This year's Ponderosa Stomp couldn't have come at a better time. Just as it launches into its ninth year now as the authority on rock 'n' roll obscurities and Louisiana legends the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and museum will designate Cosimo Matassa's J & M Studios (838-840 N. Rampart St.) as an official landmark. The studios now join KLRU-TV, the home of Austin City Limits; The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa; the Whisky-a-Go-Go in Los Angeles; King Records in Cincinnatil; and Cleveland's Brooklyn High School and WJW Radio, where DJ Alan Freed first aired the term "rock 'n' roll." (The ceremony is 10 a.m. Friday outside the former studios at 840 N. Rampart.)
GAMBIT: When was the last time you were in New Orleans?
DE: I only worked there once, and that was back in 1959 or 60, somewhere in there, one of the big bus tours we used to do. We just did the one nighter, and it was in and out, you know? Back on the bus and gone. So Ive never spent any time there. Im really looking forward to checking it out. I know its one of the most beautiful cities in the country, and my gosh, one of the most musical, as well, and one of the best eating places. No problem finding a good meal there. Thats going to be good. I do a song in my show, and I always mention New Orleans. I do a song called 3:30 Blues. I always tell the audience, I say, Now if youre going to a city like New Orleans, you might wander out late at night into some smoke-filled club..." well, not anymore of course. Nobody smokes. (GAMBIT: Oh, no, we still got smoky clubs here.) Oh, good. Good. " into some little smoke-filled club where youd hear the band play something called the blues, and it might sound a little something like this." And I play 3:30 Blues which is kind of a B.B. King-influenced blues line.
Any particluar artists you're fond of from the area or in Louisiana?
Oh yeah. Of course an old friend was Fats Domino. Ive run into him many times over the years on the rock n roll trail. Of course Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, all those guys from the old days. Louis Armstrong, one of my biggest (influences). Neville Brothers that guy sings like an angel, and one of my favorite artists today and for a long time. ... And Jimmy Clanton from Baton Rouge.
Dale Hawkins passed away earlier this year, from Shreveport
I knew Dale, I worked with him when I first started, on a couple of tours. And knew his brother Jerry. In 58, one of the first tours I did, started out in Albert Lea, Minn., a string of one nighters around the Mid West.
You think you might join on stage with anyone when you come down?
I doubt that. I dont like to do that unless I had a chance to look over the situation, maybe do a little rehearsal or something. Id like to know what Im going to do before I do it, you know? Of course if its blues, that would work. But I dont know if id be doing that. I dont want to mess up anybody elses show. I have enough trouble getting through my own. (Laughs) I got a great band. Deke Dickerson is going to be there. I worked with him last January, and he was fantastic. Got a great sax player Ron Dziubla. ... That Ron is such a great sax player, hes got all the sax solos from the early records. Tone, notes, everything. Quite amazing. I'm really looking forward to hearing it again myself.
Ira (Padnos, Stomp founder) was pretty adamant about me doing the old songs, the early stuff. And if thats what he wants, thats what hell get. Hes paying the bill and putting on the whole shindig, so well do our best to give him what he wants.
Was there any point where you realized the influence you'd have?
When we were doing the early records, when we started out having hits and everything, we were just trying to make a living. I was. My partner Lee Hazlewood who produced the records and co-wrote a lot of the songs, he and I just figured, we were trying to make some hit records and make some money. So thats how we started didnt think about having any lasting impressions, or lasting value, and also, every time we had a hit we never knew in those days, and you never know in these days if it might be your last, the next one might not click, or the public might now like it. But I was lucky, and I had a string of them for about four or five years, six years, something like that.
That's kind of the nature of the Stomp, has kind of been a lot of artists who've had these killer one or two hits and then disappeared with a few exceptions, you included.
Well I just had the odd one here and there through the years after that. The biggest time was back then. Got an easy listening hit in the 70s with a record called "Freight Train." And most of it was in the 50s and 60s. Had another hit in the 70s around the world, but it didnt get released in this country, called "Play Me Like You Play Your Guitar," which I did in England. They never released it here for some reason. And of course in the 80s I had the "Peter Gunn" theme, Art of Noise, which was a wild and weird record, which was fun. Nothing in the 90s and nothing in this decade. I may be retired and not know it. (Laughs)
You think you might cut another record?
Im going to. Been working on one here with a producer named Monroe Jones out of Alabama. Hes a contemporary Christian producer, he sold millions of records with Third Day. He and I have been working on a project for the past few years. And I may do some new recording when I go to England. Im going to England right after I leave New Orleans for the month of October. I may do an album when I go over there. We start in London and finish up in York, go south near Brighton somewhere. We got a few concerts, record the album and then come home in the spring. If it all works out itll be great news.
