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Tales From the Woods - Ponderosa Stomp #2 Review - Night 3, Swamp PopTFTW USA HOLIDAY 2003
PONDEROSA STOMP - SWAMP POP NIGHT (Part 1)
By Ken Major and Fread E. Martin
The oft quoted cliché that swamp-pop is a 'musical gumbo' was picked up by the brilliant Master Chef Dr. Ike, when he decided to open up the evening with a liberal input of the blues, with a promise of more tasty ingredients as the night wears on.
Standing centre stage at the unbluesy hour of 5pm, not for Little Freddie King the trappings of a home in Vegas, or ownership of clubs in Chicago or Memphis, or the luxury of a chaffuered Rolls Royce, Freddie's inspirations can still only be drawn upon real life raw as it is today as it has always been in the run down New Orleans parish that Freddie still calls home. Before I continue please now refer to TFTW issue no.34 October 2003, page 42 for Wack-O Wade's excellent overview of Freddie, and then I'll continue further with hopefully little duplication:
Freddie was born July 19th 1940 in McComb, Miss. which was also home to Elias McDaniel. His father was the bottle neck blues guitarist 'Jessie James' Martin, so named by the lady who owned the plantation At 17 Freddie hoboed a train to New Orleans to stay with his sister and met amongst others, Slim Harpo, Polka Dot Slim, Terence Alexander, and Buddy Guy who also lived in New Orleans for a while, (Desire Projects), and wanted Freddie to go up to Chicago with him. Freddie also met Freddy King (the Federal label maestro) and played bass for him on a couple of gigs. Up 'till then Little Freddie had been using his own name but friends often said he sounded like his famous name-sake, so the tag stuck. During the '60s Freddie played with the likes of Guitar Grady, Snooks Eaglin, cousin Rev. Charles Jacobs, Billy Tate and Eddie Lang, playing around the bayou clubs and New Orleans including the Dew Drop Inn. In the '70s Freddie played Europe with Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker, (any recollections guys?) A JazzFest regular, I in fact saw Freddie for the first time in the early '90s on a 'Natchez' Mississippi cruise sharing the limelight with Ironing Board Sam, and I remember thinking that both acts complimented each other, different but sincere styles with strong rootsy blues. Before I review Freddie's performance, you do need to imagine that this downhome gut=bucker bluesman until recently was still cycling to several miles to work every day to his day job on a rickety old bike, he was rebuilding alternators for a downtown garage. Tragically Freddie's wife was recently beaten up so badly by a couple of thugs she incurred unrecoverable brain damage and is in full time medical care. When you think that living in a neighborhood where nightly paddy waggons turf out the drunks from the corner bars, and drugs induced warfare on the street that you live, often results in bullets through your windows, you may wonder if toiling the farmlands in McComb may appear a little more attractive if not a lot safer?
John Howard had secured a table shared with a jolly American lady and her somewhat ignorant husband. With just a handful of obviously dedicated fans grouped in front, but back from the stage, I had the opportunity to get some obstacle free wide angle stage photo shots. Little Freddie colourfully attired in yellow trousers, snazzy blue shirt and white hat clutching a black E335 Epiphone (BB King Lucille model) with gold plated hardware. Freddie was back up by Wack-O Wade Wright (dms), Bobby Louis DiTullo (harp) and Anthony Anderson (bs gtr). Opening his 30 minute spot with 'Rough and Ready' this was a chugging instrumental inspired by his recollection of the railroad track which ran next to his childhood farm. Another animated and driving instrumental followed 'Bad Chicken Dance'. This had Freddie swinging his guitar round the back of his neck and through his legs mimicking the rogue chicken which used to attack him as he fed the clutch from the bucket of corn off the cobs. Next was a brilliant recital of the Jimmy Reed classic ' Honest I Do', young Keith Woods would have been on bended knees! Obviously Freddie's a big fan of Reed and it got me remembering the late Jimmy Anderson on the that fantastic Webb/Travis Swamp Pop night at London's Grand when I was a young lad. Many still say that was the greatest UK gig ever. Then a surprising 'Soul Twist' the King Curtis classic, followed by the first of 2 low down blues. 'Does She Ever Think Of Me' gives us Freddie's unique vocal blues, gutty and devoid of the modern bluesy soul popular today, then followed by 'Bus Station Blues' which plunges us deep into the cotton fields of the delta, alongside his cousin - the great Lightnin' Hopkins. With this heritage it's no small wonder Freddie is one of the few remaining authentic delta blues singers and young enough to gain further popularity as, say, R. L Burnside.
