Event Reviews – Festivals – Ponderosa Stomp No. 10

New Orleans – 16 & 17 September 2011

Not for the first time, there was a good turn-out of Woodies at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans. The 10th annual Stomp moved this year to a new venue, the Howlin’ Wolf, and this proved to be an improvement on the House of Blues. As ever, Dr Ike put on a show featuring numerous obscure or near-forgotten musicians and if anything, there were even more than usual, although fewer semi-household names than in the past.

Day One: First on was Bobby Allen, a Louisiana native who made a record called Soul Chicken back in the sixties. He was dressed in a smart brown outfit for the occasion and went smartly through a couple of funky songs – Check Mr Popeye and Funky Broadway/Land of 1000 Dances. He was followed by a zydeco singer called Clayton Sampy – a new name to me – who was described as a latter day Clifton Chenier. I thought he was no more than adequate. The running order changed, meaning that Carol Fran came next and that, as a result, I missed most of her set as I was grabbing a sandwich, just catching the end of Money. I’m told she was pretty good (I caught her later at a Swamp Blues show in Crowley). Classie Ballou was next on – a competent bluesman who performed Hey Pardner and Lee Dorsey’s Confusion.

One of the advertised highlights of the evening was an Excello tribute featuring Lazy Lester, Warren Storm and James Johnson, a guitarist who played with Slim Harpo. There were good performances of a couple of Harpo numbers – Baby Scratch My Back and Rainin’ In My Heart – and Warren Storm was great on Lonely Lonely Nights and The Prisoner’s Song, but three songs by James Johnson and no solos by Lazy Lester proved a bit disappointing.

The real highlight of the night was a tribute to legendary New Orleans producer Cosimo Matassa, who was in the audience, featuring the great Allen Toussaint (or the Wild Tousan as he was originally billed back in the fifties). He was brilliant on a series of self-penned numbers, several of them recorded by Lee Dorsey, and then brought on stage Robert Parker, who drove forcefully through Where The Action Is and Barefootin’. Also on the tribute was Clarence Frogman Henry who, despite needing a wheelchair some of the time, still has a great voice and got the crowd going with But I Do and Ain’t Got No Home. At this point Dave Bartholomew was scheduled to appear, but he was unwell, so Toussaint continued for a further 45 minutes, clearly enjoying himself thoroughly and ranging through Southern Nights, A Certain Girl, Fortune Teller, Workin’ In A Coalmine and Tipitina. Fantastic stuff.

The second half of the show became rather bitty, with various performers coming on to do anything from one to three numbers. Ernie Vincent did one funky guitar number and then left the stage. Jean Knight was fine on her hits Do Me, My Toot Toot and Mr Big Stuff, and Little Leo (Lloyd Price’s younger brother) looked immaculate as he sang three bluesy numbers including Handwriting On The Wall, but not, surprisingly, Send Me Some Loving (his was the first version). C P Love was particularly good on the soulful I Found All These Things and Secondline Home, and Al Johnson brought some carnival fun along with Shake Rattle And Roll and his big hit Carnival Time, supported by two lady dancers in carnival type costumes.

Earl Stanley, of whom I know nothing but who was apparently lead guitarist with New Orleans band Roger and the Gypsies, was joined by Michael Hurtt on maraccas for Pass The Hatchet and by Eddie Powers (I think) for A Gypsy Woman Told Me. Then it was the turn of a white singer called G G Shinn – a man with a big voice but who was described by a friend (Dave C) as being like a Louisiana Liberace. You can draw your own conclusions. He was followed by a couple of additions to the bill in the form of soul man Tony Owens, who did a number called I Got Soul, and David Batiste, formerly of local band the Gladiators, who got the crowd going with his energetic Funky Soul. Most of the above were backed by Lil’ Buck and the Topcats who were superb throughout.

