Friday, October 04, 2013

Ponderosa Stomp: First Report

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NEW ORLEANS -- I'm originally from the Sooner State. That's the excuse I use when I show up somewhere way too early. (When I'm running late I have to get more creative with my excuses.) So blame it on Oklahoma for me arriving at the DBA club an hour before the party was supposed to start.

Luckily, I was in the Frenchman Street area of New Orleans, so I didn't have a problem finding a party while I waited. It's an artsy and very lively little district with bars and bookstores, less sleazy (I didn't see any Larry Flynt clubs) and overtly touristy than Bourbon Street. 

Right down the street from DBA, a brass band had begun to congregate. When I first was heading for The club there was just a drummer and tuba player pooting forth some semblance of song. But by the time I checked out the empty club and headed back, they had grown into a full band. Several folks were dancing in the street, cab drivers patiently negotiating their way around them. Some of the crowd that had gathered looked like tourists or college kids.

IMG_3394By the time I got back to DBA, the event that attracted me there had started. This was the annual Hip Drop, the first official musical event of The Ponderosa Stomp. This basically is an all-night (well, close. It's supposed to go on until 3 a.m.) record hop. The show features DJs from all over the doing 30-minute sets featuring cool old 45s.

In these troubled times, when someone sees "DJ" they automatically think of techno, house or even disco. Not so here. Like the music celebrated at the Ponderosa Stomp itself, the music featured at the Hip Drop consisted of old R&B, soul, rockabilly with some '60s garage-band sounds and a little surf music thrown in -- mostly by bands and singers who never became famous. In a small town like Santa Fe sometimes I feel fairly alone in my love for this stuff. So it was a real pleasure seeing a packed club full of people dancing and shouting to these crazy sounds.

Ponderosa Stomp Record ShowThursday
Among the DJs last night were Miriam Linna and Billy Miller the owners of the much beloved Norton Records in New York. Reissuing these crazy sounds -- forgotten works by forgotten artists is the major part of Norton's business, so Billy and Miriam (pictured above) know their way around this material.

And speaking of Norton Records, earlier in the day, over at the Ponderosa Stomp Record Show, I bought a bunch of 45s that had been salvaged from the Hurricane Sandy disaster at Norton's warehouse last year. Then walking from the conference center at the Wyndham Riverfront back to my hotel, I got caught in an afternoon rain and my bag got soaked. I took the records out of their jackets and let them dry. I think they survived yesterday's lesser storm. (I'll play some on Terrell's Sound next week to see how they sound.)

Swamp Dogg at Ponderosa Stomp Record Show Thursday
The conference on Thursday also was fun. One of the speakers was Jerry Williams, Jr., better known as Swamp Dog. Born in Virginia to parents who were musicians, Swamp started recording in the mid-1950s under the name of Little Jerry and later “Little Jerry Williams.” His Swamp Dogg persona didn’t emerge until 1970, after working for years as an in-house songwriter for music publishing companies.

"I thought I was a great songwriter," he said, talking about his early career. "I thought I would set Tin Pan Alley on its ass."

Recording on a myriad of different labels, and starting his own company, Swamp Dogg Entertainment Group, the price of independence was leaner record sales and relative obscurity.

Although he's known to be cranky at times, ("I'm not as political as I am angry and belligerent," he told the Ponderosa Stompers)  unlike many overlooked musicians from his era, Swamp Dogg doesn't seem bitter.

"I really feel God is watching over me. And He likes me," Swamp said.

Charles Brimmer & Richard Caiton: New Orleans Soul MenThat also was the case with two New Orleans soul singers who spoke at the conference Thursday.

Both Charles Brimmer and Richard Caiton, who recorded in the '60s with New Orleans R&B icons like Dave Bartholomew, Wardell Quezergue and Senator Jones, both realized at some point that the music biz was not for them. "I thought I was going to have hit after hit after hit," Caiton said. "Instead, I had miss after miss after miss."

Both men went on to college -- Brimmer financing his studies by constant gigging -- and both did ok for themselves in their chosen fields (Brimmer in business, Caiton with a career in education.) Each talked about how the music industry cruelly takes advantaged of young people with starry-eyed ambitions of fame. But neither let such experiences sour their lives.

Brimmer, Caitron and Swamp Dogg will be playing tonight at the Ponder Stomp at the Rock 'n' Bowl.