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The Ponderosa Stomp! The Party During the Festival: Blues WaxBy Mark Hummel
Ponderosa Stomp is a two-day, twelve-hour-a-day music marathon that takes place in between weekends of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It takes place at the Mid-City Lanes (a 1940s bowling alley) in the uptown section of New Orleans, usually on a Tuesday and Wednesday. The event takes place in two rooms: a stage upstairs in the bowling alley and another downstairs in a big room, so music is constantly being played.
The Stomp is named after a Lazy Lester cut on Excello Records (which is why Lester is on every year) and is put on by the Knights of the Mystic Mau-Mau. This year's is the fourth annual Stomp and it features mostly older, over 60 and up musicians from all over the country that are considered the overlooked pioneers of Rock 'n' Roll. They are black and white, most are fairly obscure to the mainstream music world, but most record collectors freak out when they find out someone like Arch Hall Jr ., Henry Grey ,Plas Johnson ,Dale Hawkins, or Roy Head are still alive and doing a gig here. They are Rockabilly, Blues, Roots, Country, Jazz, Soul, Cajun, Zydeco, and R&B to name a few of the styles embraced at this event. To make a long story short, it has become what the Jazz Fest once was. It 's an amazing sight to see a 65-year-old musician strap on his guitar and play like he's 19 again and drop years before your very eyes doing it. Very cool indeed! Almost everyone we saw had this happen to some degree.
My wife Alexis and I arrived at 5:30 on Tuesday after taking in rural Louisiana all day. We found a parking spot and made our way upstairs to hear the first act playing, ex- Earl Hooker ,Charlie Musselwhite veteran, Freddie Roulette playing his lap-steel guitar with two Windy City compatriots, guitarist Eddie C Campbell and vocalist Bo Dudley . Freddie recorded with Dudley and Hooker in the early '60s, cutting the talkin' Blues "Shotgun Rider," which they performed that evening. Deke Dickerson and his trio were the backing band on this and about 2/3s of the other acts on Tuesday night, covering every style of music played that evening and doing a stellar job. They seem to feel honored to back many of these acts as well and did an amazing job of doing their homework beforehand.
We went downstairs to hear Chicago-Baton Rouge transplant, piano legend Henry Grey ( Little Walter ,Howlin Wolf alum) doing his thing with Paul "Lil Buck" Sinegal (Clifton Chenier ) on guitar and their band. We heard about three or four numbers like "Sweet Home Chicago" and "It Hurts Me Too" before we made it back upstairs for Ace Cannon 's set. Ace Cannon recorded on Hi Records out of Memphis in the 1950s, scoring hits with numbers like "Tuff," "Smokie," and "Cottonfields," all Top 20 hits, long before Al Green or Ann Peebles were signed. Cannon had a solid band of older musicians that looked like they met in a neighborhood bar or at the local union office. Ace still sounds killer and played songs like "Green Onions," "Tuff," "Cottonfields," and "Raunchy" during his set. Great tone in the Yakity Sax tradition from a player you don't hear from much.
We caught the last of avant-garde Jazz/Blues guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer 's set downstairs. Ulmer reminded me of a cross between John Lee Hooker on LSD and Bob Dylan crossed with Ornette Coleman , what a concept! Very political content about race and religion, with some family history thrown in; Ulmer had the crowd enthralled. It did look like he was reading his lyrics off a music stand at one point, but I can't be sure? He coaxed an unusual collision of Jazz and Blues out of his single cutaway, hollow body electric guitar. H-Bomb Ferguson was up next with his tight Blues band from Cincinnati. H-Bomb, a freaky dresser in his bright red shirt and curly woman's wig, looked like a cross between an emaciated version of Moms Mabley and Aunt Ester. H-Bomb's voice sounds nothing like it did in his Wynonie Harris -copycat days, though he played a baby grand piano with youthful vigor, enough that the crowd ate it up.