It's the Stomp's ninth year, coming up on ten, with a goal of preservation of rock 'n' roll
Its a wonderful thing theyre doing, and I think future generations will appreciate it as well. It was overall from Elvis forward, that was good music. And we were looked down upon by the establishment, as it were, and by a lot of older folks at the time who just didnt get it. But the kids got it. It was a fun music. They loved to dance to it, and its still good for that, I think. It has lasted. I remember they used to say, Rock n roll will never last. Well here we are 50 years later, plus, and its still Im still working, Fats is still working, I think. Only occasionally. Theres not that many gigs for us but every once in a while somebody will say, "Hey, come play my show," OK, and off we go. Brenda Lee is still working. And we were all rock 'n' roll kids in the 50s and 60s, early 60s. Of course rock 'n' roll changed a bit with the Beatles and the Stones, it branched out in different directions, but the original stuff still holds up after all these years. And Chuck Berry. I liked him. He was a good friend. One of the first guys I met back in those days. We set up at the Brooklyn Fox at an Alan Freed show and just sat there with our guitars in the dressing room. The Everly Brothers were there, talking about how their dad played I play a little thumb picking style and I played a little of that on the guitar I had and Don and Phil got excited and said, "Our dad plays that kind of stuff." So we became friends. And Chuck and I started fooling around. I said, "I love that thing you do with the two notes." He said, "Youre really strong with those bass notes. But Im up there on the high notes. I got to make that strong too, so I play two at once." Thats clever, and he did it so well. He was such a big influence on the country, the world of guitar players.
Its gaining in strength and popularity. I just think it holds up after all these years. Which is a little surprising but not really. And thanks to the Internet you can just about hear anything. You put in Little Richard, itll lead to Lloyd Price, Fats Domino, or Jerry Lee, or Chuck, or even myself. That YouTube thing is wonderful. It just goes on and on. You click on something and it goes in a different direction.
What will you be playing?
Probably start with the first record I released, which is Moving and Grooving. Go on from there, do several others "Shazam," "40 Miles of Bad Road," "Peter Gunn," "Rebel Rouser," of course, I always end "Rebel Rouser," and in between we got the "3:30 Blues." I might try "Yep."
Some of those mid-'60s records? Like "Your Baby's Gone Surfin'"?
Id love to do those. We need to find some girls who can sing like that, like The Blossoms did. Maybe when I come back sometime. This time itll be strictly instrumental.
You still playing your big Gibson hollowbody?
I left Gibson. They werent doing any promotion or support whatsoever, so I went back to Gretsch. They'll be making a copy of my original 57 6120. I got the prototype, and I'll playing that. It's a gorgeous guitar. Theyre making it with the same neck as I had originally. ... It'll be out the first of the year.
Do you still have any of your old guitars?
I have one of the 90s Gretsches, and I have one of the Gibsons. I lost my Guild in the flood down here, last May. Another thing we have in common with New Orleans. It was bad. Nobody heard about it, but it was really bad for all of this middle Tennessee. Were still recovering. Wasnt as bad as New Orleans. We had enough (damage), but not as much. There was a place where everyone stored their instruments, down by the river, of course, called Soundcheck. Guys like Keith Urban, he can buy a new guitar. He had to borrow one to do a benefit for the flood folks, because his were all destroyed in the flood along with mine, Vince Gills, Peter Framptons, Brad Paisleys, John Jorgensen's, John Fogerty's. Everybody lost a lot of guitars or all their guitars. Lynyrd Skynyrd. I lost my original Guild. Im giving it to Fender. Fred Gretsch says why dont I just take to to Bruce Bowen, and have him restore it. So thats what Im doing. Its the first rock 'n' roll signature guitar ever made. There were signature guitars Chet, Merle and Les Paul had them, maybe a few jazz players, but no rock 'n' rollers. I dont know if itll get back to playability, but at least itll get back to looking good, so I can donate to a museum somewhere. I lost 31 of them. And some were near and dear to me. Luckily I had my original Gretsch here at home because a luthier was measuring it to copy it for the new Gretsch. I didnt lose my original one, and didnt lose my Dan-O, which was here at home, which I played Because Youre Young on. I lost all my acoustics, and all my Gibsons, and all my Gretsches from the 90s.
A guy in Missourri, havent met him, still havent met him, I talked to him on the phone, and he sent me his Gretsch to use. It was the most touching thing thats ever happened to me. I called him and said, "I cant accept this." He says, "Yeah you can. I want you to have it. Its my favorite guitar and I want you to have it. I dont work with them I just play for fun. I love em and I want you to have that." I said "Thats nice but Im going to send it back to you," he said, "Well, Ill just send it back to you and youll have to move before I stop sending it back." So I kept it. Ill just use it for a while. One of these days Ill get it back to him, or give him a new signature model, or something, to make up for it.
Another guy in Indiana, a guitar maker up there, send me an acoustic. Musicians Union knew about him, called them here and sent me an acoustic. Thats two guitars I didnt have but have now. Those acts of kindness, just stunning. Just made me feel I was just amazed, it brings a tear to your eye. So kind. I got guitars to play. I can work. I just lost the sentimental things.