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Times Picayune: Stomp Preview - The funky Ponderosa Stomp festival is 'a celebration of pure music'

The funky Ponderosa Stomp festival is 'a celebration of pure music'

Posted by Keith Spera, Music writer, TheTimes-Picayune April 28, 2008 5:00AM

Obscure 1960s Texas garage rock band The Green Fuz plans to debut a new song, "Back From the Ashes," at this week's Ponderosa Stomp. It could be the Stomp's theme.

Archive Photo/The TImes-Picayune
Ira "Dr. Ike" Padnos, foreground, poses with Little Freddie King, left, Irving Banister (standing), Ernie "Dapwalk" Vincent and Rockie Charles, all veterans of the Ponderosa Stomp.
The annual revue of "lost" legends of early garage rock, soul, blues and R&B specializes in resuscitating careers, from soul-funk singer Betty Harris to Detroit soul shouter Nathaniel Mayer to early Ike Turner collaborator Dennis Binder. Fans revel in its "all killer, no filler" ethos, with three stages pumping until the wee hours.

"It's like the ultimate jukebox," Stomp founder Ira "Dr. Ike" Padnos said. "Music is banging you over the head and keeping you dancing the whole time."

The seventh edition takes over the House of Blues Tuesday and Wednesday (see box for performers and times). A new, daytime Stomp conference at the Cabildo, co-sponsored by the Rock¤'n' Roll Hall of Fame and the Louisiana State Museum, features panels and oral histories with author Peter Guralnick and such pioneers as "Louisiana Hayride" engineer John Sullivan, AFO Records co-founder Harold Battiste and New Orleans studio wizard Cosimo Matassa.

"It's to help shed light on where this stuff came from," Padnos said. "The focus is on the people who were really there."

For years, Padnos informally consulted with Jazzfest about bookings. On Saturday, the Stomp staged a two-hour showcase in the Southern Comfort Blues Tent, its first official participation in the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell.

"Bringing careers back and uncovering people that are part of musical heritage that aren't that well known -- that's the mission that we started out to do," Jazzfest producer Quint Davis said. "The Ponderosa Stomp grew up around Jazzfest, as a Jazzfestian happening. It's an honor to have (Padnos') brand associated with our brand."

At first glance, Ira Padnos is an unlikely music impresario. He collected blues records growing up in Chicago in the 1970s. He discovered New Orleans' deep musical heritage as a pre-med student at Tulane University, then returned to the city after his medical residency.

By vocation, he's Dr. Ira Padnos, assistant professor of anesthesiology at the Louisiana State University Medical Center. By obsession, he's "Dr. Ike," vintage vinyl collector.

He first hired musicians, including the late bluesman R.L. Burnside, for his wedding and backyard crawfish boils.

In 2001, he read that long-lost soul singer Howard Tate had resurfaced in Philadelphia. He tracked down Tate's number and booked him at New Orleans' Circle Bar, launching the singer's comeback. The next year, Padnos and his partners in the nonprofit Mystic Knights of the Mau-Mau unveiled the multi-night Ponderosa Stomp.

"Rock'n' roll in the truest, broadest sense was conceived with all the elements, so why not mix and match (at the Stomp)?" Padnos said. "We've had everything from Link Wray, who invented the power chord, to the Sun Ra Arkestra, who was the first jam band, to blues guitarist Robert Jr. Lockwood, who learned from Robert Johnson. The Stomp is all over the place."

He and his fellow Knights scour record collections for potential acts, then track down musicians online and via word-of-mouth.

"People submit (applications), but that's not how it works," Padnos said. "We pull records and see what's turning us on these days. As (WWOZ-FM DJ) Billy Delle would say, let's dig through the vinyl pits in the crypt and see what's happening."

