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Mojo Magazine: Ponderosa Stomp 2002 (Stomp #1)Review

Ponderosa Stomp, Fine Arts Theatre, New Orleans, Annual dose of quality rock'n'roll, R&B and blues organized by mysterious New Orleans cabal, The Mystic Knights of The Mau-Mau.

For anyone, who's ever endured an overly long, showboating set of lame covers in the hope that their musical heroes might play that one special song, the Ponderosa Stomp amounts to three solid nights of musical reckoning. From Chuck Willis's opening set at the stroke of 6pm on Tuesday night, to Guitar Junior's final chords nearly 60 hours later, blues, booze, rockabilly and rock'n'roll reign supreme.

Tuesday's, "Down In The Bottom" night features a veritable blues who's-who. Billy Boy Arnold, Hubert Sumlin, James "Blood" Ulmer, Jody Williams, Kenny Brown, and Sam Carr, readying the crowd for a reunion of the original line-up of Chicago's Magic Slim & The Teardrops. Holding his white Fender bass upright, Nick Holt anchors the groove as guitarist John Primer spews a barrage of nasty leads so gutbucket even the most jaded R.L. Burnside fans clamour for a closer look. All this before Magic Slim has even taken the stage. In fact, if he'd stayed in the dressing room with his Wild Turkey, it's doubtful the audience would have missed him. Instead, he ambles out mid-song, within seconds blazing like a fiery blue comet as the band rage with ragged-but-right intensity.

Wednesday night- "Geronimo Rock'n'Roll'- belongs to the rockabillies, Joe Clay, James Burton, Dale Hawkins and Roy Perkins all deliver frazzled and hard boppin' hits. At one point, a capacity crowd witnesses guitarists Burton, Scotty Moore and Paul Burlison, backed by former Elvis drummer D.J. Fontana and veteran Bob Willis steel guitarist Herb Remington. Would-be surprise guest Alex Chilton looks at the crowd and shakes his head. "What could I possibly add to that?" he says, electing instead to soak in perfectly rendered interpretatoins of Train Kepy A Rollin' and a lovely, slowed down You're Sixteen (You're Beautiful And You're Mine).

Highlight of Wednesday (and possibly the entire festival), Tony Joe White takes the stage in wraparound shades, his skin as tanned as old leather, his Stratocaster as worn and beat-up as Mississippi driftwood. Relying solely on a drummer known simply as "Boom Boom", TJW slouches back in a folded chair and unleashes one boogie-laced swamp funk anthem after another - Undercover Agent For The Blues to Polk Salad Annie - bare-bones sketches rendered in over-driven twang. Understated picking gives way to walls of wah wah, holding the performers spellbound. Jerry McCain closes festivities with a swaggering set featuring his harp classic She's Tough as well as an unhinged romp through his delightfully obscure Tryin' Just To Please and, naturally, Geronimo Rock'n'Roll.

The Troublenation Mardi Gras Indians and Hot 8 Brass Band get Thursday's party ("The Monkey Speaks His Mind") rolling New Orleans style, while Memphis axe grinder Calvin Newborn and Rev Dwight "Gatemouth Moore" - the last of the great Beale Street Blues shouters - take the audience on a brief excursion to the Bluff City with a raunchy Darktown Strutter's Ball. With a pair of his trademark swamp instrumentals, Classie Ballou and his Family Band knock 'em dead before backing up suprise guest Carol Fran and Texas soul sweetheart Barbara Lynn. This time, however, Ballou's group seemed lost, Lynn's verve and humour carrying her through classics like (Oh Baby) We Got A Good Thing Goin' and You'll Lose A Good Thing.

Next up, Dave Bartholomew, the inventor of the Big Beat and producer/composer of countless hits for the likes of Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis and Earl King, presides over a 12-man orchestra for a full 90 minutes, culminating with his trademark anthem The Monkey Speaks His Mind. Allen Toussaint finds his way to the piano, pounding the ivories as Bartholomew happily name-checks his music biz comrades present for the occasion. But the night is hardly finished: Earl Palmer heads a cast of New Orleans label executives laying down an irrefutable R&B beat for singer Eddie Bo, who hammers out a magnificent version of My Dearest Darling on the piano before whipping through a super-funky I'm Wise and the hip-shakin' Check Your Bucket.

At Around 3AM on Friday, the Mystic Knights pull out their final ace as Chicago blues guitarist Lonnie Brooks reverts to his original identity as Louisiana's Guitar Junior to plough through a holy trinity of Gulf Coast grease: The Crawl, Family Rules and Roll, Roll, Roll. It took three nights, but justice was served Big Easy-style, with plenty of sauce on the side. Those who were there will never forget.
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