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Baton Rouge Advocate: Stomp review -Stomp brings oldies but goodies

Review: Stomp brings oldies but goodies

By JOHN WIRT
Music critic
Published: May 3, 2008 - Page: 7E -

NEW ORLEANS — In its seventh year of presenting the lost legends of rock ’n’ roll, rhythm-and-blues, blues, soul, country and swamp pop, the Ponderosa Stomp drew big, enthusiastic crowds Tuesday and Wednesday during its two-night stand at the House of Blues and its adjacent sister club, The Parish.

Describing the Ponderosa Stomp’s acts as lost may be an exaggeration, but most of the performers in the extraordinary lineup do exist well beyond America’s youth-obsessed, mainstream culture.

Staged annually between the two weekends of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Ponderosa Stomp specializes in authentic artists who recorded hits and influential nonhits during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Given such criteria, performers tend to be in their 60s and older.

This year’s younger acts included 59-year-old psychedelic-rock pioneer Roky Erickson and Mary Weiss, who was 15 when her group, the Shangri-Las, reached No. 1 in 1964 with “Leader of the Pack.”

At the elder end of the Stomp talent, Herbert Hardesty, saxophonist with Fats Domino for some 60 years, and Baton Rouge blues veteran Henry Gray are both 82.

About 60 featured performers appeared at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp, including the always fun Lazy Lester, a former Baton Rougean whose swamp-blues recording, “Ponderosa Stomp,” inspired the event’s name.

Erickson, making his second, much anticipated Stomp appearance Wednesday, recently returned to music following decades of drug and mental health problems. Backed by the Explosives, the Austin-based Erickson drove through a high-speed, post-midnight set including his signature songs “Bloody Hammer,” “Don’t Shake Me Lucifier” and “The Beast.”

The heavily bearded Erickson turned his back to audience every time he played a guitar solo. Otherwise, he looked healthy and happy as he barked lyrics about demons and devils to a full house of fans.

Preceding Erickson on the House of Blues stage, Ronnie Spector, formerly with ’60s girl group the Ronettes, performed with a 12-piece band.

The size and power of Spector’s group echoed the wall-of-sound recording technique created by her infamous producer and
ex-husband, Phil Spector.

The 64-year-old Spector’s big, ’60s-style hair and classic girl-group steps complimented such Ronettes hits as “Walking in the Rain” and “Be My Baby.” She also sang a fitting rendition of the Beach Boys “I Can Hear Music.”

Watching from the balcony, Shangri-Las singer Mary Weiss, who’d performed the night before on the same stage, clapped and snapped her fingers in rhythm.

As much as Spector, Weiss and Erickson were among the 2008 Stomp’s main attractions, the smaller Parish stage offered much fun from lesser-known artists. New Orleans singer-pianist Eddie Bo joined house band the Checkmates (featuring Herbert Hardesty), leading his own funky dance party.

Bo’s “Check You Bucket” must be the breeziest cheating song ever.

The roots-music knowledge of Stomp attendees was such that, when Bo launched “Check Mr. Popeye,” his New Orleans dance hit from 1961, many people knew the Popeye dance steps. Bo also sang his ballad, “My Dearest Darling” (covered by Etta James), a quintessential example of Louisiana swamp pop. And when Bo and the Checkmates hit Huey “Piano” Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” people jumped on that dance floor.

Little Freddie King, a McComb, Miss., native and longtime resident of New Orleans, played his infectious country blues on The Parish stage while Henry Gray did his raw, Louisiana-meets-Chicago blues at the House of Blues stage. New Orleans-based radio host Nick Spitzer introduced Gray, saying the singer-pianist and his Baton Rouge peers kept the blues alive in the face of indifference and racism in Louisiana’s provincial capital city.

Even in the context of a roots-music festival that honors music history, Spitzer’s comments in front of an audience of many non-New Orleanians was off key.

But New Orleans’ James “Sugarboy” Crawford, another of Wednesday’s performers, had every right to speak of his devastating, well-documented experience in Jim Crow-era Louisiana.

Crawford recounted how Louisiana State Police, citing a supposed infraction, beat him in Monroe in 1963, fracturing his skull, leaving him paralyzed, blind, unable to speak.

“Anyway, I thank God I’m here,” he said.

Absent from secular music since 1969, Crawford was a Louisiana music star in the 1950s and ’60s. He wrote and recorded the Mardi Gras favorite, “Jock-A-Mo” (later “Iko Iko” by the Dixie Cups), and applied his smooth and powerful vocals to the ballads “Danny Boy” and “Morning Star.”

Looking fit at 73, Crawford said gently but surely he would not be performing “Jock-A-Mo.” Accompanied by his gifted singer-pianist grandson, Davell Crawford, he sang spiritual music only, including “Walk Around Heaven All Day” and, to the tune of “Danny Boy,” “He Looked Beyond My Faults.”

Even without “Jock-A-Mo” or the romping “She Gotta Wobble (When She Walks),” Crawford’s performance in a secular venue was a Ponderosa Stomp coup.

A rare bit of seriousness, too, during an otherwise celebratory and, for many, exhausting music marathon.

The Stomp, with its national press attention and large attendance, has found its sweet spot within south Louisiana’s busiest musical season.

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