Field Reportings from Issue #74
PONDEROSA PARADISE: Admit it — Getting worked up for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2008 isn’t quite so easy when headliners include Billy Joel and Tim McGraw. But there is still a mighty fine reason to make tracks to the Big Easy come late April: the seventh annual Ponderosa Stomp.
Dedicated to promoting the overlooked greats of the blues, garage rock, funk and soul, rockabilly, swamp pop, and New Orleans R&B, this year’s Stomp features two big nights of talent, April 29 and 30, spread across three stages at the House of Blues and the Parish, New Orleans. This year, the roster includes ’60s girl-group legends Ronnie Spector (the Ronettes) and Mary Weiss (the Shangri-Las), R&B organ maestro the Mighty Hannibal, psych-rock icon Roky Erickson, pint-sized rockabilly pioneers the Collins Kids, garage grooves courtesy of ? and the Mysterians, Motor City soul man Nathanial Meyer, Stax Records artist William Bell (“You Don’t Miss Your Water”), sultry R&B siren Barbara Lynn (“You’ll Lose A Good Thing”), and jazz iconoclast James Blood Ulmer.
That lineup might seem far-ranging, but it reflects the aesthetics of the Mystical Knights of the Mau Mau, the non-profit group that drives this annual shindig (which is produced by MK Charities Inc.) and the other projects of the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation. “The mission statement of our organization is to celebrate the legacy, revitalize the musical careers, and preserve the history of the unsung heroes of American music,” says Stomp founder Ira “Dr. Ike” Padnos.
For acts deep in retirement such as soul vocalist Betty Harris and blues guitarist Dennis Binder, well-timed Ponderosa appearances have revitalized long dormant careers. But the big draw for most musicians is the same as it is for fans: a chance to see, and interact with, some of the coolest cats in the history of American music.
“I’m a fan of music, all kinds of music,” says Larry Collins of the Collins Kids, apropos of his delight at appearing on such a diverse bill. “I’m a huge fan of the blues. Rockabilly is just a combination of hyper Pentecostal music, Hank Williams, and the blues. If a picker’s got the gift, I dig it. I don’t care what they’re playing, from Bach to ‘Whistle Bait.'”
The roots of this get-together go back to 2000. Music buff Padnos was already legendary for throwing annual parties with entertainment by the likes of R.L. Burnside, Earl King and C.C. Adcock, and beloved in the community for dispensing casual medical care to artists. But when he tied the knot that year, he turned the wedding reception into the biggest hootenanny yet, with over a dozen of his all-time favorite performers. Friends began pressing him to book monthly shows, which gave birth to the Mau Mau (as in Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “Feast of the Mau Mau”). When those gigs outgrew their home, the Stomp rose up to take their place.
After Hurricane Katrina, organizers relocated to Memphis for the Fifth Annual Stomp in 2005. But hosting the event in an alternate city actually prompted them to step up activity upon returning home. “Memphis still had a lot of musical landmarks, like Sun Studios,” notes Padnos. “And the Stax Museum had been built. They were able to have tours led by musicians, question-and-answer sessions, and the fans seemed to really appreciate that.”
This year, with assistance from the Louisiana State Museum and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, festivities will include the First Annual Ponderosa Stomp Music Conference, featuring music clinics, oral histories and panel discussions.
Expect to see Lorrie Collins, Larry’s older sister, at least twice during the daytime conference. Not only is she participating in a roundtable discussion about female pioneers in rock (hosted by journalist Holly George-Warren), but chances are she won’t skip the presentation by Bob Sullivan, original engineer of the Louisiana Hayride. Even though the Collins Kids have never played New Orleans, returning to the Bayou State is a homecoming of sorts.
“The first time I was on a stage was at the Louisiana Hayride,” Lorrie recalls. “My parents drove us down there, and I auditioned for the producer. He thought I was great, and asked if I wanted to go out and sing a couple songs. So I did it, and, of course, I’ve got a strong voice. And Hank Williams heard me, stuck his head in the door and gave me a thumbs up!”
— KURT REIGHLEY
WHO’S ON FIRST VERSE?: Besides the hit-or-miss ritual of the National Anthem, musicians and Major League Baseball are not likely partners, a dynamic that ex-Dream Syndicate frontman Steve Wynn hopes to remedy with a forthcoming song collection which brings a pop perspective to America’s favorite pastime.
Wynn — who performed with Dan Stuart (above) in a rare reunion of their mid-’80s side-project duo Danny & Dusty on January 12 at the Bowery Ballroom in New York — has for years been plotting The Baseball Record, featuring songs about Mark McGwire and Sandy Koufax among others. It took running into Minus 5 maestro Scott McCaughey at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame party for R.E.M. early last year for it to become a reality. McCaughey shared Wynn’s passion for the game, leading to a feverish exchange of song ideas in the months that followed.
“I think because baseball is so slow and so open-ended, it gives you more time to talk about things….It’s very rock ‘n’ roll in that’s it’s very much me-against-the-world,” says Wynn. “I don’t think we could have done the same kind of record about football or basketball.”
The album brings Wynn, a lifelong Los Angeles Dodgers fan, back to his former life as a teenage sportswriter in Santa Monica, where he dreamt of one day working as a beat writer for Sports Illustrated, a plan that was changed by the punk-rock explosion of 1977.
R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Wynn’s drummer Linda Pitmon joined the recording sessions, which took place last December. While sessions included frequent Google searches for stats and batting averages, Wynn and McCaughey discovered the best songs drew metaphorical lessons from baseball’s past, such as the tale of power hitter Ed Delahanty, who was the Babe Ruth of his time but battled alcoholism and died mysteriously in 1903.
At press time, the album has no label or release date, although Wynn said he hopes it will accommodate this year’s season. He’s looking forward to introducing the music to sportswriters. “We had such a good time making it,” Wynn said. “If we get a pair of World Series tickets, we will have succeeded.”
IN-HOUSE ROUNDUP: Congratulations to Tess Mangum Ocana, winner of the drawing for a Gibson guitar in our recent reader survey. And thanks to all others who took the time and effort to respond to the survey….
A transciption error in last issue’s MVP interview with harmonica player Mickey Raphael incorrectly identified the film Blue Collar as being a Hal Needham movie. The text should have read that Raphael had done soundtrack work on “Blue Collar AND a Hal Needham movie”….
If you’re in Austin for South By Southwest, come see our No Depression official showcase at Pangaea on Wednesday March 12, with Daniel Lanois, Bonnie Bramlett, Bruce Robison, the Felice Brothers, and Blue Mountain.