Good news for everyone who wore themselves out trying to catch everything at last year's Ponderosa Stomp: Next week's event, a marathon of swamp pop, R&B, funk and vintage rock 'n' roll, has been scaled down just a little -- from three nights to a more manageable two with a 2 a.m. cutoff. You can still expect to put in some serious time at Rock 'n' Bowl, but this year you might be able to catch all the music and make it home before sunrise.
"I was getting screams and cries from people saying, Have mercy on us -- you're literally killing us with too much music. I love it, but my body can't handle it,'" notes Dr. Ike, who masterminds the Stomp between his regular gig as an anesthesiologist. "Last year, the Hi Rhythm Section got onstage at 4:30 in the morning, and there were only about 30 diehards to see them. Then we had Lazy Lester at 5:30, doing an incredible set of oldies and obscure stuff. Everybody was asking, Can't you do something to make this more streamlined?' So we kept that in mind this year."
Jazz Fest may bring the crowds to town, but the Ponderosa Stomp has rightly earned the rep as the main event for serious music freaks. More than a few attendees went home last year raving about the three-hour swamp pop session with Steve Riley and C.C. Adcock's Li'l Band o' Gold as the house band. Or legendary drummer Earl Palmer anchoring a jazz combo in one of his last pre-retirement gigs. Or Sam the Sham, who looks more like Charlie Daniels these days, singing "Wooly Bully" while a couple Los Lobos members were spotted in the audience and Rock 'n' Bowl's waitresses climbed onto the bar and twirled hula hoops.
This year's stomp will have a more rocking slant, without the jazz interludes that James Blood Ulmer and the Sun Ra Arkestra provided last year. Headlining the first night are the Fabulous Wailers, historically the first Northwest garage band to do a little thing called "Louie Louie." Louisiana garage band the Bad Roads, who had a local hit with "Blue Girl" in 1966, will likewise be reuniting. And guitarist James Burton, who toured with Elvis Presley and Emmylou Harris, will team up with Deke Dickerson and his rock 'n' roll crew.
A few "greatest hits" of previous Stomps are back for another go-round this year. The Memphis studio crew the Hi Rhythm Section is back, this time backing Willie Cobbs, who cut the original "You Don't Love Me" (now better known as an Allman Brothers number). Funk fans can salivate over the prospect of seeing Eddie Bo get into his '70s grooves, and keyboardist Willie Tee reviving some of his old Gaturs material with the Meters' Zigaboo Modeliste on drums. The swamp pop marathon is also back, with names like Tommy McLain and Johnny Allen (who rewrote "North to Alaska," substituting crawfish for gold, and came up with "South to Louisiana"). Headlining the swamp revue will be Bobby Charles, who wrote the certified classics "Walking to New Orleans" and "See You Later Alligator." Like many artists who turn up at the Stomp, Charles has retired and absolutely never performs anymore.
Tracking down some of these folks isn't easy, Dr. Ike admits. In particular, finding "Sea of Love" singer Phil Phillips took some detective work. "Sometimes we just have to go out there and find them. I drove out to Jennings with [guitarist] Li'l Buck Sinegal and left a note on his door. A lot of these guys have heard all the promises over the years, and they don't wanna buy it. But they've realized that we're record collectors and we want to do it right." Last year Phillips proved he's still got the velvet voice from the original hit, and he'll be doing it again this year.
Though Dr. Ike isn't looking to push the point, the Stomp provides a major contrast to the increasingly mainstream booking at the Jazz Fest. It's worth noting that two classic New Orleans R&B artists, Al "Carnival Time" Johnson and Oliver "Who Shot the La La" Morgan, are both playing the Stomp this year but are conspicuously absent from the Fair Grounds, despite many appearances there in the past. "I can't say why that is, but I know those guys deserve to be on the Fair Grounds every year," Ike says. "We've assisted the Jazz Fest in the past, giving them some ideas for performers, and they've supported us by coming to our event. Jazz Fest is always going to be Jazz Fest; it draws everybody and we're an adjunct to it. It's a symbiotic relationship. Maybe they've changed their focus a little bit, and a lot of their choices are different from what we'd do, but I think it all works well together."
- "The Sea of Love" singer Phil Phillips shows he still has the velvet voice Wednesday night at the Ponderosa Stomp.