By the end of the 30 minutes just about everybody in the club had progressed stageside, and Freddie quit with tremendous applause ringing in his ears. All the above tunes were taken from Freddie's latest CD 'Sing Sang Sung'. Look out for a new CD 'Walking With Freddie' to be released in May on Fat Possum Records which refreshingly is pure Delta Blues. I understand our usual reviewers heard Freddie in Utrecht last year but were unable to get into the small packed hall to see the man, let's hope somebody gets to see Freddie at the Burnley Blues Festival Monday 10th May (Burnley Mechanics Hall), 10.30pm and say "hi" from TFTW. Freddie is again appearing at the 2004 Ponderosa Stomp, April 27th.
The time is now 5.30pm, 12 hours to go. Next on stage trooped a Mardi Gras Indian outfit 'Pass The Hatchet' of which I recall very little, and until 8.15pm I circulated around the hall and at sometime ventured to the sparsely populated basement long bar with JH but did not stay long enough to see the Zydeco band. Be warned that eating places are hard to find within walking distance but we (JH and Bernard) eventually grabbed a burger in a fast food 'restaurant' patrolled by a heavily armoured security guard. Between 6.30 and 8.15, amongst others, we missed Sun Ra, Tammy Lynn, Harold Battiste, Gatemouth Moore and Calvin Newborn.
Clarence Frogman Henry
The next main Swamp Pop ingredient Dr. Ike mixed into the stew was a shot of rhythm & blues, and about 7pm a large gentleman surrounded by several elderly ladies, materialised at a nearby table and eclipsed 7/8ths of the dance floor. On identifying the Frogman to Ian McNeil, the Squire of Shaftesbury and CFH's greatest fan, sank to his knees in salutation and licked the path that the great man had trod. Ian and myself had previously chatted to Clarence a few years ago at the JazzFest and what a friendly person he is although no lover of the UK Inland Revenue!
Mark Lamarr recently dedicated the whole of his 'Shake Rattle & Roll' BBC Radio 2 prog. to the Ponderosa Stomp, declaring it to be the best Weekender' (mid weeker) he had ever seen - right, and later declared (twice) that Clarence Henry had since died - wrong. Curiously I had heard this rumour way back last year, but not being asked to toast the great man at any of the obituary slots on a TFTW monthly night out with the 'rejuvenated delinquents' I assumed the rumour to be ill-founded. However in case the unthinkable should occur in the meantime herewith some data for Ed's obituary file:
Looking striking perched on stage Clarence reminded me vaguely of TFTW's Shaky Lee Wilkinson. Clarence is perhaps younger, taller, a tad heavier and slightly darker, but then I realised the similarity was that they were both wearing the same style JazzFest shirt. A subtle little number depicting keyboards and squeezeboxes (top on my USA shopping list this year!). Clarence was obviously in great humour and determined to take no prisoners. To great applause he stated that he was going to perform all his own recorded songs that night. Up to now I had always been disappointed with the Frogman shows since he naturally has to be compared with Fats, and always comes off 2nd.. However all was to change tonight, with his own band of 20+ years, we now had a wall of sound to give Dave Bartholomew a run for his money.