Archive Photo/The Times-Picayune
Herbert Hardesty, left, with Eddie Bo, and Ponderosa Stomp founder Ira "Dr. Ike" Padnos.
Musicians occasionally find Padnos. One groggy Sunday morning he awoke to a call from the Mighty Hannibal. Best known for his turban and his 1966 anti-Vietnam War hit "Hymn No. 5," Hannibal had been given Padnos' number by mistake.

"So by a fluke phone call," Padnos said, "we got in touch and I put him on the show."

A conversation with ex-Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore evolved into an informal medical consultation; Moore later burned up the first Stomp with an epic set. Padnos coaxed southwest Louisiana singer Phil Phillips out of semi-retirement to croon his dreamy 1959 swamp pop hit "Sea of Love."

What enticed Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack to make his Stomp debut this year?

"In a word, Wardell," Rebennack said.

At Padnos' request, fabled New Orleans rhythm & blues arranger Wardell Quezergue wrote new charts for obscure songs Rebennack recorded in the late 1950s and early 1960s, before assuming his Dr. John persona. Rebennack will perform them with Quezergue's band.

Rebennack describes Padnos as "overworked and off the hook. He dug up records I haven't heard since we did¤'em. I haven't did these songs in 30 or 40 years.

"There's a song that I can never remember what the hell the name of it is. The funniest thing about it is it's obviously a song that we used as a filler track on a recording session, when we had some leftover studio time and we'd just cut something. And I'm thinking, 'Gee, I didn't even know that came out.' But it obviously came out or (Padnos) wouldn't have a record of it."

Rebennack also plans to resurrect "Talk That Talk," a song his mother wrote. "I'm gonna just shuck my way through it, and it will be whatever it's gonna be. It'll be fun."

There are drawbacks to working with artists who are up in years and/or reluctant performers. New Orleans bandleader, trumpeter and Fats Domino producer/co-writer Dave Bartholomew withdrew from the Ponderosa Stomp weeks ago for some perceived slight.

And a recent stroke scuttled Mayer's much-anticipated return. Mayer disappeared four years after his 1962 soul romp "Village of Love" cracked the Top 40, subsisting on hometown gigs for three decades. After his eye-popping late-night dance party at the¤'03 Stomp, he performed across America, released his first full-length album and toured Europe for the first time.

But even with last minute cancellations, the 2008 Stomp's roster is broad and deep.

As the blond bombshell face of the girl group The Shangri-Las, Mary Weiss sang "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" and "Leader of the Pack." Disgusted with the business of music, she quit singing and dropped out of sight. For years, she was a senior account manager at a commercial furniture dealership, soliciting and overseeing multimillion-dollar projects.

In 2006, she relaunched her music career with a new album, "Dangerous Game." She attended Ponderosa Stomp-sponsored events in Austin and Brooklyn, and readily accepted Padnos' invitation to perform and speak at the daytime conference.

The Stomp is "a celebration of pure music, without all the Hollywood hoopla and light shows," Weiss said. "I can't wait to hear what I'm going to hear. It's gonna be a gas."

The members of The Green Fuz are thrilled to resurrect their self-titled "The Green Fuz" almost 40 years after recording it in a shuttered Texas roadside cafe. To collectors of garage rock 45 rpm records, "The Green Fuz" is the holy grail. Only 500 copies were printed. Unhappy with the crude sound, the musicians used many for BB gun practice.

The Green Fuz disbanded after most of its members joined the Navy. Guitarist Les Dale spent 22 years in the service, then built a contracting business in Virginia, unaware that "The Green Fuz" lived on via garage rock compilations and a cover by punk band The Cramps.

Months ago, he received a call from Padnos.

"I'm sitting in my den and I get a call out of the blue saying, 'We'd like you to put your band back together and play at the House of Blues in New Orleans," Dale recalled. "It was one of the moments I'll never forget. It takes you back to when you were 16, and I'm 55.

"We're very proud to be part of the Ponderosa Stomp," Dale said. "As a band, it validates us. And it sounds like a lot of fun."
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