Downstairs, in between sets, the Mardi Gras Indians paraded through the crowd in their beautiful handmade costumes made of beads and feathers. This is such a cool New Orleans tradition that is continually handed down from one generation to the next, something that only seems to happen in New Orleans as opposed to other cities in the U.S. This was a great vibe setter!
Dale Hawkins was up next with Deke and the Ecco-fonics as backup. Deke and band nailed everything Hawkins threw at them, definitely not fly by the seat of your pants material, like the Elvis tribute did. Dale is most known for the song he didn't do that night, "Susie Q," the number made famous by Creedence Clearwater Revival in the late 1960s. Hawkins was one of the only white Rockabilly acts with Chess Records in the late 1950s. Dale pulled out "My Babe" - the Little Walter number he recorded later for Chess (that featured a bad ass teenage Roy Buchanon guitar solo), as well as "Tornado," "Jaunita," and "#9 Train." Hawkins reminded me of Buddy Holly somewhat, although he looked like a gentler version of Keith Richards, but about 10 years older. Dale did the intro for the next act, and inventor of Rockabilly, guitar god Scotty Moore , along with original Elvis drummer DJ Fontana and vocalist Billy Swan .
Scotty, DJ, and Billy seemed to be having fun rehashing all the Sun era hits of Elvis Presley until the sound went off a cliff and stayed there. You could see it take the wind out of Scotty's sails. It's hard to understand how the Knights (the organizers) could fly in and pay all these great artists and not provide them with quality sound onstage? This problem was to plague the rest of the acts off and on for the next two nights. Despite this, Scotty, Billy, DJ, Deke, and the band pulled off great versions of "That's Alright, Mama," "Shake Rattle & Roll," "Blue Moon," and just about every other early Elvis hit from the era many feel is Elvis Presley. Swan even got in his late 1970s hit "I Can Help," all to the crowd's delight.
On our way upstairs, we passed comedian Rudy Ray Moore (Mr. Dolemite) posing for photos and signing autographs in the lobby. You never know who you're going to run into at the Stomp! Upstairs the Carter Brothers were holding forth. I didn't even know these guys we're still around and it turns out that they have been in southern California the whole time. I'd had copies of "Southern Country Boy" on Jewel forever and I used to sing "Booze In The Bottle" back 25 years ago, both of which they performed that night. I always loved these sides, so it was cool to be able to catch them in their matching pimp suits and hats, sounding good as ever. Two out of three were there that night; the piano playing brother I think has gone on though. Unfortunately, the young upstart on second guitar playing Stevie Ray licks was about twice as loud as Ernie was on his guitar, so it sort of screwed up the sound. They closed with "Roasted Pork and Candied Yams." Sounds delicious!
Back downstairs Arch Hall Jr. was just going on. Arch is the King of the Wild Guitar, as in the 1960s B films, like Wild Guitar ,EEGAH ,The Sadist ,The Choppers , etc., as well as being a former airline pilot and I'm sure a few different careers on top of this. Arch was getting ready for a 40-year reunion onstage with his former band, The Archers . As we heard him warming up on his amp I could tell we were in for a treat, getting a killer tone and playing tuff licks, understated but bad ass Bluesy stuff. For being nervous after a 40-year hiatus, you never would have known from his playing, Arch ruled, in my opinion. One of the baddest dudes of the early 1960s totally connected to his axe it seemed. They shredded tunes like "Rockabilly Train," "Turn on Your Lovelight," "Rockin Pnuemonia," and a nice version of the Everly Brothers ' "Hello Mary Lou." These guys have to be from the South to be into this. One of the highlights of the Stomp, in my book.
Upstairs Lonnie Brooks was holding court as Guitar Jr . Anyone that's been into Blues for a long time remembers that before there was Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson (who played with Muddy ), there was Guitar Jr., the one that made the Gold Band records that were 1950s hits in Louisiana, plus played on a James Cotton Vanguard recording (where I remember him), before changing his stage name in the early 1970s to his given name, Lonnie Brooks, when he made records in Chicago for Alligator. This is material Lonnie never sings anymore, though many know the songs, like "Family Rules" and "Shirlie Mae," covered by many Texas and Louisiana Blues artists or "Roll, Roll, Roll" and "The Crawl," both covered by the Fabulous T-Birds in their early years. You could hear where Jimmy Vaughn got a lot of his early licks after watching Lonnie cook on guitar and sing these tunes with gusto. Guitar Jr. is back and seems to be having a ball!