At 11 years old in 1948 Clarence and the Henry family crossed the Mississippi to Algiers, La. He attended L.B. Landry High School and having had piano lessons chose the trombone as his 2nd instrument. Playing piano in clubs and inspired by Fats Domino and Professor Longhgair, Clarence actually wore a Longhair wig when playing talent shows. He joined fellow school colleague Bobby Mitchell with his 'Toppers' and played on their first Imperial label recording. After getting fired for missing a gig (to attend his wedding) Clarence started his own band with Eddie Smith, and after a late Sunday night gig at the Joy Club which actually went on to 8am Monday morning, Clarence came up with 'Ain't Got No Home' and his trademark croak. Paul Gayton A & R man for Chess Records got Henry into Cosimo's New Orleans studio in September of 1956 where 'Home' and 'Troubles Troubles" were mastered. Clarence secured a contract with the Chess brothers and the single was released on their subsidiary 'Argo'. After pushing 'Troubles' which was not getting anywhere, WWEZ New Orleans DeeJay - Poppa Stoppa (Clarence Hayman) plugged the flipside and crediting it to 'the Frogman' 'Home' began to sell and Clarence had a new 'handle'. The record got to No. 3 in the Billboard R&B chart and no. 30 in the pop chart. 5 years later 'But I do' was his next and last national hit which peaked at no. 4 in the pop charts. In 1964 The Frogman toured the USA with a Liverpool pop beat group whose USA success began the demise of RnB as we knew it. After cutting records for Parrot, Dial and Roulette Clarence took to playing Bourbon Street until 1981. In 1982 he toured the UK, look out for this event in Ian Wallace's next book on American Rock n'Roll UK tours.
Nowdays Clarence is a regular at the Jazzfest and appears at many other festivals.
Clarence did at least 21 songs, these I remember:
Hello Josephine, Let The 4 Winds Blow, Tell Me Why, Just My Baby & Me, Jambalaya, You Always Hurt The One You Love & Little Suzy (Pye Intl. 25089 '61), I Don't Know Why I Love You But I Do (Pye Intl. 7N 25078 '61, Lonely Tramp, The Jealous Kind (Pye Int. 7N 25169), Margie, Ain't She Sweet, On Bended Knees(Pye Intl. 7N 25115 '61), If My Pillow Could Talk, I'm A Country Boy, For Your Love, Tears On My Pillow, Cherry Pie, Troubles &Ain't Got No Home (London 8389 '57)
This was a pounding performance which had the fans screaming and yelling. Clarence had a 45 minute spot but was still on stage after 2 hours. Each time Dr. Ike waved his gumbo ladle from the wings Clarence would say "You wrote my cheque yet" and every time the Doctor said "no" Clarence replied "well I ain't gonna quit this stage until you do"! A bit like Chuck Berry but in reverse!!
Eventually Clarence removed his hulk from the stool and slowly walked off to tumultous applause, a show the like off we'll never see again. The Major household was a big fan of the Frogman and I assumed my elders remembered the originals from the 1930's. I was surprised that apart from very few, many of the songs were actually written in the '50s (particularly by the young Bobby Charles). I'll leave it to the musical historians to explain the synergy between the '30s style pop ballads and '50s Swamp Pop, possibly the quickstep/foxtrot rhythms of the eras. Don't forget to get this issue of TFTW autographed in the special autograph box by the Frogman at the 'Rhythm Riot' this year!
Bringing the gumbo to the boil Dr. Ike provided the coup de grace, a sprinkling of ballad to provide the first real helping of the evening's swamp-pop. TFTW contributor Bill Millar used the term swamp-Pop during the 1960's, and in 1971 the Record Mirror used 'swamp-pop' in it's heading for Bill's article 'Swamp Pop-Music', and Bill is now considered to be the inventor of the term. Although the tag is disliked by more than one swamp-popster it has been promoted by Johnny Allen and universally accepted in all it's derivations by researchers, authors, artists and fans alike.What is swap pop? It is 'Sea Of Love' by Phil Phillips.
I first heard Marty Wilde's fine version on release in '59 and then Phil's about 3 years later on the radio. I assumed Phil's was a late cover until Edmonton, London researcher Roy Simonds educated me by playing his 1959 UK Mercury copy (45-AMT 1059, matrix 7XYW 18524). I have met Phil a few times now and a gracious gentlemen he is, still living in Jennings, La, with his wife and 2 children Winnie and Rabbi, both having made CDs.
