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SXSW Review- AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN - 3/18/06

Ponderosa Stomp By John T. Davis | Saturday, March 18, 2006, 12:33 AM

Listen, children, and attend ... There were giants in those days, colossuses (or would that be collosi?) who strode the earth, playing in package shows on an endless treadmill of one-night stands, titans who ruled the local charts and the car radios of a thousand communities nestled in the arc of the Gulf Coast between Corpus Christi and Pensacola. One-hit wonders who achieved immortality in two-and-a-half minutes.

We’re talking Barbara Lynn ... Al “Carnival Time” Johnson ... Archie Bell (“We can dance just as good as we want!”) ... Eddie Bo ... the Boogie Kings ... Warren Storm ... Roy Head. A million Southern kids in the early ’60s lay in their rooms after dark, clandestine transistor radios tucked under their pillows, soaking up the grooves, and digging the swamp pop, Texas shuffles, dirty-bop R&B and Cajun soul that flowed like a secret river through the night.

That is the era that the Ponderosa Stomp SXSW Gulf Coast Revue sought to celebrate during the course of Friday night at the Continental Club.

For the past five years or so, the Ponderosa Stomp has celebrated the byways and backwaters of swamp pop and Gulf Coast soul and R&B at the Mid-City Lanes (affectionately nicknamed “The Rock ‘n’ Bowl”) in New Orleans. But like so much else in that beleaguered city, the venue has fallen on hard times. So the event has gone on the road, first to SXSW and then to Memphis, for a three-day blowout on May 8-10.

New Orleans’ loss was Austin’s gain. From the ceremonial entrance by Kevin Goodman and his Flaming Arrows tribe of Mardi Gras Indians at 6:30 p.m. to Roy Head’s white-hot four-song miniset not long before midnight, the Ponderosa Stomp was a nonstop exhibition of funk, soul and sweat. (Head set the tone early on, according to a witness outside the Continental who recounted that the singer, best known for his 1965 smash “Treat Her Right,” showed up at the door with four women on his arm and a glass of whiskey in his hand and announced, “I’m Roy Head, and I’m here to rock!”)

The hits, as they say, just kept on comin’. Drummer D.J. Fontana, who along with Bill Black and Scotty Moore crafted Elvis Presley’s seismic sound, lay down the beat for an early set of hits by the King and Jerry Lee Lewis. Lynn reprised her hit “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” and then lay down some smoking lead guitar licks on an extended take of Ray Charles’ “What I Say.” Bell didn’t have to open his mouth to incite the capacity crowd to do the “Tighten Up” — the indelible dot-dash-dot opening riff did the trick for him. Johnson proved a one-man Mardi Gras encore with his anthem “Carnival Time” and the gloriously goofy “Check Mr. Popeye.” Guitarists Classie Ballou and Lil’ Buck Sinegal made two hundred instant fans on the spot.

And Lil’ Band of Gold, the South Louisiana A-team (which includes C.C. Adcock, Steve Riley, Storm, David Egan, Dickie Landry among them) who served as the de facto house band for most of the night supplied all the grease and groove any bandleader — or dirty-bopping audience member — could ask for.

If there was another set during the whole of SXSW with more passion, sweat, commitment, resonance and sheer, unalloyed fun, I’d like to know what it was. As simply a performance, the Ponderosa Stomp was a rambunctious honky-tonk feast. As a testament to the resilience of the tempest-tossed Gulf Coast (and it was explicitly that), it was a declaration that these people, this music and this culture is going to stand its ground and prevail.
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