We stayed long enough after midnight to hear Link Wray play the "Rumble," but the volume was excessive - I don't think Link wears a hearing aid - at 70 or 80 years old you wouldn't know it from his attitude - pure Punk! So we left Mid-City Lanes, happy but worn out to rest up for round two of Ponderosa Stomp.
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The Ponderosa Stomp!
The Party During the Festival
By Mark Hummel
We rejoin Mark Hummel as he relives the party known as the Ponderosa Stomp for Night Two of the festivities. If you missed Part One, click HERE now to catch up. For the rest of you enjoy, the second day of this cool fest in New Orleans, the Ponderosa Stomp...
We arrived on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. or so to the crowded parking lot at Mid-City Lanes. We made our way upstairs in time for the start of Lil' Buck and Buckwheat Zydeco 's reunion of Lil Buck & The TopCats , an eight-piece horn/B3 aggregation with Buckwheat playing awesome organ. Lil' Buck is guitarist Paul Sinegal , who, along with Buckwheat (before his rise to Zydeco fame), were longtime members of Clifton Chenier 's fine Zydeco outfit. The TopCats were popular in the South in the late 1960s with hits like "Monkey in a Sack" and "Cat Scream." They did a four-hour revue that included Roy Head ,Lazy Lester ,Archie Bell ,Barbara Lynn, plus many others. We bounced back and forth during their long set between their show in the upstairs bowling alley and the sets downstairs. We caught three or four of their instrumental numbers at the top of their set. Buckwheat plays killer B3, I'd only heard him on accordion prior to this and was very impressed with his keyboard prowess.
We headed downstairs to catch Cajun psychobilly soulman Roy Head working out with Deke Dickerson and his band. Roy looks like he could be Delbert McClinton 's long lost older brother, but he's a wild man, where as Delbert is on the mellow side. Head's most famous hit from the early 1960s is "Treat Her Right," with its "Really Got Me" riff that had to be lifted from Roy's tune by the Kinks. I still remember it all over the airwaves when I was a kid. Roy obviously enjoys being rediscovered and put on the show everyone was talking about that evening. The only thing I missed was Head not doing the body contortions I've heard he could do mid-set in the early days; maybe I just couldn't see them from where I was standing. Head played both with Deke and The TopCats on this night. With Deke, Head covered a song he said inspired ZZ Top to write "Tush," "Bring it to Jerome" (I don't know if he meant his own version or Bo Didley 's). Roy turned this into a Bo medley with "Dearest Darling" and "Who Do You Love." He closed with "Treat Her Right," driving the crowd bananas!
Next up was the polar opposite to Roy, as mellow as you would expect a 90-year-old to be, Robert Lockwood Jr . Guitarist Lockwood played a 12-string hollow body electric, given to him 25 years before by his late wife. Robert and his longtime bassist, Gene Schwartz ,played a laidback set of Blues standards, many by Lockwood's stepfather and mentor, Robert Johnson . Lockwood still has the dour look he's always possessed, when he snapped, "Turn off your tape recorders," the audience followed orders. Lockwood still plays great guitar, like no one else, his hands still limber and able to do everything they have to since I first saw him 25 years ago. His set included Johnson's "Stop Breakin Down," "Sweet Home Chicago," a great version of "23/20," and "Kind Hearted Woman," plus the jazzy "Exactly Like You." Robert favors eight-bar Blues like "Key To The Highway," "How Long," "In The Evening," and "CC Rider." The highlight was a version of "Mess Around" that reminded one of Snooks Eaglin , doing alternating bass and treble licks. A great set from a musician who is finally, at 90 years old, getting some long overdue recognition for contributions to the Blues that cannot be overstated. Lockwood was recording on Bluebird Records in the early 1940s plus playing on most artists' records signed to Chess Records in Chicago all through the 1950s. Or being a partner of Sonny Boy Williamson from the 1930s thru King Biscuit Time in Helena, Arkansas. That's some serious Blues creds! It must be strange to see how things have changed in the Blues world in his lifetime. What a story!