Phil Phillips was born in Lake Charles in 1931, a member of the Gateway Quartet and a bell-hop before recording Sea Of Love, which was dedicated to a girlfriend. On Feb 23rd 1959 George Khoury brought Phil to Eddie Schuler's Goldband label, and Khoury and Schuler agreed a deal where Schuler would arrange and produce the record in exchange for the publishing rights. The record was in the can within 3 months and released on the Khoury label. The enormity of the local hit saw the platter pitched to Mercury (71465) who soon had a no. 1 on most USA national charts (No.2. Billboard). Although Phil recorded several 45's later none got near to the swamp-pop classic and Phil became a DJ at KJEF Jennings where he introduced himself as "King Of the Whole Wide World". Phil rarely performs and everybody in the hall realised this was to be a very special performance. By now the hall was packed and when Phil walked on stage looking very smart in a well pressed blue suit, blue tie and crisp white shirt and escorted by Rabbi, the crowd cheered as loud as when the Frogman finished his act, and Phil had not even started. C.C. Adcock provided the band and his pianoman began the tell-tale note perfect intro to 'Sea Of Love' with the the band's version of the 'Twilights' providing the choral back-up. Phil then cut in with the oh so familiar "Come with me oh my love, to the sea, the Sea Of Love.....". I'm telling you guys, there probably was not a dry eye in the house, this was better than catching a 43 lb cod from Southend pier, or the jubilation in finding a skiffle record that Dave Travis had not got, this was pure sing-a-long-a-Phil with 341 voices joining in. Phil will be the first to mention his creaky joints are not getting any better, and If you cancelled this TFTW sponsored trip bow your head in anguish 'cause I doubt if this experience will ever be replicated again. When Phil, to fantastic applause, followed up with the flip side 'Juella' I was amazed that the audience again knew all the words, but then we were in Lousiana and I was just another limey tourist, what'd I know? That was it, the show endeth, Phil turned to walk off stage but he was not going to get away with it, 356 fans (more walked though the door) screamed for 'Sea Of Love' again, and within 2 minutes 370 voices were swaying and singing in high emotion. Even Shaky Lee and Bernard 'Boyo' Donovan were warbling like canaries, but then they had drunk 3 Hurricanes and were into the 3rd verse of 'Men Of Harlech' as Phil was leaving the stage for the last time! I caught up with Phil later during the holiday and the result being Phil's letter to TFTW in a previous issue. If this article gets printed an overdue copy will be sent to Phil, plus photos of the show and a CD of Lucky Millender generously donated by Brian 'Bunter' Clarke. In a previous article I enthused over Deke Dickerson and his flawless back-up on the rockabilly night. This night we now substitute Deke for C.C. Adcock who continued to provide the goods for the rest of the swamp-pop legends.
With a little imagination, the Cypress tree lined hamlet of Clapham, S. London could have been described as the 'Gateway To The Southern Bayous' when one digested the amazing value for money programme for the Webb/Travis 'Saturday Night Down South' Swamp Pop show at it's Grand theatre. I must confess I knew nothing about Swamp-Pop having been immersed all those years in classic rock n'roll, rockabilly and the blues, however with new found knowledge, every now and then I still find yet another 45rpm rocker or ballad in my meagre record collection indicating traits of this hypnotic Southern Louisianan sound. One song in particular which I assumed (rightly) to be country is attributed to several artists depending on your fancy. That song is 'Sweet Dreams'. Written by the late Don Gibson it was recorded first in 1956 by Faron Young, and then by it's composer in 1960, then Patsy Cline (rec. 5.2.63 between 7pm-10pm), Roy Buchanan and our subject for this article - Tommy McClain. When the sweet voiced Tommy took to the stage at The Grand the audience was stunned to see a long grey bearded Cajun looking nothing like the fresh faced long jawed entertainer we were aware of in early publicity photos. Yet Tommy was brilliant on the night and brought the house down with his version of Robert Parker's 'Barefootin' But tonight is Swamp Pop night at the 'Stomp', and Dr. Ike's Swamp Pop gumbo pot is spilling over with tasty morsels. Tommy took to the stage wearing a smart dark blue suit, bright red shirt, kerchief in his top pocket and a huge gold chain and gold cross around his neck. Wearing spectacles and a hat plus his now long white beard I was later able to forgive Phil Phillips who remarked upon seeing my photo of Tommy that he was 'Father Xmas'!
