The Ponderosa Stomp began as little more than a backyard party for LSU Medical Center anesthesiologist Ira "Dr. Ike" Padnos to gather some of his favorite musicians from years past — legends and one-hit-wonders alike. Now the Stomp has expanded to take in a music conference, a museum exhibit, and two long nights of performance at the French Quarter House of Blues. Compared with the giant, expansive crowd at Fest, this is a decidedly nerdy affair — a mix of indie-rock types, rock critics, and wizened fans, almost all white, all lusting for the living voices of those lost 45s.
But credit Ike — he puts together super-tight bands for his heroes or otherwise gives them room to shine. If you didn't know Little Joe Washington, he rocked hard anyway and sang his guts out, just him and his electric piano. And if you couldn't quite recall the tune, the guy at the next table was there to remind you: " 'Since I Met You Baby,' by Ivory Joe Hunter. Great song." And indeed it was. Dale Hawkins was euphoric on the mainstage, with backing from Elvis Presley guitar god James Burton. Howard Tate's soulful falsetto was as precise and piercing as most singers' midrange.
And then there were the Bo-Keys, a Stax-type instrumental outfit, back for a return visit to the Stomp. Bo-Key Skip Pitts is best known for the guitar work he did on Isaac Hayes's Shaft soundtrack, and once again he dutifully reprised the famous theme, a round-faced, rotund ball of energy, with a beatific smile and a growled speaking voice that split the difference between Howlin' Wolf and Tone Loc.
But it was on the band's other instrumental offerings that he truly rocked, leading fierce, compressed grooves with some of his long-time henchmen, among them the legendary conga player Uganda Roberts. Then he introduced Dennis Coffey, another lost legend of psychedelic guitar. Coffey — in cap and glasses — grimaced and shook as he pounced on those grooves, sending shimmery, skittery runs up and down the fretboard, shaking his wah-wah for all it was worth. My wife yelled in my ear: "A middle-aged white guy who looks like my dentist — shredding!"
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