We headed back upstairs to catch Lazy Lester's set with the TopCats. Lester was in the middle of his song "Secret Weapon" when we arrived and seemed to have the crowd enthralled. Lester is a permanent fixture at these shows, thanks to the event being named after one of his songs. Lester followed with his hit "Sugar Coated Love," a song covered by many artists out of the Southwest U.S. and eventually all over the world. A couple of popular covers of it are by Lou Ann Barton and the Fabulous Thunderbirds , but David Bowie ,Texas Tornados , and the Kinks have also covered some Lazy Lester songs as well. At 72, Lester's playing his harp and singing with more vigor than many musicians a third his age. Lester is an original just by way of being one of the first to mix Country, Blues, Cajun, and early Rock 'n' Roll into one sound that's called Lazy Lester! He's still out there for two reasons: one is playing music and the other is meeting new folks all over the globe. Lester stays on the road, especially overseas.
Next up was Roy Head with the TopCats, horns and all. This was a supercharged set that included "Treat Her Right," "Don't Cry No More," "Just A Little Bit," and "Rock Me Baby." These southern dudes got some soul and it's so cool to see the musicians' working off each other's energy. The band seemed to dig it big time, as well as the audience, who went crazy!
Barbara Lynn came up next, a lefty guitarist and fine Soul-Blues vocalist. Lynn is one of the rare R&B circuit women performers who was playing lead guitar and fronting a band and making hit records all over the South. Like Lester, she has had a lot of Southwest Blues folk cover her tunes like "(Oh Baby) We Got A Good Thing Goin" and "(If You Should Lose Me) You'll Lose a Good Thing," both covered many times over. She started with both these tunes and also covered songs by Al Green ,B.B. King , and Ray Charles . Barbara played some tough lead on B.B. 's "Sweet Sixteen."
Archie Bell must have left the Drells at home for this gig. Are they still around? Archie looked good and was in fine voice still, doing songs like "There's Gonna Be a Showdown" and "Mustang Sally." We missed "The Tighten Up," but only because we wanted to catch some of Deacon John 's revue downstairs.
We caught my favorite New Orleans set of the entire week with Deacon and Clarence "Frogman" Henry . "Frogman" was filling in for some other performer that didn't show that night, but turned out the perfect set with Deacon's killer big band, which included Herb Hardesty (Fats Domino ) and Plas Johnson on horns (I thought I saw Gordon Beadle on stage, as well, but since the horns were sitting I couldn't swear to it?). The rhythm section smoked like a fast moving freight train. There was also a great piano player with whom I wasn't familiar. Deacon played fine guitar throughout and sang a great version of Ray Charles' "Rockin All Night Long." Frogman did his hits, like "You Always Hurt The One You Love" and "Ain't Got A Home," in his Fats-like voice. It was the perfect set and I dug it more then the good set we saw him do the next day with his own band at the Jazz Fest. Deacon featured Plas on "Honkey Tonk," with "Nighttrain" thrown in for good measure.
Next up was Al "Carnival Time" Johnson , who did his famed Mardi Gras number of the same name. Eddie Bo did a great set with the band that included "I'm Wise," (which I just recorded after playing it for 15 years), "Check Mr. Popeyes," "Someone Like You," and "Check Your Bucket." Bo played New Orleans-style piano as well and put on a wonderful show! The band followed his every move.
At one point, before Deacon played his slide guitar set, he threatened to walk off the stage unless the sound men got the stage sound right, because no one could hear what was going on up there. It was pitiful to see these kind of problems at an event of this caliber. After the problem was fixed, Deacon tore into an Elmore James tune, "I'm Worried."
Mark Hummel is a contributing editor to BluesWax and one of the great harp players of the modern era. Mark may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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