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Stomp! In the name of love - Stomp #4 Preview- Times Picayune, New OrleansFor 363 days a year, he's an anesthesiologist. But for the other two nights, Dr. Ira Padnos becomes 'Dr. Ike,' passionate promoter of the Ponderosa Stomp, all-night, Jazzfest-week jam sessions featuring some long-lost legends of rock, soul and rhythm & blues.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
By Keith Spera
Dr. Ike had a dream.
What if he could bring to life his vast collection of rare, vintage vinyl records? What if he could track down and return to the stage long-lost legends of early rock 'n' roll, rockabilly, blues, soul, swamp pop and New Orleans R&B?
What if he could assemble dozens of these musicians at once? And why not do it between the weekends of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, when New Orleans, moreso than usual, is the center of the musical universe?
And so the Ponderosa Stomp was born.
Tonight and Wednesday, Dr. Ike and his colleagues stage the fourth Ponderosa Stomp at the Mid-City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl. From 5 p.m. until at least 2 a.m., the Stomp plays out like a record collectors' fantasy camp, with dozens of local and national artists strutting their stuff in quick succession on two stages.
For some, such as Texas garage rock band Zakary Thaks, it will be the first public performance in decades. Others are known only by obscure, long out-of-print records -- remember Mando & the Chili Peppers' 1957 LP "On the Road with Rock 'n' Roll"?
But to the ears of Dr. Ike -- by day he's Dr. Ira Padnos, assistant professor of anesthesiology at LSU Medical Center -- all are worthy of respect and acclaim.
"You've got all these great people out there who were trailblazers," Padnos said. "They played important roles in rock 'n' roll, but either they're forgotten or people don't realize what they did. The idea of the Stomp is not only to focus greater recognition on these guys, but also to prove that they still have it. That they can still tear your head off and throw you down on the ground with how they play."
The 2005 lineup is heavy on guitarists, including Elvis Presley sideman Scotty Moore, in one of his only scheduled appearances this year; Link Wray, a pioneer of the "surf guitar" sound of the 1960s; Robert Junior Lockwood, who at 90 is among the few surviving bluesmen of his generation; avant-blues guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer; north Louisiana rockabilly guitarist Dale Hawkins, of "Susie Q" fame; Eddie Kirkland, a featured sideman with blues legend John Lee Hooker; and Lady Bo, the longtime second guitarist in Bo Diddley's early band, reunited with Diddley drummer Clifton James.
Featured local acts include veteran jump-blues bandleader "Deacon" John Moore fronting a New Orleans revue; Stanley "Buckwheat Zydeco" Dural, reunited with Lil' Buck Sinegal & the Top Cats, one of his early bands; Zigaboo Modeliste, who as the founding drummer of the Meters laid down a cornerstone of funk; and such New Orleans rhythm & blues stars as Eddie Bo, Herb Hardesty and Ernie Vincent. Both Stomp nights feature legendary New Orleans drummer Earl Palmer as the master of ceremonies.
The Ponderosa Stomp is essential for in-the-know music aficionados. Fans come from as far away as Europe.
"When we first started this, I had no idea how many people would actually want to attend," Padnos said. "We were told that there were only 500 people in the whole world who would want to come to this. But it's grown every year.
"The key is to educate people about the rock 'n' roll spectrum," he said. "Music is so marginalized and labeled these days. In the old days, everything was thrown together in a mish-mash. The Ponderosa Stomp is like a great jukebox, where it's all mix and match. But instead of putting the coin in and pressing play, there's the band playing."
Padnos started collecting records as a boy in Chicago, and never stopped. He recognizes no genres other than good and bad.
"I listen to anything and everything," he said. "To me, if it's good, I like it. From blues to rock 'n' roll to jazz to country to rockabilly, punk and soul -- it's all good music."
He prefers not to put a tally on his collection -- "I don't know, it's lots of records" -- but there is no question about his preferred medium. Suffice to say, it is not a shiny silver disc or a computer's hard drive.
"There's nothing like having a big, warm piece of vinyl in your hands," Padnos said. "Especially 78s. Those things just blast, because of the way they were recorded. They're completely full."
His Chicago pedigree gave him a background in blues. While earning his undergraduate degree at Tulane University, he discovered New Orleans music. He left New Orleans for medical school, then returned in the mid-1990s after completing his medical residency.
Padnos and like-minded record collectors formed an informal secret society, the Mystic Knights of the Mau-Mau, to book shows at the tiny Circle Bar in 2001. Monthly events evolved into a 10-band blowout with John Mooney, Earl King, R.L. Burnside and C.C. Adcock.
"It was like a dry run for the Stomp," Padnos said. "The shows were getting to be too much, so we decided to put all our eggs in one basket and blow it out."
That was the inaugural Ponderosa Stomp in 2002, in a former Uptown social club. In 2003, the Stomp moved to the Mid-City Lanes. For three consecutive nights of Jazzfest week, it rocked until 6 a.m., testing the endurance of the hardiest fans.
