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Stomp 2006 Review: Ponderosa Stomp Festival: Sanctified!, Harp Magazine

Ponderosa Stomp Festival:

By E.C. Gladstone

Now in its unpredictable fifth year, the Ponderosa Stomp, an annual three-day jam of Southern blues, soul, funk, rockabilly and other roots grooves, is something of a music geek’s wet dream—literally. That “geek” being the enigmatic “Dr. Ike,” a New Orleans-based anesthesiologist who decided back around Y2K to take what small fortune he’d been able to make and give it back to the music he loved. Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, the event relocated up the Mississippi to Memphis this year, and became a benefit for the New Orleans Musician’s Clinic and MusiCares.

Not just another generic blues/jazz fest (in sharp contrast to the “Memphis in May” event which ended the previous day), Ike’s happening—a festival that should come with footnotes—brings together, as Ike told Harp, “the unsung, the people you never hear about or who wouldn’t be recognized, the ones who had the killer influential record or that one hit song that everybody knew and then vanished.”

Heeding the call were music fans of all ages, races, body types, political leanings and fashion sense (in evidence: cowboy boots, Chuck Taylors, baggy shorts, vintage dresses, weird beards, bowl cuts and a gaggle of kilts), even professional superfan Beatle Bob, with Ike ubiquitous in goofy top hat, Harpo hair and nylon shorts, stressing over last-minute chaos. Oh, and as you’d expect, the place was lousy with rock critics.

A thorough review of all the performances on three stages set up in the touristy Gibson guitar factory (yes, they actually make Les Pauls here) would fill pages. But between the 5:30 PM Monday set by boogie-blueser Kenny Brown (former sideman of the late RL Burnside) and Lady Bo’s shave-and-a-haircut showdown around 2 AM Thursday, several highlights stand out: Jay Chevalier’s band playing country-billy authentic down to their hair tonic and socks; Percy Wiggins slaying “Love And Happiness” in front of the genuine-article Hi Rhythm Section, topped by slick-suited Syl Johnson doing the same to “Take Me To The River.” Archie Bell, irrespective of some bandstand disorganization, kicked his classic “I Just Can’t Stop Dancing” into high gear with the unforgettable aside, “let me put this hamburger down” (no, he wasn’t eating anything), before similarly slaying “There’s Gonna Be A Showdown” and of course “Tighten Up.” NoLa funk godfather Eddie Bo, a grey eminence seated behind his keyboard, burned up his cult classic “Hook & Sling”—and that was just the first night.

Night two, advertised headliner Scotty Moore turned up with a bad shoulder, but guitar legend James Burton—as fluid as ever— and former Hombres frontman/ current Jerry Lee Lewis bassist B.B. Cunningham Jr. teamed up to play their respective epitaph leaders “Suzie Q” and “Let It All Hang Out.” Bluesman Jody Williams fired his bassist onstage, pulling another from the crowd (only in Memphis!), Stax vet William Bell (in an impeccable natural hair-do and pure silk suit) poured vocal honey all over “Everybody Loves a Winner” and brought pianist Marvell Thomas (son of Rufus, brother of Carla) onstage to join in “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Meanwhile, still-cherubic former teensploitation film star Arch Hall Jr. whammed the hell out of the most beat up Fender Strat you ever saw.

Night three, Sun stalwart Sleepy LaBeef gave full detailed resumes of each bandmember during his first set, then rocked every classic riff there is during his second. Clarence “Frogman” Henry entertained in three languages. The Tennessee Three (who were actually five) pulled up in Johnny Cash’s former tour bus and gave the closest possible recreation of early-era man-in-black imaginable. Vintage psych rockers Zakary Thaks relived their ’67 sound down to the acid-drenched harmonies and rediscovered obscurity TK Wiley (in blinding white suit) funked up the decadent die hards, bringing on Dallas diamond Bobby Patterson (in tantalizing teal), who announced “I get my first social security check next week,” before throwing the dozens inbetween JB-style shouters (“How Do You Spell Love? M-O-N-E-Y”) that peeled back the years.

Welcoming to neither posers or snobs, we can only hope Ponderosa Stomp continues to grow and thrive for as long as legends stay alive to populate it. Eddie Bo summed up the appreciation of the many artists, telling Harp: “When Ike calls me, and I can get there, I’ll be there.”
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