The final session (for me at least) featured backing by Michael Hurtt and his band, and kicked off with Frankie Ford, who looked extremely frail and old and who did his best on Roberta, Cheatin’ Woman and Sea Cruise. Jay Chevalier came next and was effective on Come Back To Louisiana and the Ballad Of Earl K Long, and the final act of what was a long night was the excellent swamp pop of Jivin’ Gene, who included his two best known songs – Going Out With The Tide and Breaking Up Is Hard To Do – in his set. Warren Storm Lazy Lester Allen Toussaint Al Johnson Frankie Ford

Altogether this was an enjoyable evening with loads of variety, if a lack of better known acts. And to think we had to go through it all again – with different acts I might add – the following night!

Day Two of the Stomp was one of amazing highs and a couple of fairly grim lows, but overall a day to remember. The evening kicked off with bluesman Little Freddie King, whose set was spoiled somewhat by over-distorted guitar. On the small stage next door Lazy Lester was playing some effective swamp blues with guitarist Rudy Richard, once a player with Slim Harpo. But things really got going on the main stage with Lavelle White, who was quite excellent on a series of blues and swamp pop numbers recorded for Duke over 50 years ago, including I’ve Got To Run To You, Why Young Men Go Wild and Teenage Love. Backed by the superb Deke Dickerson band, she was followed by Clifford Curry, best known for his R&B number She Shot A Hole In My Soul. Wearing a not too convincing wig, his voice was a bit ragged, but he showed plenty of enthusiasm on Let The Good Times Roll, Rock A While, Soul Ranger and his aforementioned big hit.

Next on was the last of the 40s and 50s sax honkers Big Jay McNeely. He emerged from the audience and took the stage to perform brilliant versions of There Is Something On My Mind and Rocking At The Insect Ball, among others. He may be 84 years of age, but he looks and sounds great and he is a true showman – finishing his set with a walk around the audience blowing his sax. A real highlight.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, with a real low point courtesy of Arch Hall Jr and the Archers. He apparently enjoys cult status due to his connection with some 50s B movies, but it is a cult I won’t be joining. His band were naff. Nuff said.

Next on was bluesman Billy Boy Arnold, who was excellent on I Wish You Would and I Ain’t Got You, but went on a tad too long and became just a little samey. Good stuff though, and better than the somewhat run of the mill rockabilly of Joe Clay, who kicked off with Don’t Mess With My Ducktail. He, in turn, was better than Lady Bo, who messed around on mostly Bo Diddley numbers, including Road Runner and Mona.

By this time the show was running an hour late, but there was no way I was going to miss the next section, a tribute to Memphis soul, featuring the Bo-Keys, with the excellent wah-wah guitar work of Skip Pitts, the trumpet of Ben Cauley, drumming of the ‘Memphis bulldog’ Howard Grimes and keyboard work of Archie Turner, plus an excellent horn section. First guest was Sir Mack Rice, looking thinner than the last time I saw him, who was adequate on I’m Coming Home, Baby Please Don’t Go, and his most famous composition, Mustang Sally. Next was Eddie Floyd, who showed plenty of energy on his hits including Raise Your Hand, 634-5789 (written for Wilson Pickett), Big Bird and Knock On Wood, with a finale of the Falcons’ You’re So Fine with another former Falcon Mack Rice.

After a groovy version of Shaft from Skip Pitts, this section really took off with the arrival of the great Otis Clay. He was in superb form, running through Trying To Live My Life Without You, a surprising She’s About A Mover, I Can’t Help Myself and Got To Get Back To My Baby. Has he got a fantastic soul voice or what? Brilliant. But things were to get, if anything, even better, with the arrival on stage of William Bell, looking extremely dapper in a smart brown suit. It’s only a couple of months since I saw William at Porretta, but he was even better this time – helped of course by the Bo-Keys. He was great on Easy Going Out, Hard Coming In, and even better on I Forgot To Be Your Lover, Born Under A Bad Sign, You Don’t Miss Your Water and Trying To Love Two, before slipping into medley territory at the end.

By this time it was 3.15am and there were still two more acts to go. I have to admit that we bailed out at this point. A great evening though, and a great Stomp once again.

Nick Cobham