Ponderosa Stomp Concerts
7 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Fri.-Sat.
House of Blues, 225 Decatur St., 310-4999; www.hob.com
Memphis music institutions Sun and Stax records are enshrined in that city's museums. Compare that to New Orleans, where musical holy places like Cosimo Matassa's J&M Studios is now split into laundromats and homes, and legendary hotspots like the Dew Drop Inn and Club Tijuana have been left to the ravages of time.
New Orleans, however, has a living history shrine. The annul Ponderosa Stomp — celebrating the one-hit torchbearers of blues, R&B and rock 'n' roll of the 1950s, '60s and '70s — presents living legends, both on stage and in museums. The music festival has expanded to exhibitions and ongoing programming through partnerships with the Louisiana State Museum and Louisiana Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and it has established a national reputation via concert showcases at New York City's Lincoln Center.
All of the concerts, interviews and oral history presentations help "preserve the music and enhance the legacy" of the artists, says Stomp founder Ira Padnos.
In 2002, Stomp founders the Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau went from presenting informal rock 'n' roll shows at Circle Bar to hosting several nights of shows on Jazz Fest weekends. Those annual showcases — the authority and the final word on rock 'n' roll's obscure heroes on the fringe — moved to a midweek event and now debut as a stand-alone, "destination" event in September. Other events include film screenings (see "Rock and Rolling," p. 48), a record show, an art gallery show and more.
This year's concerts — held at the House of Blues (Sept. 23-24) — feature another round of rock's quiet legends, from "Surfin' Bird" proto-punk group The Trashmen and Stax soul singer (and Wu-Tang Clan sample source) Wendy René, to Chess R&B singer Sugar Pie DeSanto and the "King of Twang" himself, guitar man Eddy.
While the Stomp continues to grow and "formalize," Padnos says the concerts still offer their celebrated raw, garage rock energy and intimacy.
"We still try to keep it the ol' time rock 'n' roll house party — the artists and performers still connect in a way that makes it special, like a family reunion," Padnos says. "It's always a challenge as events get bigger to keep the personality of the event. (We'll) control the growth of the Stomp so it doesn't lose the vitality and spirit behind it."
That includes keeping a roster of handpicked favorites, selected by that core group of music fans — kicking back a few beers listening to records in someone's living room — that established the Stomp in 2002.
"It's been branded and it's doing its job of letting people know the story behind the music," Padnos says. "When they come to it, they're going to go home knowing about the music and having seen some great performances, often by people they never knew about."
Eddy, known for his songwriting partnership with Lee Hazlewood and late-'50s instrumental hits like "Rebel Rouser" and "Shazam!," never thought his songs would last this long. (He's now a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, and the recent recipient of MOJO magazine's 2010 MOJO Icon Award.)
"We never knew in those days, and you never know in these days, if (a hit record) might be your last, the next one might not click, or the public might now like it," he says. "But I was lucky. I had a string of them.
"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 didn't get it. But the kids got it. I remember they used to say, 'Rock 'n' roll will never last.' Well, here we are 50 years later, plus, and I'm still working."
The Stomp carries an "Unsung Heroes" tagline (also the name of an accompanying exhibit at the Louisiana State Museum), celebrating the footnotes of rock history who never got their due or who deserve another listen.
"They're given a chance, one, to revitalize their career, but also to have that second blaze of glory," Padnos says. "And that's hard, because a lot of artists never got that opportunity the first time around."
That goes especially for Louisiana musicians on the bill, whose influence may have rubbed off on locals who went on to become greats, but they never got the lion's share. The Stomp plucks directly from the source, gathering artists like Joe Clay, a rockabilly and swamp pop star whose last gig was driving a school bus in Gretna. Clay's Ed Sullivan appearance (backing Elvis) was canceled, the Vik Records label dropped him, and his supergroup (with Dr. John, among others) never recorded — but he left a few hits like "16 Chicks" and "Ducktail."
This year the Stomp also features Bert Miller and Doug Ardoin, founders of the Eunice, La.'s The Boogie Kings, as well as Tommy Brown, the blues player who coined the term "I ain't lyin'!", and 94-year-old Honeyboy Edwards, one of the last living links to the Delta blues — which, Padnos says, raises the question of whether his heroes, many approaching 80 and beyond, are fit to play. And then there are artists who, if not physically retired from their instruments, are retired spiritually from the "devil's music."
"We've had artists — blues singers, soul singers — who've converted to God, and only sing gospel," Padnos says. "Billy Emerson, who recorded for Sun, James 'Sugar Boy' Crawford — it's sometimes challenging. Although you love their music you have to be respectful with their decision."
At previous Stomps, Gatemouth Moore, a Natchez, Miss., bluesman and revivalist preacher, decided he could perform some of his secular material, Padnos says, but Crawford was adamant he would only perform gospel. "And we said that was OK. We realized how important 'Sugar Boy' was in New Orleans rhythm and blues."
Getting the legends to break out of their shells and back into the spotlight often produces priceless moments — for instance, Link Wray, just months before his death in 2005, kissing the feet of Elvis' guitarist Scottie Moore, saying "You're my idol," or Dead Kennedys bassist Klaus Fluoride backing the Legendary Stardust Cowboy in 2009.
Eddy says he's sticking with his early instrumental material, but he won't be jumping onstage with other performers. "I don't want to mess up anybody else's show," he says, laughing. "I have enough trouble getting through my own. ... I've got an album here by Sugar Pie DeSanto that I've had for decades. I'd like to see her in person, if I get the chance."