With Tropical Storm Lee having battered the central Gulf Coast, specifically south Louisiana, for all of Labor Day weekend, today’s Song of the Day continues the rain theme, with three versions of “Raining in My Heart” by Excello-related artists (or their sidemen) who will be appearing at this month’s 10th annual Ponderosa Stomp. First up, the Excello swamp bluesman who created the anthem, Slim Harpo. Though Harpo is now jamming in that great jukejoint in the sky, Harpo’s primary guitar players — James Johnson and Rudy Richard — are both scheduled to appear at the Stomp’s Excello reunion this year. According to musicologist John Broven in his book “South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous”:
“Rainin’ in My Heart” changed everything for Slim. For a start, The Cash Box warmed to the record: “Slow moaning, earthy blues proves the artist’s meat as he takes the tune for a tuneful ride. A real weeper.” … The mesmerizing “Rainin’ in My Heart” more than justified the reviewer’s optimism. After climbing the R&B charts the record crossed over to the popular ratings and reached No. 34 on the Billboard 100 in the summer of 1961.
Warren Storm, left, with fellow swamp-pop legends, the siblings Van Broussard and Grace Broussard
Next up, a version by brother Warren Storm, who logged many an hour in Jay Miller’s legendary Crowley recording studio playing drums on records by Lazy Lester and other artists with the likes of fellow hired guns: pianists Carol Fran (appearing at the Stomp this year) and Katie Webster; bassist Bobby McBride; guitarists Guitar Gable, Al Foreman, and Pee Wee Trahan; and fiddler/bassist Rufus Thibodeaux, among others. Here is Storm’s own version of “Rainin’ in My Heart”:
And finally, here is a live 1989 version of “Rainin’ in My Heart” by Ponderosa Stomp inspiration Lazy Lester, looking as resplendent as ever in a red Dixie beer baseball cap, now a collector’s item in the wake of the landmark Tulane Avenue brewery’s decimation by Hurricane Katrina and looters galore. We still have a tear in our beer over Dixie’s relocation above the Mason-Dixon line to Wisconsin, which now brews the beverage (presumably) sans its key ingredient of muddy Mississippi River water:
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.
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.