet, died yesterday at the age of 74.
Ali and Ponderosa Stomp fave James Blood Ulmer worked together in the groups New York Art Quartet and Phalanx. Go here to read a great interview from Jazz Weekly.
Were you able to hoof your way to New York last month when Roy Loney and Cyril Jordan of the San Francisco-based face-meltingly fantastic rock group the Flamin Groovies — backed by the ever-capable A-Bones — reprised their appearance at the 8th annual Ponderosa Stomp with a pair of gigs at Maxwell’s and Southpaw? The concerts marked the first time the Groovies got onstage together in the NYC environs since 1971!
Linna begins, “In Ohio days of yesteryear, the common denominator was, more than the Stooges or the 5 (MC and DC), the Flamin’ Groovies. I’ve tried to nail down the reasons why, and can’t. Other than to think that there was something in their sound and style that made us feel like one of them. Over other combos that we dug to pieces, there was a sense of joy and good humor to the hard ass blasts which made them front liners for the defense. But you know that. If you’ve managed to tread water through the world’s longest sentences and have made it thus far, you KNOW THAT. For a band that sprang from the bayside bowels of San Francisco at the height of the British Invasion to persist for one decade at the same magnamity, let alone four, is something worth perpetual notice. In the 70′s, you just couldn’t trust anyone without the Groovies in their personal stash. This was understood. Flamingo and Teenage Head were absolute staples in any hard driving collection, and when Supersnazz and Sneakers were found alongside the others in any given home habitat, you knew you were in the presence of a fellow genius.”
Her words are riveting, and she’s right. Go here for the rest of the story.
“The third night of the inaugural Lincoln Center edition of the Ponderosa Stomp — the annual spring resurrection of forgotten roots-rock and R&B heroes and heroines, founded and held in New Orleans — was an oddly formal affair, compared to the outdoor soul and rockabilly shows presented earlier in the week. ‘Everybody get on your feet/You make me nervous when you’re in your seat,’ Robert Parker sang on Sunday night in a well-preserved voice at the start of his 1966 hit ‘Barefootin’,’ one of the many Crescent City R&B classics associated with the evening’s honoree, producer-arranger-songwriter Wardell Quezergue. But sitting down is where the otherwise delighted audience at Alice Tully Hall stayed during most of the two-hour revue. In New Orleans, when a song like that is in the air, anything short of a shimmy is against the law.
But Quezergue, who turns 80 this year, deserves the lofty setting. In the Sixties and Seventies, he earned the nickname ‘The Creole Beethoven’ for his masterful blend of New Orleans rhythms and commercial wisdom in bedrock soul recordings such as Earl King’s ‘Trick Bag’ (1962), Professor Longhair”s ‘Big Chief’ (1964) and King Floyd’s ‘Groove Me’ (1970), then on mainstream collaborations with Paul Simon and Willie Nelson. At Lincoln Center, Quezergue conducted a ten-piece band from a chair as more than half a dozen of his original charges, including Dr. John, the Dixie Cups, Jean Knight and Tammy Lynn, recreated their biggest hits with him.”
And Jon Pareles covered the event for the New York Times, writing in part that, “the Dixie Cups, the New Orleans girl group, had distributed napkins before the concert, to be waved over the New Orleans second-line parade beat, and they got the audience up and dancing for ‘Iko Iko,’ which they turned into a medley of Mardi Gras songs and ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ After their segment, Rosa Hawkins of the Dixie Cups turned to Mr. Quezergue and said, ‘Thanks for the hits.’”