Monday, May 04, 2009

Mr Duff is not long off the plane and has seen fit to deliver the
news on...

Ponderosa Stomp Day 2

The conference ran until 5pm, and under normal circumstances I would have
stayed until the bitter end. The last session however appeared to pretty much
be an opportunity for Dr John, Wardell Quezerque, and Bob French to tell each
other how great they all were. They’ve all put in their time and made some better
than great records so I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. I stuck around for
half an hour, didn’t feel I was learning anything much so took to opportunity to
head back to the hotel for a quick shower before night 2 of the Stomp started at 6pm.

I should maybe say at this point that although the House of Blues is a good venue

once you are inside, the security and the process for picking up your tickets is
immensely long, complex and for some reason they need to see your ID all the
time. That’s America though, I guess. It took me the best part of an hour to get to
the front of a fairly short queue on night one, so on night 2 I went early, about 4.30pm,
only to be told that the tickets wouldn’t be ready till about 5.30pm. Once you add
the queue to get in (yes, you queue twice, once for your tickets and once to get
in and be metal detected), I still didn’t catch the beginning of Jerry McCain’s set!
Moan, moan, grumble, grumble.

I guess it didn’t matter too much, Jerry made some of the greatest records for

Trumpet in the 50’s and some pretty cool ones for Jewel in the 60’s but that
all seems to have gone now. I’ve seen him a few times and he never fails to disappoint,
he was nothing if not consistent this time. After 10 minutes of slow blues (it could have
been one song, it could have been three songs, who knows?), I left. He may have
played that funny one he made in the 90’s where he warns the kids about the
dangers of drugs but it really wouldn’t have been worth the wait.

In the Parish Room, the Haunted Hearts revue had kicked off. I thought it was

Mike Hurtt’s rockabilly band, but they’d filled the band out with various checkmates
and others to include brass and electric piano. This was basically a South Louisiana
Swamp Pop review (taking a wide definition and allowing for Jay Chevalier’s inclusion
as a straight ahead 50’s rocker). When I went in, Jivin’ Gene was already singing.
This was a Ponderosa Stomp first and an acknowledged honour to get him to sing.
To be honest, I didn’t know that he was still alive. He was way better than I would
have expected too. Strong vocals, on the beat and a great groove from the band.
He did his own songs and a few swamp pop classics more associated with other artists.

The band really made it for all of the singers in the revue, perhaps Warren Storm’s

presence as drummer helped lock in the Louisiana groove, but we shouldn’t forget that
even the young guys have all been students of this sound for a long, long time.
That’s another reason why a lot of these artists seem a little stiff when they make
it over to the UK. They get matched up with limeys who may have spent a long time
perfecting their chops, that genuinely are good players but just don’t feel it like the
guys who have lived it.

Anyway, Warren is one of the real legends of South Louisiana, he never disappoints.

As a singing drummer he has a touch and sensitivity at complete odds with the
laughing, joking, cut-up he appears to be as a personality. The only other drummer
that comes to mind that has this sort of depth is maybe Levon Helm. Warren sang
‘Mama, Mama, Mama’, ‘The Prisoners Song’, ‘Rainin’ In My Heart’, like he had been
singing them for fifty years. Oh, wait, he has been singing them for fifty years - and
they’re still fresh as the Gulf Coast breeze.

I left Warren’s set to see Lazy Lester. Backed up by Lil’ Buck Sinegal and

the Top Cats with special guest Stanley ‘Buckwheat Zydeco’ Dural on the B3 Lester
played to his character and made it seem like he was just at home on the stage as
hanging out on his back porch. To be honest, he always sounds the same – great –
the only thing that changes is the backing band, and while Lil’ Buck and the Top Cats
are a world class combo, to my mind they are just too much as backing for what is
one man and his harmonica blues. They appeared to have the view that all of the
band had to be playing on all the songs – and there’s a lot of people – four or five
horns, piano, organ, guitar, bass, maybe more. It just created a big mushy noise
that didn’t allow the spare, economical quality of the Lester’s classic Excello sides to
come through. Add in the fact that every band member had to get a solo,
including Buckwheat, and it might as well have been my Uncle Frank playing
the moothy. A shame, in the right circumstances seeing Lazy Lester is like
having been there at the recordings.

Back upstairs and caught three songs from Jay Chevalier, including my favourites,

‘Billy Cannon’ and that other one about Fidel Castro, whatever it’s called.
He’s a big guy, wearing a red sequinned suit with a state of Louisiana embroidered
on the back of it, and that can’t fail to entertain.

