Thus sang Stick McGhee in the famous “Wine Spodee-O-Dee” back in the late 40’s. As the 10th anniversary of the Ponderosa Stomp comes to a close everything is indeed fine, but there was no wine (at least for this guy!). The elusive qualities of “the Stomp” that make it simply one of the most special and unique musical events in the world also demands a serious commitment, the Stomp is not for the faint of heart. Over the course of the 2 nights you are unlikely to get more then 6 to 8 hours of sleep, that is, if you plan on attending the 2 consecutive nights of 8+ hour shows that include conferences in the daytime starting @ 11 in the morning! That is why I say “drinkin’ wine Spodee-O-Dee” is probably not a good idea for serious Stomp attendees.
The Ponderosa Stomp (named after a tune by the swamp blues harp master Lazy Lester) springs from the strange and wonderful mind of our fearless leader Ira “Dr Ike” Padnos who after 10 years NEVER fails to surprise and delight his audience. It is a truism that once you come to 1 Stomp you never want to miss another one. That is the reason you see the same faces year after year coming from all over the world. Beyond the innovative bookings, if there is a secret to the Ponderosa Stomp it is in its bands. The DNA of the Stomp might be found in what has become its 4 key bands, Lil Buck and the Top Cats, led by Paul “Lil’Buck” Sinegal, Deke Dickerson & the Eccophonics, The Bo-Keys, and Michael Hurtt and his Haunted Hearts. These 4 amazing groups bring a level of skill, heart and soul to the proceedings that succeed virtually 100% of the time in making these older and often fragile (to coin a term Deke Dickerson used with me last night) sound great. If the Stomp has a secret, at least one that exists outside the weird and wonderful mind of Dr Ike, that may be it.
Ponderosa Stomp nights typically have a theme if you will, as each night tends to be “anchored” by a particular musical style and/or performer. For the special 10th anniversary, Friday night featured and artist the Dr Ike has been trying to get for years, Allen Toussaint. Toussaint has visited the stomp in the past and on one amazing occasion appeared on stage with the late Wardell Quezerque and Dave Bartholomew. Fans of New Orleans R&B were stunned to see all 3 of its most revered arrangers & composers on stage at the same time.
For his first official Stomp appearance Allen brought his great working band but thankfully left behind the “show band” aspects of his usual appearances (I have written about this in an earlier blog) and came to do some serious playing. As is typical with the Stomp, Dr Ike got Toussaint to do a couple of his old “Wild Tousan” tunes: “Whirlaway” and “Java” that he rarely performs. Toussaint then backed up the delightful Clarence “Frogman” Henry in a rollicking (I Don’t Know Why I Love You) “But I Do” and “Ain’t got no Home,” Robert Parker in a smokin’ version of his hit “Barefootin’,” and ended with a medley of his own compositions including a robust singalong from the audience on Ernie K-Doe’s massive hit “A Certain Girl” (which as produced and written by Toussaint). All this was part of a tribute to the ailing Cosimo Mattasa the engineer and owner of the famed New Orleans recording studio J&M that was such an integral part of recording in New Orleans.
Other highlights of the first night was an incredible set of delta blues from Bobby Rush and a tribute to the great Louisiana record label “Excello” with wonderful performances by Classie Ballou, Carol Fran and Lazy Lester full of trademark swamp pop, blues and gulf-coast soul.
Saturday night’s main event was a Stax Records tribute with The Bo-Keys Memphis soul band backing what are the 3 greatest male soul singers alive; William Bell, Eddie Floyd and Otis Clay. We were extraordinarily blessed to attend the Saturday afternoon rehearsal watching these great singers interacting with Scott Bomar’s all-star Memphis soul band The Bo-Keys as they worked out a set that included such soul classics as “Raise your Hand” and “Knock on Wood” by Eddie Floyd, “Trying to Live my Life Without You” and “Got to Get Back” by Otis Clay (“Got to Get Back” is the title track from the fabulous new record by The Bo-Keys) , William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” and “I Forgot to be Your Lover” and songwriter Sir Mack Rice doing his classic “Mustang Sally.” The Bo-Keys are a mix of Memphis veterans such as guitarist Charles “Skip” Pitts, drummer Harold Grimes, keyboard player Archie “Hubby” Turner, and trumpeter Ben Cauley as well as younger players such as band leader and bassist Scott Bomar. This band lays down a wicked and ferocious Memphis groove that literally blew the roof of the club. Their 2+ hour set (that started after midnight!) had no highpoints or lowpoints but was one continuous blast furnace of deep Memphis soul and serious testifying by these master singers who command the stage with stunning authority, energy and grace. I have no doubt that any modern configuration of band or singers that could have conjured up such an authentic and powerful Memphis soul stew.
Other highlights of the night was stomping set of early Chicago blues with Billy Boy Arnold, a rip-roaring session with 80+ year old sax honker Big Jay McNeely (who a fellow Stomp attendee said was “moving slow, but blowing hard”) and a short high energy set by Louisiana rockabilly master Joe Clay all backed with typical genius by Deke Dickerson.
So there you have it, the rich fabric of American roots music presented by the original practitioners, the “real deal,” performed in a loving environment with taste, skill, soul, sensitivity and love. Every year I leave New Orleans with one simple thought, God Bless “Dr Ike” and the Ponderosa Stomp.