Having a wail of a time
NEW ORLEANS -- Ira Padnos is working on no sleep in three days -- not entirely unusual for an anesthesiologist at a trauma center hospital. So it’s understandable that he’s forgotten something and needs to swing by his house. He pulls up in front of the funky building in the lower Garden District, dashes in and comes out with a round black box. The essential piece of equipment inside? His fez.
This day, Padnos is “Dr. Ike,” not a medical man, but a musical one. He’s the prime force behind and genial host of the Ponderosa Stomp, a two-day festival celebrating the largely obscure and forgotten figures of rock, pop, blues and R&B; that now, in its seventh year, has become a fixture in the days between the weekends of the massive New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
By the time this Wednesday night had turned into Thursday morning on the second of what is billed as “2 days of insane rock ‘n’ roll,” Padnos and perhaps a thousand other dedicated fans crammed into the House of Blues will have seen an exhilarating lineup topped by Ronnie Spector and resurrected garage-rock icons Roky Erickson and ? & the Mysterians.
At 3:30 a.m., Padnos, 43, and his wife, Sam, are still jumping up and down to Texas-via-Detroit rocker ?’s 1966 hit “96 Tears,” a classic of pumping Farfisa organ, soul-shout vocals and dark menace that figures prominently in many lists of top ‘60s singles.
This is after he and Sam had danced on the side of the stage during Texas psychedelic-rock progenitor Erickson’s reprise of the triumphant set he did here a year ago, part of a comeback following years of mental-health issues that made his performances rare. Here, both his ‘60s hits “You’re Gonna Miss Me”(originally done with his old band the 13th Floor Elevators) and his ‘70s and ‘80s rockers (“Two Headed Dog,” “Don’t Shake Me, Lucifer”) were given electrifying treatment by him and his current band, the Explosives.
It was after Padnos swayed, bopped and sang along (with the rest of the audience) to Spector’s catalog of classics, mostly from her early-’60s Ronettes years as one of the signature voices of her then-husband Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound productions -- “Walking in the Rain,” “Baby, I Love You,” “Be My Baby.”
And it was after the doc, in the course of the night, fielded endless adulation from fans and questions from the crew, wrangled stray artists, made sure contracts and waivers got signed and was called on to be a real doctor for ailing performers.
The Stomp started as a backyard party held by friends increasingly concerned that these “forgotten” acts were being squeezed out by JazzFest’s turn to big-draw headliners. Now it’s a name brand itself, a nonprofit enterprise with a foundation to help artists and music education, an associated conference, spinoff shows that have been held in New York and Chicago (with talk of Tokyo in the future) and this year, for the first time, even a showcase Ponderosa Stomp Revue slot at JazzFest proper.
It’s an event for people to whom such names as Roy Head, Jay Chevalier, Guitar Lightning and Tammy Lynn mean more than the Billy Joels, Stevie Wonders and Tim McGraws headlining this year’s JazzFest, and Padnos says that as many as 60% of the people who come to Ponderosa don’t even bother with the bigger festival.
When Padnos pulls up in front of the French Quarter club after his errand and hops out of his car -- trademark fez now crowning his mop of hair -- he makes a beeline to several middle-aged men milling on the sidewalk. These are members of the Green Fuz, a Bridgeport, Texas, band that made not even a blip outside of a small regional following in its ‘60s heyday. But years later, its one even semi-notable song, also called “The Green Fuz,” started turning up in compilations, and rare original copies of the vinyl single became high-ticket collector’s items.
Tonight they’re opening the show, the band’s first performance in 40 years save for a benefit concert back in its hometown. “He asked us,” says one of the members, pointing to Padnos.
You hear that a lot hanging around Dr. Ike. In this realm, it seems, Padnos gets what he wants. He even got to hear “The Green Fuz” the way he wanted, coming on stage after the band thought it had concluded its set with that song, though with a middle digression into introductions of the members. Padnos took the microphone, and requested, if not outright insisted, that the group play the song again, without the introductions, “the way it was on the 45 record.”
Other things he particularly wanted this year included Spector’s performance and an appearance by local R&B; singer James “Sugarboy” Crawford, who had not sung in public in more than 35 years. When he started inquiring about Spector a few years ago, he was surprised to learn that her husband had been attending the Stomp and was a fan.
Crawford, though a key New Orleans figure for his 1954 recording of “Jacomo” (which morphed into the Mardi Gras staple “Iko Iko”), had not performed publicly for at least 35 years due to health problems -- he made a living working as a locksmith. Padnos went so far as to call him to his house to change some locks to try to convince him to make a Ponderosa appearance, but with no luck.
Finally, it was Crawford’s grandson, local piano star Davell Crawford, who talked Sugarboy into it, though ultimately Padnos would not get to hear him do “Jacomo,” as he would only agree to sing spirituals.
But that doesn’t seem to bother Padnos any more than the sleep deprivation.
“They said you couldn’t get Green Fuz and Sugarboy Crawford on the same bill,” he said to the audience after the latter’s performance. “Well, in my world, it happens.”
It's a date
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