After taking a break in 2012, the Ponderosa Stomp returns to celebrate its 11th year with “Three days of the best music you’ve never heard of.” Ponderosa Stomp Foundation President and Founder, Ira “Dr. Ike” Padnos, sat down with me to talk about the history of the Foundation, what’s been going on with the concert in recent years and provide a little insight as to what’s in store for 2013.
What were the intentions and goals of the Mystic Knights of Mau Mau when you formed the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation back in 2001?
Dr. Ike: The short story of the Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau is the following: I really hate weddings. When my wife and I got married, I went through my record collection and hired a whole bunch of artists I always wanted to see play. My wedding in effect was the first Ponderosa Stomp. It went from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. All of the artists at my wedding later played the Stomp… Michael Hurtt [of Michael Hurtt’s Haunted Hearts and the Royal Pendletons] crashed my wedding. [Afterwards], he started pestering me to book some of the acts that played. I told him I was too busy with my job as an anesthesiologist. He persisted until I gave in with a couple of conditions. First, we needed the right venue. The Circle Bar had the right vibe—Howlin’ Wolf, Hop Wilson, Bo Diddley, Roky Erickson, Captain Beefheart, Johnny Burnette, and Johnny Kidd were on the jukebox; and a purple K&B sign hung down from the ceiling. Secondly, the focus had to be on the music. The presenting organization would be anonymous so everyone would focus on the musicians. Mike Hurtt and I had a meeting with Kelly Keller and Jim Marshall, part-owners of the Circle Bar, and we decided to start presenting shows there. Mike wanted us to have a secret society name like the carnival krewes, like “The Mystic Knights of …?” I pulled out a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins song, “Feast of the Mau Mau.” We then became the Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau. Mike, Jim, my wife Sam and I were the first members. The idea was to present the forgotten heroes of rock‘n’roll. We started doing shows at the Circle Bar in 2001. During Jazzfest 2001, we threw an insane week of shows, which featured Howard Tate, Paul Burlison, DJ Fontana, Othar Turner, RL Burnside, Toussaint McCall, Earl King, Freddie Roulette, Classie Ballou, Clarence Samuels, Lil Buck Senegal, Herbert Hardesty, and Sheeba Kimbrough (among others), that functioned as the second proto-Stomp… We continued doing monthly shows through December of that year, then a few things happened. The shows were getting too big in terms of budget for the Circle Bar. It was hard to continually promote a monthly show. I thought it would be easier on me if we just put on one big show a year. I thought it made the most sense to put it between the weekends of Jazz Fest, as there would be lots of music fans in town. The event would be named after the Lazy Lester song about Angola Prison, “Pondarosa Stomp.” The event was then presented by the 501c7 MK Charities—the legal name of The Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau. The organization later evolved into the 501c3 Ponderosa Stomp Foundation. The initial idea for the Stomp was to make my life easier. Instead, the Stomp took on a life of its own.
Through the years, the Ponderosa Stomp has grown into a three-day event with a record show, music conference and film screening during the day, the two-night concert, and an all-vinyl dance party. Were these expansions by design, or has the festival just evolved naturally?
There never was a master plan for the Stomp. It has just evolved on its own, with people coming onboard to make suggestions and make things happen. The Hip Drop was the idea of Brice White and DJ Soul Sister. Music writer Alison Fensterstock came up with the idea of the music conference and came onboard to develop the conference. Terry Stewart, the former CEO and President of the Rock‘n’Roll Hall of Fame, came to the first Stomp and helped forge a relationship between the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation and the Rock‘n’Roll Hall of Fame. They are a partner in the music conference. Madeleine Molyneaux approached us about film and developed the Clandestine Celluloid film series. It has been an organic process. Sam Rykels, the former director of the Louisiana State Museum at the Cabildo, was a big Stomp fan. Working with the Louisiana State Museum`s staff, the Ponderosa Stomp foundation curated the Unsung Heroes: The Secret History of Louisiana Rock‘n’Roll museum exhibit at the LSM at the Cabildo. We got a call out of nowhere that we were producing shows at Lincoln Center. Things have just evolved over time.
In a perfect world, what would you like to see the Stomp become? What would you add if you could do anything you wanted?
To be honest, I don’t think we can realistically add any more events on to the Stomp. It’s already a pretty hardcore rock‘n’roll camp with wall-to-wall events… I want it to remain the fun, crazy, insane beast of an event that it is, rather than turn into a stuffy, lifeless museum exhibit. The idea is to recognize that the music created by these musicians is timeless, and that the musicians need to be recognized and celebrated for the great art they created while they are still alive. One of the biggest problems is that many of the great pioneering musicians are dying off or are too sick to perform. This is a problem that will give the Ponderosa Stomp a limited shelf life… The other major challenge is funding the Stomp every year. It has been a continuing problem that has plagued the festival. The Stomp is a DIY project from the start. Unfortunately, the revenue from the concert and conference attendance has never come close to covering the costs of the Stomp. It has been very hard balancing an event done for love with the hard realization that the economic losses from the Stomp over the years are not fun and games. In a perfect world, the Stomp would be fully-funded and still be the insane creature it is.
When the foundation decided to take a break last year, was there ever a moment that in the back of your mind a little voice said, “Well, that’s it. It’s been a great run. Time to move on?” Was there any fear or doubt that the Stomp may not be able to return even if you wanted it to?