As a lad Tommy was inspired by the likes of Happy Fats and Clifton Chenier, and later with Clint West joined Red Smiley's Vel-Tones. In the early '60s Tommy was the bassist element of the 'Clint West Boogie Kings' band, and as a separate venture he recorded 'Sweet Dreams' on a low budget in a local radio station and sold it locally in Alexandria (does anybody know the label?). Floyd Soileau caught up with Tommy and did a re-recording which after storing on the shelf for several months was eventually released, again local distribution. It was only when feedback from the local whore houses indicated that the ladies were playing the record over and over again between clients, or maybe frustrately for the Madame and clients - instead of, that Floyd realised he could have a potential national hit in his hands. Huey Meaux then arranged promotion via Jamie Records with Acuff-Rose providing heavy support. The story goes that Acuff-Rose held a session with Roy Orbison and a cut of his version of 'Sweet Dreams' was played to Jamie to get their posterior into gear since the Orbison version would be released in competition if Jamie did not expand sales. The ploy worked and the MSL label version rose to No. 15 in the Billboard's chart in 1966 and eventually sold a million. Riding on the success of his hit Tommy undertook tours with some of the biggest bands of that decade, e.g. Yardbirds, Tommy James etc. and eventually began to burn himself out with the constant touring and pill popping. Now a Eucharist Minister in the Catholic Church Tommy still performs at music festivals, and is booked again for the Ponderosa Stomp 2004. In fine form Tommy sang 4 songs - Jukebox Baby, Lloyd Price's 1957 hit 'Just Because', Bobby Charles's 'Before I Grow Too Old' and of course Gibson's 'Sweet dreams'.
Another stir of the stew and another swamp-pop legend materialises- King Karl. Probably one of the most important swamp-pop names, yet probably unfamiliar to many UK fans of vintage rock n'roll which proves that it is so important to have that one, (at least) universal hit. Standing on stage in a pin stripe wide lapel suit, open necked white shirt and black cap, King did not knock me down with any unique stage presence and it was only when idling through some old Utrecht photos back in the UK that I realised I had actually seen him before!
Born in Grand Couteau Dec 22 1931 the family moved to Sunset where Creole King Karl learned the altso sax. At 13 he formed a band and shortly after joined Creole accordionist Howard Broussard on electric guitar. At 18 King left for Texas and eventually joined Lloyd Price's band in 1950 as a singer. .Returning from conscription in 1955 King returned to Sunset finding work during the day and singing in the clubs at night. It was there he met Guitar Gable and they formed the band 'Guitar Gable and the Musical Kings featuring King Karl' with Karl composing most of the songs. The band recorded several records until Gable was beckoned by Uncle Sam. The group broke up and Karl recorded further solo records for Excello as 'Chuck Brown' until Gable returned to civvy street and they formed another Musical Kings band until 1967 when the band broke up for good. Karl found some regular non musical employment and in 1995 Karl and Gable worked together the first time for 25 years at a local festival.
With Chales C.C. Adcock and his Little Band Of Gold again providing the backing (Warren Storm on drums), Karl did 3 numbers at the Stomp, his 1956 Excello composition best selling 'Irene' which inspired the Jimmy Clanton hit 'Just A dream'. Followed up by his classroom penned 'Life Problem' .In 1956 Karl twinned this with 'Congo Mombo' an instrumental born from a mess around in a New Iberia club, 'Combo Momo' is now the handle used by The Mystic Knights for the occasional live Rn'B night in New Orleans. The numbers were to have been pitched to Goldband but Schuler was out when the guys turned up. On the way back J.D. Miller in Crowley was offered the opportunity which he took up and arranged release on Excello in Nashville. This became a national hit. The 3rd and final song of the evening was again his penned 'This Should Go On Forever' which became a huge hit for Rod Bernard in 1958 on Argo (UK London 8849) but did nothing for Karl when he recorded it later. John Howard recognised that Karl had changed his original 'sin to really love you' lyric to the Bernard version 'wrong to really love you' which Dick Clark insisted Bernard to sing in his 1959 American Bandstand show. With a tremendous backing by C.C. Adcock this was swamp pop at it's most melodic and no finer introduction for anyone new to this south Louisianan sound.
Full credits for the above and previous issues will be shown next month.