Even Padnos, who takes time off from his medical job during Jazzfest, admits it was too much.
"I probably was the only one who was there for the whole thing," he said. "People were overwhelmed. They wanted to stay, but just couldn't. No one could stand up. Everyone was pleading, 'Have mercy on our souls.'
"But that's part of the Mau-Mau thing. We want to clobber you over the head with so much music that you feel like you're lying down in the gutter, your body twitching involuntarily as you scream, 'No more, no more.' "
Mid-City Lanes owner John Blancher encouraged Padnos and his partners to streamline the Stomp in 2004. They shortened it to two nights, but used both upstairs and downstairs at the Mid-City Lanes to squeeze in as many acts as possible.
Padnos insists they deliver "all killer, no filler." Slam home the hits, then make way for the next guy.
"You want them to do the stuff that made them great," he said. "Boom, you come on, you play your 20 or 30 minutes, you knock 'em out and leave 'em dead, and the next act comes on."
If a musician is fuzzy on the nuances of a 30-year-old hit, the Mau-Mau members refresh his memory.
"We'll find the material, send it to them," Padnos said. "And if we can, we'll try to find as many of the original people that played on the record."
Many Stomp artists are not represented by agents or managers.
"So we've got to pick up the phone, find out where they are and call them," Padnos said. "We still do some detective work, but now people will offer us stuff. It helps that we've done this for a few years. People call and say, 'Hey, remember this guy? I know how to reach him.' Or musicians will pass information along: 'Hey, I just played this thing in New Orleans. You should play it.'
"We deal with them directly, so they're excited to come, they know what it is. And even if they don't know what it is, by the time they get here they've figured it out."
Given the nature and age of the artists the Mau-Mau prefer, they can't always fulfill their wish list.
"Sometimes, because of physical problems, they can't play," Padnos said. "Or they've been converted to God and won't sing the devil's music anymore. That happens."
Most, but not all, advertised artists make it to the stage. In 2004, the Mau-Mau thought they had scored a coup by booking Bobby Charles, the reclusive southwest Louisiana songwriter of "See You Later Alligator" and "Walking to New Orleans" fame, for his first gig in 20 years. But the day before his scheduled appearance, Charles called in sick.
Such cancellations are rare, as most artists relish the opportunity to play the Stomp.
"I love it. It's been a great pleasure," said New Orleans blues guitarist Little Freddie King. "I really like when this time of the year comes around."
"It's good to play for people who know your music," said Herb Hardesty, the legendary sax man featured on many of Fats Domino's hits. "They know the music, and love it. That's rewarding, to give of yourself, and then receive it back."
For the musicians, the Stomp is a family reunion. Padnos was thrilled when former Elvis Presley drummer D.J. Fontana and pioneering rock 'n' roll drummer Earl Palmer met at the Stomp for the first time in their 50-year careers.
Ask Padnos to name a favorite act at the '05 Stomp and he'll rattle off half the roster, along with a discography and noteworthy details of each recording. His knowledge of record minutiae is encyclopedic.
In seeking acts, he follows the lineage as far back as possible. Betty Wright, the Miami soul singer of several 1970s hits, has come to prominence again for her work with teenage sensation Joss Stone. But Padnos didn't book Stone, or even Wright -- he went after Clarence "Blowfly" Reid, the guy who discovered Wright.
The Stomp thrives on eclecticism. In 2003, the avant-garde jazz Sun Ra Arkestra preceded New Orleans rhythm & blues singer Frogman Henry, Padnos recalls, "and it was seamless."
Padnos and his partners pay for the Stomp out of their own pockets, and hope only to break even.
"We do this simply because we love doing it," he said. "And it's important. We have to educate people, because these guys aren't going to be around much longer. Show people that they are still here and, if given a chance, they are very capable musicians. They've got chops to burn and can still do it, instead of some guy flipping a switch and lip-synching."
Padnos' personal rapport with, and obvious affection for, the musicians is key to the Stomp's success.
"His spirit is good," said Eddie Bo, the local rhythm & blues piano player and singer whose classics include "I'm Wise" and "Check Your Bucket.'' "He tries to put the right combinations together. Without him, a lot of people wouldn't have a gig."
As the leader of Ernie & the Top Notes, Ernie Vincent recorded the wah-wah funk guitar hit "Dap Walk" in 1972. He's featured this week at his third Ponderosa Stomp.
"We used to play Uptown," Vincent said. "Dr. Ike would come up there all the time. He was one of our favorite people that followed us around for years."
"Dap Walk" is still popular on certain New Orleans jukeboxes. It enjoyed a fresh round of notoriety after appearing in an episode of HBO's "Sex and the City."
And it strikes a chord with the Ponderosa Stomp crowd.
"They know it," Vincent said. "Believe me, they know it."