Saturday, October 05, 2013

PONDEROSA STOMP: SECOND REPORT


I always liked The Sonics and thought they were pretty cool. But after seeing them tonight in New Orleans I'm a complete zealot. I'm actually embarrassed that I'm going to have to explain just who these guys from Tacoma, Washington are to so many of you gentle readers. Fact is, The Sonics -- who played at the Midtown Rock 'n' Bowl in New Orleans on the first concert of The 2013 Ponderosa Stomp -- are woefully under-recognized and under-appreciated by the masses.

So here's the nutshell history of The Sonics starting back in the mid-'60s: They were teenagers in Tacoma who worshiped another influential local band The Wailers. They recorded two albums -- Here Are The Sonics and Boom -- on the tiny Etiquette label (both produced by Wailers bassist Buck Ormsby). In those two albums were some of the rawest, wildest rock ever heard. Little Richard was the main inspiration, one of the band members said at a panel discussion Friday. It showed. On top of that, Gerry Roslie's voice lived up to the title of one of the group's signature songs: "Psycho." He sang as if he was being burned alive.
Larry Parypa of The Sonics
Larry Parypa

Much of The Sonic's material was fairly typical for garage bands of the day. "Money," "Do You Love Me," "Roll Over Beethoven," Good Golly Miss Molly," and, like all those other Pacific Northwest groups like the Kingsmen and Paul Revere & The Raiders, "Louie Louie."

But it was The Sonics' original songs that set them apart. "Psycho,"  "The Witch," and "He's Waitin'" (which is about Satan!) all show a gleefully twisted, sardonic sense of humor. And had The Sonics ever become as famous as they deserved to be, the federal government would have produced overwrought public service announcements warning America's youth about the dangers of drinking strychnine, was the topic of one of their finest songs.

It's probably for the best that The Sonics never got to be that famous. They never had the temptation to do anything as embarrassing as Paul Revere & The Raiders' teen idol period. They never went artsy during the flower-power era. Basically, they broke up, did other things in their lives and reunited decades later when they were old enough not to care about show-biz career pressures.

Gerry Roslie of The Sonics
Gerry Roslie
The 21st Century Sonics include three members from their glory days -- Roslie (who plays keyboards as well as handling about half the vocals), guitarist Larry Parypa and sax man Rob Lind. They're rounded out these days by singer/bassist Freddie Dennis and drummer Dusty Watson.

I shouldn't even have to say this, but just because Roslie, Parypa and Lind are in their late 60s doesn't mean they don't rock like crazy. They blazed through their tunes like "Boss Hoss," "Have Love Will Travel," and those others I mentioned above with crazed intensity. It seemed that everyone I encountered after The Sonics' set had wide eyes and dazed grins. Frankly I can't see how anyone on the Ponderosa bill tonight is going to top that.

While The Sonics were by far the highlight of Friday's show, there was lots of other great music at the Rock 'n' Bowl. 

Trouble ahead, Swamp Dogg in red ! #ponderosastomp
Trouble ahead, Swamp Dogg in red
Swamp Dogg, wearing a bright red suit, didn't disappoint. The iconoclastic soulman performed a set populated mostly by his best-known songs like "Total Destruction of Your Mind," "Synthetic World," and his wondrous, emotional cover of John Prine's "Sam Stone."

His grand finale also was a cover, The Bee Gee's "I've Just Got to Get a Message to You." At the end of the song, he stepped off the stage and walked out into the audience shaking hands while repeatedly singing the refrain, "I've just got to get a message to you / Hold on, hold on ..." Sometimes he'd complete the chorus, "One more hour and my life will be through ..." After several minutes of this I almost started to believe that he was going to take that whole hour.

Long, tall Chris Clark, the first white singer on the Motown label (reportedly she was known as "The White Negress"), said she had a cold, sounded fine. Any hoarseness just added to the  charm of her husky voice. She reminded me of Dusty Springfield and Jackie DeShannon.

Richard Caiton
Richard Caiton throws out the Mardi Gras beads
And I was happy to see that the sets of Charles Brimmer and Richard Caiton got an enthusiastic reception from the crowd. This was the first time on stage for decades for both these New Orleans soul singers. I heard them on a panel discussion Thursday and both seemed anxious about their respective performances. Both men can be proud. (I just wish I'd gotten a decent photo of Brimmer's cool golden alligator boots.)

I hate to admit that after The Sonics I had to go outside, so I missed James Alexander's set. And my brain was still so scrambled after the boys from Tacoma, I just couldn't into zydeco man Lynn August. I hope to catch him again when I'm not on Sonics sensory-overload.

Tonight ... The Standells (with Love's Johnny Echols), The Sloths (with Ty Wagner), Charlie Gracie and more ... Stay tuned.

Check out my Ponderosa Stomp/New Orleans snapshots HERE


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