(Guest review by Gentleman John Battles) In the aftermath Ponderosa Stomp this killer annual festival it’s hard to summarize who and what were the best, I guess it doesn’t matter when there's so much going on at once, and you're on your feet for so long that even the short walk from the patio (thoroughly wasted as a "music venue." But, they had nice metal chairs!) to the main room, has your dogs barking. Chances are you missed some of the best stuff, but you do your best to see as much as possible...
In wake of Fats Domino's retirement, Swamp Pop Superstar and Stiff Records artist (Well, half a 45) Johnnie Allan couldn’t really take his place, but he'd make the logical first pick successor. Though I'm generally not a big fan of white screaming Blues mamas, Joyce Harris was really saying something. Or, she would have been, if the mix was worth half a damn during her set. 95-year old Honeyboy Edwards, the pride of Chicagoans who still dig authentic blues (with no funk, jazz or Hendrix influence), natcherly did his thing, the For-Real Delta Blues, with a small, sympathetic backing band. However, playing on the porch, in the patio, Edwards was impossible to see, and not much easier to hear, with all the yammering going on.
The real contest would be to see which of Friday night's closers would walk away with the prize. Thee Midniters and The Trashmen were both as good as I could have possibly imagined, but, for very different reasons. While possessed of only two original members, bassist Jimi Espinosa, and one of the saxman (Lo siento mucho, I forgot his name), Thee Midniters put on a tight, professional, and just plain unbelievably good set. They did ALL the right songs, and none of the ballads. They were there to represent as Thee Midniters, and that they did, laying it on thick and heavy with Garage Rock and Ass kickin' Soul and R&B. Original lead singer Lil' Willie, who alternates between singing with Thee Miditers and preaching, was nowhere to be found, but a confident, killer-diller, young frontman did the band's original material and covers of the day justice. If that wasn’t enough, Kid Congo Powers sang lead with his heroes on "I Found a Peanut." I told you they did ALL the right songs. Man! Those guys entertained the living shit out of me, comprende?
The Trashmen delivered their usual cool Surf/50's Rock’n’Roll/Rockabilly set with tight vocal harmonies, a savage guitar attack, and keeping it in the family ("You're DAMN RIGHT!" one of their wives told me), a new drummer in bassist Bob Bert's Son. Besides laying down the Bird Dance Beat like nobody's biz, he also did the best "Bird" call since the late, great Steve Wahrer. It was my sincere hope that they'd let him sing "Surfin' Bird," but The Trashmen follow a code. Only original members are afforded that honor. The verdict ? Thee Midniters can turn any venue into a ballroom in East L.A., while The Trashmen can turn any venue into a car show in The Midwest. They BOTH won!
Roy Head gave probably his best performance of the, roughly half-dozen I'd seen. He was in champion vocal form, and worked the microphone in such a way that Roger Daltrey would have thrown his mike in the trash, and Bruce Lee would have retired his nunchuks. But it was all over in about 5 songs. OK, disappointments were few, but that rates high on my list. Also high on my bummer list: I missed Barbara Lynn. I know, the line forms on the left, beat my ass. But, I was so exhausted at that point I had to go to the patio, and relax on one of those challenging metal chairs. Next thing you know, I'd missed Barbara, but the consolation was that I found out that Ronnie Spector was making a surprise appearance. Performing her two biggest hits, Ronnie was all over the stage, singing her heart out, and looking like pure sex. I'm just sayin'…
Sugar Pie DeSanto had the audience in her grasp for the whole set, in which she performed what looked like upside-down ballet (limber does not describe this classily-attired, proudly pushing 75, former Chess Recording Artist), sang like she had demons (well, friendly demons), and did a slo-mo Iggy Pop descent from the stage to the floor (I'd swear the people held her up over their heads for a few minutes, but, I was pretty far back, and, naturally, this fantastic Rock’n’Roll moment was not captured by a spotlight), walking the floor in it's entirety, still singing, and returning to the stage to walk the line between sass and class, carrying both in each hand. OH, MY GOD. I'm still wondering if that really happened?
