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The 4th Annual Ponderosa Stomp Review: Hittin' the Noteby Richard Skelly
You won’t find too many household names at the annual Ponderosa Stomp, a well-organized event held in between the two JazzFest weekends. The first event, and each subsequent Ponderosa Stomp, has been organized in large measure by a musical fanatic and record collector, Dr. Ira Padnos. By day, Padnos, a native Chicagoan, is a respectable assistant professor of anesthesiology at LSU Medical Center, one of New Orleans’ many hospitals.
The unsung heroes of American roots music are the focal points at this two-night extravaganza held at Mid City Lanes Rock ’n’ Bowl. This event has become prestigious in just four short years because of its eclecticism, or perhaps in spite of it. Early pioneers of rock ’n’ roll, country music, blues and jazz are all fair game here. The event is famous for going until 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning both nights. Last year, David Hidalgo from Los Lobos was checking out Barbara Lynn’s set. Terry Stewart, the director of the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, is an avowed patron and sponsor.
Performers at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp included Dale Hawkins, saxophonist Plas Johnson, keyboardist and singer H-Bomb Ferguson, guitarist Deke Dickerson and his band, the Eccofonics, Archie Bell, Cleveland-based bluesman Robert Lockwood, Jr., New York-based blues and funk guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, Travis Wommack, the Carter Brothers, Little Freddie King, Freddy Roulette and eccentric guitar legend Link Wray.
Ulmer delivered an exceptional rendering of “Queen Esther’s Blues,” and “Your Blues and My Blues,” and told the audience after his set: “If you decide to have me back next year, hopefully, I can bring my band.” H-Bomb Ferguson, (who has long had one of the coolest names in blues) and his band delivered a much-anticipated set downstairs at the Rock ’n’ Bowl that included tunes like “I’m Not Mad at You,” “I Had a Dream,” and “Pucker Up, Butter Cup.” Although he was clearly looking tired, Ferguson rose to the occasion, and an empathic audience spurred him and the band on.
The Carter Brothers recognized the fans from Australia who were at the Stomp before launching into “Somebody Lend Me a Helping Hand” and “Southern Country Boy.” To be sure, the most anticipated set of the first night of the Ponderosa Stomp was the show from Link Wray and his band. After several delays while the stage setup was finalized, Wray and his band, which includes his wife and his son, took the stage to thunderous applause. The 76- year-old guitarist delivered the goods on “Rumble” and his other now-classic rock instrumentals through a sea of flashing cameras.
Saxophonist Plas Johnson and his group delivered a rock ’n’ roll set the first night of the Stomp and a jazz set the second night. Accompanied by an organist, bassist and drummer, Johnson breezed his way through spry renditions of “Since I Fell For You,” “On Broadway,” “Hard Work,” and his famous “Pink Panther Theme.”
Other highlights from the second night of a true musical endurance contest included Archie Bell offering up his classic “Tighten Up,” and guitarist, singer and songwriter Barbara Lynn’s classic “If You Lose Me, You’ll Lose a Good Thing.” She included her own nod to Ray Charles too, with a great take on “What’d I Say.” Phil Phillips offered up his now classic “Sea of Love,” and accordionist and singer Stanley “Buckwheat Zydeco” Doral sat in on Hammond B-3 organ. Oklahoma-based Dennis Binder and his band, the Early Times, delivered a powerful set. Binder told the crowd: “The first time we played here, we came on at about 5 o’clock in the morning! Dr. Ike has brought us back every year since then!”
The annual Ponderosa Stomp - attended as it is by so many musical cognoscenti and festival bookers - often offers a new lease on life for some performers who haven’t lost their enthusiasm for the business.