With such a small organization, there are only so many projects we can take on at a time. After doing the Stomp 10 years in a row, we decided to shift focus for a year on another project. We focused on a New Orleans mapping project that we are still in the process of developing. When we made the decision to take a year off and shift gears, we did seriously reflect on what we had achieved. I am extremely proud of what we have achieved. We have showcased countless worthy musicians. We had booked just about everybody we could on our wish list. We have developed a unique event in the Ponderosa Stomp. We have produced shows at both Lincoln Center and SXSW that were both well-attended and critically successful. We are able to produce a conference in partnership with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The musicians view the Stomp as special and feel like they are members of a big extended family… When we finally made the decision, we made it clear to ourselves that we were going to come back. Our passion for the music was too strong.
Do you ever wonder if changing the date of the event from the weekend of Jazz Fest to late September/ early October may have hurt concert attendance? It went from a weekend where thousands of music aficionados come to town, sometimes to a weekend when many of our local musicians and music fans make the journey to Memphis for Gonerfest. Albeit, there’s already so much going on during Jazzfest, it makes it easy to get overshadowed. Are there any plans to move the concert back to springtime?
While there were a lot of people in town for the fest that were potentially Stomp attendees, the Jazz Fest affected the Stomp in other ways. The Stomp was limited in its growth in between the two weekends. As long as the Stomp was between the two weekends, it could not develop into its own stand-alone destination event. With so much going on during Jazz Fest, it was hard sometimes to secure musicians, hotel rooms, equipment, etc. It was the law of supply and demand. The production costs are lower when there is less competition… The main driving force to move the Stomp was the decision to develop it as a stand-alone destination event. The plan is to keep the Stomp in the fall… In terms of Gonerfest, we only had the Stomp at the same time once. As we are fans and friends of Goner Records and Gonerfest, we have tried to work together to avoid scheduling the Stomp the same time as Gonerfest. From a personal standpoint, Goner Records is one of my favorite record stores. One little known fact is that Eric Friedl, better known as Eric Oblivion, designed the very first Ponderosa Stomp website. When we did the Stomp in Memphis, Goner Records and Shangri La records were a big help in organizing the record show and a huge help in helping us navigating Memphis to produce the Stomp.
Part of the mission statement of the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation is about the preservation of music, and it’s apparent that there’s a strong emphasis on vinyl. The importance of the instruments the music is created with cannot be ignored, either. What roles do area record and musical instrument stores play in the Stomp?
The Ponderosa Stomp is all about vinyl fanaticism. In terms of the local record stores, they have been extremely supportive over the years. The Louisiana Music Factory was our very first sponsor going back to the pre–Stomp/Mau Mau days. They have held numerous in-store performances with Stomp musicians over the years. Euclid Records, Domino Sound Shack, and Jim Russell’s Rare Records have also been big supporters of the Stomp. They have merchandise booths at the Stomp and at the record show. Jim Russell even took part in the conference a few years back. The New Orleans Music Exchange and True South Services have been long-time Stomp sponsors and have provided us with backline. Paul Webb of Webb’s Bywater Music has been helping keep our amps running over the years.
Who are some of your favorite musicians that have played the Stomp, and why?
There are a number of musicians that have been very close friends over the years, including Dave Bartholomew, Dale Hawkins, Roy Head, Lil Buck Senegal, Barbara Lynn, Roy Head, Wardell Quezergue, Lazy Lester, Herbert Hardesty, Scotty Moore, James Blood Ulmer, and Paul Burlison. There have been many amazing performances over the years, far too many to list them all here. There have been so many reunions, collaborations, jam sessions, showmen at their best for extended sets, glow-in- the-dark saxophones, space guitars, pure rock‘n’roll, and more punk attitude than most punk bands.
Who are you most excited about seeing and working with this year? Are there any acts you’d like to highlight for us?
This year is special in that none of the acts have ever played the Stomp before. Every year the Stomp is a little different. This year we have some killer garage bands. We had been trying for years to get the Sonics but it had never worked out until this year. The Sonics are ground zero for garage bands. We also have
L.A. garage kings the Standells coming to play. Johnny Echols of Love will be playing “Seven and Seven Is” with the Standells. We have rare appearances of Los Angeles garage legends, the Sloths, and Ty Wagner. West Bank garage kings, The Gaunga Dyns, will be playing their first gig in 45 years. We have a great revue of female vocalists: Maxine Brown, Baby Washington and Chris Clark, the first white female vocalist signed to Motown. Chris Montez will be playing a rock‘n’roll set. Eddie Daniels is in the Chuck Berry and Ray Sharpe black rocker mode who made some killer records on Ebb, including a wild version of Professor Longhair’s “Mardi Gras.” Boogaloo is the alter ego of songwriter Kent Harris. He wrote “Cops and Robbers” with Bo Diddley, “Clothesline” (covered by the Coasters as “Shopping for Clothes”), and “Big Chief Hugum Kiss ‘em” (covered by Hannibal and Young Jessie). The lunacy of Swamp Dogg will be in full display. He will create “Total Destruction to Your Mind,” as his song says. Charlie Gracie will play some incredible rockabilly guitar. Charles Brimmer and Richard Caiton are unknown New Orleans soul men with incredible voices. Spencer Wiggins will lay down killer Memphis deep soul. Sonny Green is an incredible singer and showman from Los Angeles.
Would you like to add anything else?
The Stomp is so special and unique, there is nothing else like it. You won’t know the artists, but the music will blow your mind. It’s the greatest jukebox you will ever listen to come to life.