On the Rockabilly front Huelyn Duvall, only recently making his mark on the festival circuit since I saw him burn Gunther Murphy's in Chicago to a cinder about 9 or 10 years ago, put the "Rock" in Rockabilly with no concessions to nostalgia. Joe Clay, too, did his usual raving set, half of which was spent in the audience, but he was only allowed three songs this time! Just like last year, just as it was getting good to the people, it was time for him to go. I wish they'd let him do his usual, staggering six-song set, but, always good to see him, anyway. Red Simpson, the living heir to the Kingdom of Truck-Driving music, put on one of the finest, and best-received, sets of the whole weekend. He looked in great shape, and sang with honesty and dignity. And he was a Hell of a lot more fun than you'll probably ever have at the reopened Ryman Auditorium. Young Jessie performed a rousing selection of Jump Blues, R&B, and Black Rock’n’Roll! Can you dig it? I knew that you could.
Meanwhile, back on the patio...one man band from Austin, Homer Henderson put on a rockin', and varied (his claims, in the pages of Roctober that a one man band can only do Bo Diddley and Jimmy Reed riffs simply did not ring true) set, closing out with the classic singalong "Lee Harvey Was a Friend of Mine," and some off-color humor. Homer also played bass with Eve and The Exiles, featuring newlyweds, Eve and Mike Buck, Austin's most seasoned purveyor of The Big Beat, and, now (finally!) owner of Antone's Record Store. The two were married on the patio, or backstage, depending on who's telling it. Eve and The Exiles made with the Blues-based Garage Power sounds, bringing the legendary T. Tex Edwards of The Nervebreakers y mucho mas up to sing a frantic version of "Move It,” the super monster gurl put-down Rockabilly punker that Tex made a standard with Tex and The Saddletramps, Loafin Hyaenas and The Swingin' Cornflake Killers ( I told you, "Mucho mas").
Duane Eddy closed out Night Two, playing beautifully, though, from where I stood, it was sometimes hard to hear him, with all these people yammering away during his set (I don't know why they didn’t go to the patio if they didn’t want to listen). He didn’t really crank things up a notch until the set closers, (of course) "Peter Gunn" and "Rebel Rousers.” Despite the sheer scarcity of his set, it was a bit anticlimactic, compared to the one-two punch of Thee Midniters and The Trashmen, the night before.
But, the fun wasn’t over, not by half.
Over at The One-Eyed Jacks, the after party was in full swing before you could wipe the gunk out of your eyes. It's highly unlikely that anybody got a good night's sleep the night before, or the night before that. But, Rock’n’Roll will out. The much-hyped opening act The Jim Jones Revue (whose frontman led the Stooges/MC5/Hendrix-driven Thee Hypnotics some 20 years ago), never failed to impress with a high energy stage act, but, I found myself liking, not LOVIN', them as a whole. OK, so this line forms on the right if you've just gotta beat my ass. The A-Bones put on their usual set, refusing to act of sound like they’ve past teenagedom yet, IS pulling out some rarities, and bringing up The Great Gaylord and Lazy Lester (what can I say about Lazy Lester? He The Ponderosa Stomp) to perform a raucous "Oo Poo Pah Doo.”
When the smoke cleared, Roy Loney and Cyril Jordan of The Flamin' Groovies were gearing up for another triumphant Stomp appearance (last year's set is still being talked about in "DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?!" tones) they did not disappoint. Playing a heapin' helpin' of selections from the first three Groovies LPs (plus one track from their 10" debut, "Sneakers"), and later cuts like "Tallahassee Lassie," "Jumpin' In The Night," and of course, the shoulda been-hit "Shake Some Action." Roy utilized all his theatrical training, and made like the stage was a big canvas and he was the paintbrush. Iggy's doing fine where he's at, but he could still take notes. Needless to say (but I'll say it, anyway), Loney wailed and bellowed like a lion being romanced by a nearsighted elephant. Cyril shot shrapnel from ever corner with his plexiglass guitar, and The A-Bones hung on to their every move. Cyril told great stories, and Roy even dedicated the "Having Four Sticks of Dynamite in Every Hand at a Rave-Up With The Yardbirds" "Road House," to yours truly. What a guy!
Well, I couldn’t take it all in, but I had more fun than the law should allow in a city that tolerates smoking (both kinds) and drinking in or out of doors, like it ain't nothin' (and if you must pry, no I didn’t do either. Rock’n’Roll was my drug!). For a few days, we had our little microcosm, where it wasn’t unusual to meet people with similar interests (like Chicago when I first moved here), with whom you could make fast friends (again, like Chicago, when I first moved here). The people in N'orlins are generally very polite, making it that much harder to come back home. But, here I am. Once more, I lived to tell.