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Riding the Ponderosa 

For the fourth year in a row, the Ponderosa Stomp brings the legends and unsung heroes of blues, soul and rock 'n' roll together for two nights of unforgettable music. This year's lineup includes Link Wray, Blowfly, Scotty Moore and, in a special performance, Buckwheat Zydeco playing a Hammond B-3 organ in an R&B set with Li'l Buck Sinegal. For the complete lineup, including performers and times, see www.ponderosastomp.com.

Like many Stomp performers, Brenton Wood made an indelible mark in pop history for a handful of songs, 1967's 'Gimme Little Sign' and 'Oogum Boogum' chief among them. He never stopped performing --recording in the 1970s with Shirley Goodman of Shirley and Lee fame -- but he never equaled the success of those two soul/pop gems. Today he lives in southern California, where he performs concerts, writes songs and learns to work with computers.

He got his start in 1964 while still in high school. 'I was reading a newspaper ad, and the ad said, 'Can you write songs? Can you sing songs? Then send us a copy,'' Wood recalls by phone from his home near Palm Springs. 'So I sent all my songs and they liked them.' He was 16 and living in Compton at the time. 'I would write those songs and would call those girls up. They'd listen to those songs and say, 'I like that' -- that's how I got a date. That was fun, better than hanging out on the corner.'

Though he wrote 'Gimme Little Sign,' Wood wasn't the first person to record it. Ricky Nelson took the first shot at it, followed by Wilbert Wade, who went to Wood's high school. As Wood faced the possibility of a life working in factories, he took a crack at recording the song. For his version, he changed the chorus and it made all the difference.

'I was looking at the rhythm and the way I would feel good in the track,' Wood says, 'and to jump with the track, I have to sing it a certain way to make it interesting.' He sings, 'Just gimme some kind of time girl,' stressing 'gimme,' 'kind' and 'time.'

'That's what I think about,' he says, 'making it upbeat.'

The year 1967 was also a good year for Archie Bell, who performs Wednesday night at the Stomp. With the Drells, he recorded, 'Tighten Up,' and as Bell announced in the song's opening bars, they were from Houston, Texas. 'We not only sing, but we can dance as good as we walk,' he boasts in the song's intro.

'I heard a DJ say a few months before we recorded 'Tighten Up' that nothing good ever came from Texas, because of the Kennedy assassination,' Bell says by phone from North Carolina. 'I wanted people to know we were from Houston, Texas, and that we were good.'

They got their start winning talent shows while attending E.O. Smith Junior High School. Skipper Lee Frazier, a mailman and disc jockey who produced many of the talent contests the Drells won, managed them. He paired the then-vocal group with an instrumental band he managed -- the TSU Toronados -- and 'Tighten Up' was the result.

The song itself, Bell says, was the direct result of being drafted into the army.

'I was rooming with a guy named Billy, I was feeling depressed, I knew they were going to try and get me,' Bell says. 'He came in doing his little dance. I started laughing and it made me forget about my problem for a minute. I said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'I'm doing the tighten up.' I started writing the song and gave him half the credit. A few weeks later, we were in the studio and recorded it never knowing it was going to be a national hit.'

Shortly after the song became a regional hit, Bell was drafted and stationed in Germany. Rather than risk losing momentum, the band performed with stand-in Archie Bells around the country, where it ran into other bands claiming to be Archie Bell and the Drells.

'They had nine white boys out of Nashville Tenn., ' he says. 'Back then, they didn't have computers and all these things and video, so people really didn't know.'

In January 1968, 'Tighten Up' went gold. When Armed Forces Radio played it, he told the soldiers around him that was his song, but nobody believed him at first. 'Then it came out in the army paper saying I was the richest GI since Elvis,' Bell says. 'When they found out I hated it 'cause I couldn't get rid of nobody. Guys were following me -- I had an entourage you wouldn't believe.'

He returned stateside in late 1969 and shortly after met producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. With them, Archie Bell and the Drells went on to record more hits, chief among them being 'I Just Can't Stop Dancing.' It, however, didn't change the language the way 'Tighten Up' did.

Editorial assistance was provided by Ian Manheimer.

click to enlarge According to Brenton Wood (pictured circa 1970s), while in high school 'I would write those songs and would call those girls up. They'd listen to those songs and say, 'I like that' -- that's how I got a date.'
  • According to Brenton Wood (pictured circa 1970s), while in high school 'I would write those songs and would call those girls up. They'd listen to those songs and say, 'I like that' -- that's how I got a date.'
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