There followed a bit of a break where they had a wedding on the big stage
I kid you not! Not cool, IMHO) and there was a band change up the stairs.
Time for fresh air and to catch up with old acquaintances. Back indoors to realise
I’d missed the first song or two from Robert Parker, one of the other main reasons
I wanted to go. Again, he was in fine form, well dressed in a long white suit, fit for
Sunday Service and his voice hasn’t changed a bit. I don’t know what age he
was but given he was the band leader at Club Tijuana and played tenor for
Professor Longhair, he must be older than he appeared. He was a real highlight
and the backing by Lil’ Buck and the Top Cats (joined this time by Herbert Hardesty,
Mr Domino’s old sax player) was perfect for this style of music. I eschewed
Long John Hunter’s set up the stairs cos when I’ve seen him before he seems to
suffer from the same old man’s blooz as Jerry McCain. The New Orleans revue/
tribute to Eddie Bo down the stairs was where it’s at for the next hour or so.

First up Al Jackson singing “Carnival Time”. He’s been belting this one since it was first

a hit back in and he doesn’t seem to have grown tired of it at all. Neither he should,
it’s a great song and he performs it with infectious good humour. A joy to behold.

Little Freddie King came on and gave us the Bad Chicken, (a wee change

from the Swine Flu, I suppose). A radically different arrangement from the
more spare one he performs with his own band but not unwelcome at all.

I think Ernie Vincent came on next and gave us a workout on his classic

‘The Dap Walk’, one of the scores of late 60’s tunes that appear to be based
on Archie Bell and The Drells ‘Tighten Up’. I’m not going to list everyone that
came on and played as part of this revue, you can look it up yourself on the
Stomp website. Most of the performers did one or two songs, all were at the very
least good, most great. Coming and going before wearing out their welcome.
That should perhaps be a lesson to those who seem to think you need to squeeze
every last bit of time out of a perfomer. Less is very often more. Oh, Jean Knight
was on the bill but if she was there, I must have been tying my shoelace at the time,
cos I never saw her.

I went up the stairs at this point to check out another unknown name, this time,

one LC Ulmer, I hoped he was no musical relation to the aforementioned James ‘Blood’
Ulmer. He couldn’t have been more distant. What I heard as I walked in was the most
violent trebly screech of percussive guitar and when I got to the stage I couldn’t believe
it was one old guy in dungarees and playing an acoustic. That’s right, an acoustic.
It was obviously amplified somehow but I’ve never heard an acoustic tortured
like this. You know the guitar breakdown in John Lee Hooker’s Sensation Records
version of Boogie Chillen? Well, it was like that but he kept it up for at least a half
an hour and a lot of songs rather than for a 10 second breakdown. Apparently Dr Ike
discovered this guy by accident at some blues festival. I really must Google this guy
too, and see if he has any recordings available.

Guitar ‘Lightnin’ Lee is a similar artist, he normally plays with just guitar and

drums, but for this show he seemed to have drawn a band around him, made up
mostly of young local guys who clearly had a lot of respect for him. It’s difficult to
pull off a heavy blues sound and keep it rockin’ but they managed it. I’m just sorry
I forgot to pick up his new double 7” record before I left the country. Now, does anyone
know if it was him who I saw play Human Fly last year? Or did I just
dream/hallucinate that one?

Back in the Big Room, I listened respectfully to Dan Penn and Bobby Emmons,

however I wasn’t in the mood for sensitive songs sung without drums.
No disrespect to the guys, I took the opportunity to go take in some fresh air
and dance a little to the DJ, Matty from the Royal Pendletons.

Lots of people seemed to be excited about Wanda Jackson. The Big Room

seemed to fill up in anticipation of her hitting the stage. These people presumably
haven’t seen her before however. I’m sure she’s a lovely lady and that voice is still
there but she appears to have no idea why we want to see her and what we want
to hear. The first time I ever saw her at Hemsby, she refused to sing "Funnel of Love"
- despite a strong portion of the audience singing it to her - because God wouldn’t
like it. She sang the one about bombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima though.
Clearly the Lord had no bones with that one. Puzzling. Anyway this time I wasn’t
fussed about seeing her but when I ventured in, she was yodelling. No kidding,
she was fucking yodelling. I didn’t wait to see if it brought the goats down from
the mountain, I just scooted to catch whatever else was on offer.

(Colin - I think that she's been performing "Funnel" lately)

What was on offer was Wiley and The Checkmates. A stunningly good R’n’B outfit.
They played hot, sweaty, beaty and Herbert Wiley himself danced like he had came
to enjoy his own band. A welcome surprise up next, an appeareance from Lattimore
Brown. Those unfamiliar with his long, strange and downright scary story should
check out the excellent Soul Detective and The B-Side blogs. Suffice to say that he
too sung like a man a lot less than half his age and seemed to take energy from the
band. Great to see him. Bobby Paterson up next, another one I can’t claim to know
much about but, the soulies were getting excited about him too. I had no complaints
about what I heard but needed to leave because I had no intention of missing one
second of what was due very soon.

