By Brian Wise.
Ponderosa Stomp #1 – Thursday October 1, 2015 – New Orleans, LA
It might not raise a blip on the international music festival calendar but the bi-annual Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans this weekend is about as unique a cultural event as you will find anywhere in the world.
Celebrating ‘ the unsung heroes of American music,’ the Stomp was started in 2002 after director Dr Ike, aka Ira Padnos (who also works full-time in the medical field), celebrated his wedding with a huge party that included many of his favourite ‘obscure’ acts.
With the encouragement from friends, that brilliant idea soon turned into The Ponderosa Stomp, named after a Lazy Lester song, an event that is celebrating its twelfth incarnation with a music festival, conference and record fair.
Originally planned as an annual event the Stomp turned out to be too much work for its volunteer organisers, now known as the Mystic Knights of The Mau Mau, who decided that once every two years was more than enough to consume their energies. The venue has moved around over the years – and in 2006 after Katrina it moved to Memphis for one year – but is now back at the Rock ’n’ Bowl, scene of some its earliest incarnations.
The aim of the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation is ‘to ensure that the unsung heroes of American music are given their due: celebrated, included, and remembered, but most of all, heard – during their lifetimes.’ The list of participants has been impressive and includes Ronnie Spector, The Standells, Syl Johnson, Dr John, Sam The Sham, The Flamin’ Groovies, Billy Swann, Jimmy Scott, Roy Head, Dale Hawkins, Hubert Sumlin, Mary Weiss (The Shangri-Las)……you get the picture. This year’s cast includes New Orleans legend Irma Thomas, along with Barbara Lynn, Roy Head, Warren Storm, Freddy ‘Boom Boom’ Cannon, Brenda Holloway, Howard Grimes, Betty Harris, CC Adcock, the elusive PF Sloan and the great Augie Meyers (one of Bob Dylan’s favourite musicians).
Many of the names might be considered ‘one hit wonders’ but the great thing about the Stomp is that it celebrates their contribution to America’s music history and in the process uncovers some real unsung heroes. The first day of the festival is based around the Conference and Record Fair at the AC Marriott Hotel in the CBD. The sessions dealt with the histories of Scram Records (with its founder Al Scramuzza), Swamp Pop (with Gene Terry and renowned British author John Broven), Texas Music (with Royce Porter and Jim Oertling) and a tribute to the great Harold Batiste. There were also Q&A’s with Willie Hightower, Billy Boy Arnold and, most amusing of all PF Sloan.
Sloan was selling his recent autobiography, What’s Exactly The Matter With Me, and he did so with a series of exceptionally amusing and sometimes surreal stories. As Phil tells it his ‘mother and sister fell in love with Elvis Presley and they fell out of love with me.’ But not long afterwards a young PF finds himself in a music store with Elvis who teaches him how to play guitar. ‘Bet you want to learn how to play this thing, kid,’ says the King, who promptly shows him. Then, as a 15 year old Sloan is signed to Screen Gems on the West Coast and is working with Lou Adler who asks him to write some songs for Anne Margaret.
In the meantime, Sloan hears Dylan and immediately becomes a fan. (Later, they are to meet and Sloan records ‘Ballad Of A Thin Man’). Of course, Sloan’s folkie tendencies shine through on ‘Eve Of Destruction,’ which he wrote for Barry Maguire. Sloan pointed out how relevant the lyrics still were and cites the line. ‘marches alone won’t bring integration.’
Sloan claims that Brian Epstein send Screen Gems demos by The Beatles and the Lou Adler tuned them down saying, ‘These guys are just an imitation of the Everly Brothers. This is shit.’ Adler also managed to turn down the Rolling Stones when Andrew Loog Oldham also sent some demos.
The stories flowed thick and fast and Sloan added at the end, ‘I hope you buy a copy of my book. I need to get my computer fixed.’ Let’s hope he can.
Tomorrow there are more conference sessions and Sloan will be appearing in the music program which begins at the Rock ’n’ Bowl running from 6.30pm until around 2.30am the next morning.