Blind pianist/singer Bobby Powell of Baton Rouge left gospel music in the 1960s to test out his R&B chops, signing with Whit Records, for whom he recorded “What Are You Trying to Do to Me” b/w “Red Sails in the Sunset,” which Jewel released nationally. His second single, a version of “C.C. Rider” b/w “That Little Girl of Mine,” topped the national R&B charts in 1965. His third single — “Do Something for Yourself” b/w “It’s Getting Late in the Evening” — made it to #21 on the charts. Had Powell not switched back to gospel music, he would be perfect for the Ponderosa Stomp. Let’s hold out a candle that both he and Huey “Piano” Smith both might be coaxed to appear one day – with the latter fantasy booking qualifying as the musical coup of this new century. Above is Powell doing the B-side on Hoss Allen’s “!!!!The Beat” show.
Fellow Red Stick resident Raful Neal, a harmonica wizard and patriarch of the Neal blues clan whose first band featured a young Buddy Guy, did a version of his own for La Louisianne label in 1969. Check out his interpretation below. Though Neal died several years ago, his legacy lives on in the music of his sons – Kenny Neal, Lil’ Ray Neal, and others – not to mention those he played with, including Slim Harpo band alumni James Johnson and Rudy Richard, who are both scheduled for the 10th annual Ponderosa Stomp next month. And of course, Lazy Lester.
Move over, New York and the ladies of “She’s Got the Power!” Because a true daughter of Dixie, Lavelle White, who can be claimed to varying degrees by Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi (not to mention Chicago), is bringing her singular mix of blues, R&B, gospel, and funk to the 2011 Ponderosa Stomp.
Schooled in the blues by guitarist Clarence Holliman, Lavelle White broke onto the scene by recording numerous singles for Don Robey’s Duke label, including today’s Song of the Day, “Stop These Teardrops,” which features Mac Rebennack on piano.
“Listen. I want to explain something to everybody. I am not a blues singer! I sing blues because that’s what people want. I also sing funk, soul, country, and spiritual. I’m all of that. When I first started singing, it was rhythm and blues. I didn’t just do blues. … With me, it’s funk, soul, blues, jazz, and a little rap.” Thus does chanteuse Miss Lavelle White set the record straight in the book “Women in Texas Music: Stories and Songs.”
White’s music career began in the 1950s, when she brought her powerful Dinah Washington-influenced vocal style and songwriting talents to Houston’s rich R&B scene. Early on she worked with Clarence Holliman: “I came to the clubs singing, and I couldn’t carry a tune in a paper bag. Clarence taught me my timing.” She eventually got a break and started recording for Don Robey’s Duke/Peacock label with assistance from Johnny “Clyde” Copeland. “He was on the first record that I did for Duke Records: ‘If I Could Be With You”/”Teenage Love.”
The Mississippi-born White waxed nearly a dozen singles for Duke, including “Just Look at You Fool,” “The Tide of Love,” “Yes, I’ve Been Crying,” and “Stop These Teardrops.” She also wrote “Lead Me On” for Duke labelmate Bobby “Blue” Bland and toured nationally throughout the 1950s and ’60s with artists such as B.B. King, James Brown, Junior Parker, Sam Cooke, Gene Chandler, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Isley Brothers, Aretha Franklin, and Smokey Robinson.
In the late 1970s White moved to Chicago and became a favorite on the local blues scene, headlining at the Kingston Mines and other clubs from 1978 to 1987 and working with Junior Wells and the Louisiana-born bluesmen Lonnie “Guitar Junior” Brooks and Buddy Guy. Of Guy she says: “Go to Buddy Guy’s club. He’s a wonderful person. He’s marvelous. He’s beautiful.”
She returned to Houston in 1988 and once again began working the clubs, eventually settling in Austin in the early 1990s, where she recorded three highly acclaimed CDs, “Miss Lavelle,”“It Haven’t Been Easy,” and “Into the Mystic.” A four-time W.C. Handy Awards nominee and a Texas Music Hall of Fame inductee, White is an exciting addition to the Ponderosa Stomp lineup.
Ex-Slim Harpo guitarist James Johnson plays at Phil Brady's nightclub in Baton Rouge circa 2003. He'll be at this year's Ponderosa Stomp as part of the Excello revue.
Baton Rouge blues giant James Johnson’s scheduled appearance at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp is perhaps one of the most highly anticipated performances in recent memory, especially because this amazing guitarist does not often travel outside Baton Rouge to perform.
Everyone knows that bedrock of the 1960s Baton Rouge swamp-blues scene, Slim Harpo (James Moore), whose haunting harmonica was matched by the stinging twin-guitar attack of his lesser-known sidemen, Rudy Richard and James Johnson. It’s Johnson’s biting guitar that puts the “chicken scratch” into Harpo’s 1966 Excello hit, “Baby, Scratch My Back,” which reached #1 on the R&B charts and #16 on the pop charts. As members of the King Bees, the Richard-Johnson tag team also graces many of the other major Harpo sides, including “Rainin’ in My Heart.”
The video below shows Johnson playing with searing yet laid-back intensity in tandem with Lil’ Ray Neal and other Neal family members at a Lafayette juke joint in January 2011. [The New Orleans Saints lost to Tampa Bay the day this video was shot, but the music fans who heard Johnson and the Stomp-like roster of blues and zydeco heavyweights on this show left the club feeling like winners. If, God forbid, the Saints lose to the Chicago Bears on Sept. 18, 2011, your having witnessed James Johnson at the Stomp earlier that weekend will likewise salve your wounds.]
To see the Ponderosa Stomp lineup as scheduled so far, click here. To buy tickets for the Stomp (Sept. 16-17), click here. For travel packages, click here.