Every year the Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau (the organisers
) pull something
out of the bag that makes my jaw drop in disbelief. This year, as I’m sure you
all know it was only the first appearance on stage ever since 1971 of ROY LONEY
and CYRIL JORDAN. Holy crap, if the Ledge wasn’t enough to sell it to me, this
certainly was.

The first thing that struck me as I edged my way to the from was the tiny

wee guy in the stripey top with a Dan Armstrong Plexiglass guitar. Surely that
wasn’t Cyril Jordan? He looked younger than me! It was Cyril however, he must
have kept that guitar in the attic since it was on the cover of the Teenage Head LP.
The other visually notable thing is that both Cyril and Roy are really small.
Neither can be more than 5 foot 5. Possibly the smallest set of front men outside of
Marriot & Lane. The energy level was huge, and if there ever was anything fractious
between Loney and Jordan there was no evidence of it on the stage. They both
seemed delighted to be there, and playing together again.

I tried to remember the set list, but I gave up after the third song – a cover of
"I Can’t Explain", something I really wasn’t expecting. Basically it was all Flamingo/
Teenage Head tracks with a few additions thrown in. Billy Miller came out
from the wings to sing "In The USA" the one track from the Chris Wilson era
(or as Billy calls it, the Sammy Hagar years). Yes, they did
"Shake Some Action" and announced that Ira Kaplan (sitting in on keyboards)
was going to sing it. He did but Cyril sang too. A clearly excited Roy Loney ran
on from the wings to join in on the ruckus.

Far too soon they ended up at "Teenage Head", Roy is one of Rock'n'Roll’s true
believers, a man totally possessed by the song. I wondered how they would
follow that. Billy announced there’s only one thing left to do and do that they did -
"Slow Death" turned all of our guts to clay. And then it was over. They DIDN’T play
"Heading for the Texas Border" or "Dr Boogie" and if they could leave these two greats
out, it only shows how much great material there is in the Groovies catalogue.
The A-Bones were perfect as backing, and now that they have rehearsed this set,
let’s hope this isn’t the last time it’s performed in public.

I hope to hell that they do - surely to Spain at least!

Ran upstairs to catch Roddy Jackson, former Specialty artist. He was a young ‘un

back in the day and he’s still pretty youthful now. He played the Rhythm Riot festival
in England's last year and there were good reports on that, although I wasn’t there so
can’t say for sure. I only saw one song which appeared to be his last. It was a lengthy
hard rocking piano led workout on something that appeared to be called ‘Let’s Rock
and Roll’ or something like that. I didn’t recognise it so I guess it’s not on the recent
Ace CD. I must have missed "Moose on The Loose", shame because on that evidence
he would have really rocked it.

Hard to imagine anyone following the Groovies/A-Bones show. In fact I think that

now Lux is gone there may only be one band left on the planet that could go one better.
Fortunately they were there. Having seen Question Mark and The Mysterians about
half a dozen times now, I feel confident in saying that as a live band, I don’t think
there’s anyone playing today that can touch them. Despite (or perhaps because of)
having a really simple sound they are absolutely riveting. As a front man, Q is unbeatable,
as he says himself “Why would I want to go see that Mick Jagger cat, when he knows
himself that I can do Mick Jagger a whole lot better than he can do himself”.
They must have played at least two hours, and there wasn’t a bit you would have
wanted cut. I was dancing the whole time too, but then again, so was everyone else
in the hall. Even with a two hour set, there was still tons of stuff in the Mysterians
catalogue they could have played. Highlights – for dancing to at least – the extended
‘Ten O’Clock’ and ‘Sally Go Round the Roses’. Q was eventually pulled off the stage
at 4.15am although I suspect that if he hadn’t been, he would have kept going til
the sun came up. After that, there was nothing to do but stroll back to the hotel,
clothes soaked in sweat and collapse, tired but happy.

I'm sure I've missed a few things out, but with such an embarassment of

riches, and the fact i'm writing this on the (first) plane home, that's all but inevitable.
I saw a few other bands over the next few days and attended a screening of the
documentary on the Swamp Pop supergroup Lil’ Band of Gold, but it all pales in
comparison to those three nights.

I guess that’s it til next year…

Post Script - As I got off the plane home, I noticed that the airport was covered in
posters and advertisement trappings for this Homecoming palaver that the ‘Big Cooncil’
at Holyrood are promoting. I never knew until that moment that this was a current
thing. I thought we were still preparing for it in a future year. Apparently not. There’s
(supposedly) a programme of over 300 events taking place as we speak. I never noticed
and I live here. Let’s hope it’s getting more attention overseas where it’s actually targeted.

(My thanks for Colin keeping us up to speed with this stramash,
quite the keeper of the faith his own self)

And don't forget - theres a PS event in NYC during the Summer. Details here.

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