NEW ORLEANS - The Ponderosa Stomp, an annual roots-music festival in its 10th year, celebrates the influential but not necessarily famous movers and shakers of rock ‘n’ roll. It all began as a party in Ira “Dr. Ike” Padnos’ backyard.
A music- and vinyl records-loving anesthesiologist from Chicago, Padnos attended undergraduate school at Tulane University and then returned to New Orleans in 1995 after medical school and residency training. In Chicago and later in New Orleans, he staged music-filled birthday parties for himself.
Padnos booked blues, rhythm-and-blues, brass band and swamp pop musicians for his parties. Performers through the years included Magic Slim and the Teardrops, Earl King, Ernie Vincent, the Rebirth Brass Band, John Mooney and Little Freddie King.
When Padnos got married, he wanted especially special music for the wedding party.
“I went through my record collection and decided I wanted to hire people I’d loved but hadn’t got a chance to see too often,” he said last week.
The wedding music included R.L. Burnside, Henry Gray, Hubert Sumlin, Lil’ Band O’ Gold with Slim Harpo band members Rudy Richard and James Johnson and, James Burton from Shreveport, a guitarist who worked with Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. Wedding guest Eric Burdon, lead singer for the ‘60s British invasion band the Animals, grabbed a mic, too.
Michael Hurtt, a New Orleans country and rockabilly singer-guitarist who’d invited himself to the wedding party, encouraged Padnos to produce more music events.
“He said, ?If you can get these people to play a wedding, why can’t you book them in clubs?’ “ Padnos recalled.
Busy being an anesthesiologist, the doctor said he didn’t have time for it. But Hurrt persisted and Padnos eventually agreed, with conditions.
“I said, ?All right, but only if it’s all about the music and not about the ego and who presents,’” Padnos said. “Secondly, we had to find a proper venue.”
Padnos and Hurrt settled on the Circle Bar. The owners of the tiny bar on New Orleans’ Lee Circle agreed to house the shows.
Padnos and Hurrt, naming their informal organization the Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau, presented monthly shows at the Circle Bar. Events included the recently rediscovered ‘60s soul man Howard Tate and the Slim Harpo-inspired Tip On In Revue, featuring Lil’ Buck Sinegal, Richard and Warren Storm.
Because the Circle Bar shows didn’t necessarily cover their costs, the Mystic Knights chose to do one big annual show instead. They named their new festival the Ponderosa Stomp after an Excello Records release by swamp-blues artist Lazy Lester. Audaciously, they scheduled the Stomp between the two weekends of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
“And the idea all the while,” Padnos explained, “was that the Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau are about the unsung heroes of rock ‘n’ roll, the side men, the one-hit wonders, the influential groups and people who never got credit.”
Staged through the years at the Fine Arts Center, the Mid City Lanes Rock ‘n’ Bowl and House of Blues, the Ponderosa Stomp presented hundreds of essential yet often obscure artists.
The 2002 Stomp, for instance, featured Fats Domino’s producer and band leader Dave Bartholomew with the New Orleans musician said to be history’s most recorded drummer, Earl Palmer. For 2003’s Stomp, Padnos sought and found the long-in-obscurity singer of “Sea Of Love,” Phil Phillips. Baton Rouge’s John Fred Gourrier of John Fred and his Playboy Band and “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” fame appeared that year, too.
Subsequent Stomps featured New Orleans talent including Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Eddie Bo, Al “Carnival Time” Johnson as well as Elvis Presley band members Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, Texas psychedelic rock legend Roky Erickson, girl group stars Ronnie Spector, the Velvelettes and Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las, underground comic Rudy Ray Moore and ‘60s pop star Sam the Sham.
The 2011 Ponderosa Stomp includes a tribute to Excello Records, the Nashville label that released swamp-blues hits by Slim Harpo. Original Excello artists Carol Fran, Lazy Lester, Classic Ballou and Baton Rouge guitarist James Johnson are booked for the tribute.
There’s also a tribute to New Orleans studio owner and engineer Cosimo Matassa, featuring Allen Toussaint, Bartholomew, Henry, Robert Parker, Frankie Ford, Jean Knight and more.
The Stomp also features a music history conference, the Clandestine Celluloid Film Series and a record show.
Though the Ponderosa Stomp has grown and moved from the spring to the fall, its mission has not changed. It presents artists who made timeless music, pairing them with backing musicians who respect the classics they created.