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2009 Stomp Review: - Flamin' Groovies in New Orleans

Flamin' Groovies in New Orleans
Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Correspondent, Friday, May 1, 2009

(05-01) 04:00 PDT New Orleans - --
Neither Cyril Jordan nor Roy Loney of the Flamin' Groovies had ever traveled to New Orleans before, but they couldn't have found a better place for their first performance together in more than 35 years than the eighth annual Ponderosa Stomp at Jazzfest.

The San Francisco natives, who barely rate a second glance on the streets of their hometown, can't walk down the sidewalks of Paris without being stopped. At the House of Blues after midnight Wednesday, the band was greeted by an audience that cheered with recognition at the start of every song, sang along on the choruses and clearly knew the whole Groovies story.

But the Ponderosa Stomp is a special stage, a two-night festival-within-a-festival that has become something of a growing tradition between the two weekends of the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fair, which closes its 40th annual edition this weekend.

These unsung heroes of rock 'n' roll sing at the Ponderosa Stomp, and special events like the Groovies reunion are part of the program. On Tuesday at the Stomp, Louisiana rockabilly wild man Dale Hawkins ("Suzie Q") and his original guitarist, James Burton, played a full set together for the first time in 52 years. The A-Bones, East Coast rockers who Wednesday backed Loney and Jordan, played behind '50s Texas rock 'n' roll star Ray Sharpe ("Linda Lu") the night before.

The Stomp is the brainchild of Ira Padnos, a big guy with a woolly mop of hair, known to all as Dr. Ike - by day, assistant professor of anesthesiology at Louisiana State University Medical Center, by night, vinyl collector and rabid music fan. He hosted the event Wednesday wearing hospital scrubs and a fez.
Starting as a modest evening uptown in a small club, the Stomp moved last year to the House of Blues in the French Quarter and has been growing in size and scope every year. Jordan and Loney hit town Monday after crowds from the festival's first weekend thinned out on the streets of the Quarter. Loney joined the A-Bones that night at One Eyed Jack's for a few songs, and both rockers returned to the Toulouse Street club the next afternoon to rehearse.

They caught another hour at sound check the afternoon of the show, but standing on the sidewalk outside the club and carrying a wool sport coat far too warm for Louisiana sunshine, Loney shook his head. "It's under-rehearsed," he said.
Still active in the music business, the two have been rehearsing by themselves in San Francisco. Jordan's latest group, Magic Christian, played the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, this year. Loney keeps bands stashed in Seattle, the East Coast and Spain, which he says has become a second home to him in recent years. Jordan still lives in the house where he grew up, and Loney works at Jack's Record Cellar in the Lower Haight. He's had that job for 25 years.

Formed in 1965, the Groovies were largely ignored in San Francisco during the scene's heyday, although the band played as a last-minute substitute with Cream at the Fillmore and hung out with Led Zeppelin in Los Angeles. The Groovies' Carnaby Street fashion sensibilities and retro rock 'n' roll sound ran against the grain of the scene's blue jeans mentality.

Albums such as "Teenage Head," "Flamingo," "Super-snazz" and the band's own 10-inch collector's item album, "Sneakers," may not have sold much, but they gave the Groovies an enthusiastic following in England and Europe - "We're the most famous nonentities in the business," says Loney - partly because the band was the polar opposite of the Airplane/Dead axis of the San Francisco sound and stayed true to their rock 'n' roll code. Loney left the band in 1971 to pursue acting ambitions and express himself more fully as a creative person.

The Loney and Jordan reunion was the headline attraction of a bill that also included garage rockers Question Mark and the Mysterians, rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson (joined by guitarist Burton for a few Elvis numbers), and Southern soul songwriter Dan Penn, who sang beautiful acoustic versions of hits he wrote such as "I'm Your Puppet."

Opening with "Second Cousin," the Groovies hit the funny bone right from the start, Jordan pumping buzz-saw guitar into the six-man lineup and Loney strutting and cocking his hip, singing in that Amos 'n' Andy voice and letting everybody in on the joke. The set was primo Groovies - tracks from the cult albums sprinkled with key covers of songs by the Who and Randy Newman, and Jordan's version of Fats Domino's "Hey Josephine." By the time the band finished with a one-two punch of "Teenage Head" and "Slow Death," a rich, satisfying glow rose from the packed floor.

Jordan surveyed the pandemonium, grinning broadly, acknowledging the applause. "Maybe we'll do this again," he said.
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