Big Easy Stomp
It's a simple question: Which act among the dozens of rock, soul, blues, and R&B artists featured on the bill for the ninth annual Ponderosa Stomp festival is Ira Padnos most looking forward to seeing?
And the answer started simply enough, as Padnos — in his fez-sporting alter ego known as Dr. Ike, the co-founder, organizer and host of the event that launched humbly in 2001 — touted a guitar hero making his long-awaited Ponderosa Stomp debut as part of this year's event, taking place Sept. 24–25 at the House of Blues New Orleans.
"We have Duane Eddy, who I've wanted to get for years," says Padnos, who is, in fact, an anesthesiologist and assistant clinical professor of anesthesiology at Louisiana State University's Health Sciences Center. "He's the king of twangy guitar, influential to so many people from surf to garage [rock] to everything."
Eddy's elegant, yet biting guitar lines took "Rebel-'Rouser," "Forty Miles Of Bad Road," "Because They're Young" and a host of other instrumentals up the charts in the late '50s and early '60s, and he won a GRAMMY Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance (Orchestra, Group Or Soloist) in 1986 for "Peter Gunn." His twangy tone set the pace for generations of guitar aces who became global superstars while he stayed more in the shadows as a cult hero — a quintessential Ponderosa-type icon.
But Eddy was just the starting point for Padnos, who barely inhaled a breath before continuing.
"Wendy Rene, the soul singer," he says, citing another performer he is excited to see. "Loved her song 'Bar-B-Q' for years."
Now he's on a roll. He pulls out the Ponderosa Stomp lineup and starts selecting more names...and more…and more. Minneapolis rockers the Trashmen of "Surfin' Bird" fame, who will make their first festival appearance. East Los Angeles-based '60s garage-rock legends Thee Midniters. Tommy Brown, who Padnos describes as "one of the last of the great R&B shouters from the South."
Name after name, Padnos provides a few lines about an obscure 45 single, a defunct label, an unheralded side role on someone else's hits, or a tale of being lost in the ever-quickening rush of the last few decades of pop history.
There, in a nutshell, is the Ponderosa Stomp experience. And there, in a nutshell, is Dr. Ike. The two are one and the same. Padnos is a passionate collector, or more so a passionate fan of not just the music but of the musicians themselves. With Ponderosa Stomp he's found and served a true community of kindred spirits.
"The idea behind Stomp was that you had these great musicians who made great records and were still capable of playing," Padnos says. "The problem was a lack of venues and opportunities for them to play [and] a misconception that as musicians get older they can't necessarily do it. So the Stomp kind of became the festival of celebrating the legacy of these musicians and showing what they can do, and helping to revitalize careers and get people out who weren't playing."
He mentions soulstress Barbara Lynn, Texas growler Roy Head and Detroit-based guitarist Dennis Coffey among those who have revitalized their careers after being coaxed out of relative inactivity by Padnos to play the Ponderosa Stomp. He's also been crucial in getting '60s R&B man Archie Bell of Archie Bell & The Drells fame back on the circuit, as well as the famed Hi Records rhythm section — the sound behind several Al Green hits, among others.
Ponderosa Stomp was founded in essence as an annex event to the annual springtime New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, taking place between that festival's two weekends. Much of the impetus behind the Ponderosa Stomp was to showcase acts who some felt had been squeezed out of the more nationally-minded jazz festival. For 2010, the decision was made to give Ponderosa Stomp a free-standing weekend slot completely separate from the jazz festival.
"The Stomp had been growing and we decided that the best way for it to grow organically was to move it to its own spot and let it become its own destination," says Padnos. "We really wanted to become a stand-alone event."
In another sign of the festival's move toward independence, the last two installments have incorporated a full conference as well as two days of concerts. This year's Ponderosa Stomp Music Conference will include interview sessions with Eddy, repeat headliner Ronnie Spector, "Tainted Love" singer Gloria Jones and New Orleans producer/arranger Dave Bartholomew, among many others.
Meanwhile, Eddy has been getting into the Ponderosa Stomp spirit. Looking at the lineup, he's excited that '60s R&B singer Sugar Pie DeSanto is on the bill. "I've got an album of hers somewhere around the house that I've had for years," he says. And he's certainly seeing this appearance as a part of renewed activity. He's planning to record a live album in the UK soon and considering his first new studio album in many years, having been working in Nashville with producer Monroe Jones.
Eddy is a natural for the Ponderosa Stomp aesthetic, which is not about updates and interpretations, but celebrations of the original sounds. This is a place where in 2008 Padnos, having brought the über-obscure '60s Texas garage-rock band the Green Fuz back together, came onstage after they'd performed their regional single, also called "The Green Fuz," a second time. "Do it like it was on the 45," he instructed the band, since the first time through they included member introductions rather than doing it straight as the original.
That's fine by Eddy, who with backing by Ponderosa Stomp mainstay Deke Dickerson and his band the Ecco-fonics will endeavor to play his hits pretty much just as you would have heard them on the radio 50 or so years ago.
"I've always held the philosophy of playing it closest to the record as I could," says Eddy. "People who bought those bought them for a reason. And when they come to see me live, they expect to hear it the same. Everybody coming is going to be pleasantly surprised at how good things sound, how close [they sound] to the originals."
(Steve Hochman writes the Around The World music column for AOL's Spinner.com and is the pop music critic for KQED Radio's "The California Report Magazine." He has covered the music world for 25 years for the Los Angeles Times and many other publications.)