The powers-that-be in the local music industry should've been in New Orleans last week, when Memphis notables Sonny Burgess, Matt Lucas, D.J. Fontana, and The Hi Rhythm Section (who backed Percy Wiggins for an amazing soul set, then brought out harmonica master Willie Cobbs for some gutbucket blues) played the third annual Ponderosa Stomp, this year's real celebration of the 50th anniversary of rock-and-roll.
Billed as "two nights of rockabilly, blues, soul, swamp blues, swamp pop and New Orleans R&B by the true, unsung heroes of rock-and-roll," the Ponderosa Stomp, held at the Rock and Bowl Mid City Lanes, started at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 27th and paused some 10 hours later. Then partygoers had approximately 14 hours off before the celebration continued on Wednesday.
|Jessie Mae Hemphill|
Politically incorrect pimps-cum-entertainers Rudy Ray Moore and Fillmore Slim regaled the audience between seminal performances from bluesman Homesick James (accompanied by Memphian Scott Bomar on bass), R&B pianist Dennis Binder (backed by Bomar and drummer Paul Buchignani), Northwest garage rockers The Wailers, and New Orleans heroes Oliver "Carnival Time" Morgan, Willie Tee, and Eddie Bo. But that was just the beginning. More than 40 legendary acts, including she-wolfs Barbara Lynn and Lady Bo, played during the event.
For a tiny, word-of-mouth show, the Ponderosa Stomp was a great success. It drew nearly 1,000 music fans each night, including industry stalwarts such as Norton Records' Billy Miller and Miriam Linna and Terry Stewart of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; bona-fide celebrities such as Harry Shearer and Ray Davies; dozens of journalists and die-hard musicians/music fans such as Steve Miller, Ben Vaughn, and Joss Stone.
Pretty incredible, especially when you realize that the Stomp is the brainchild of one Dr. Ike and his nonprofit Mystic Knights of the Mau-Mau, who cobble together their own cash, funding from Miller Beer and American Spirit cigarettes, and a few dozen volunteers to put together a party that puts big-budget events (including most, if not all, Memphis ones) to shame. If you didn't make it down to New Orleans, you can find out more about what you missed at PonderosaStomp.com.
And here's an ultimatum to every blues fan in the city: Drop that Stevie Ray Vaughan bootleg, quit watching those Blues Brothers reruns, and put down your Gibson guitar, because the real deal -- as in hill-country blueswoman Jessie Mae Hemphill -- is making a rare appearance at The Bon-Ton CafÇ this Friday, May 7th. She'll be celebrating the release of Get Right Blues, a set of mid-1980s recordings recently pressed by local label Inside Sounds.
"There aren't that many women playing guitar and singing country blues," explains musicologist and University of Memphis professor David Evans, who recorded Get Right Blues. "[Hemphill] plays in a real hard Mississippi percussive style that's typically associated with a male-dominated scene. She doesn't try to be one of the guys, however. She sings with a soft voice and holds her own very well. She presents a female aspect to what's otherwise a totally male scene."
Back in the '80s, Hemphill was a regular fixture on Beale Street and at the picnic grounds of her native Como, Mississippi. She toured Europe with a ragtag group of Memphians, including Tav Falco and The Hellcats, and appeared regularly at the Center for Southern Folklore's Memphis Music & Heritage Festival. She played guitar and drums in the '93 documentary Deep Blues; then, later that year, she suffered a stroke. Since then, Hemphill sightings have been few and far between, although she did appear on Richard Johnston's Foot Hill Stomp album in 2002.
"We hope to have a couple of short sets by her on Friday night," Evans says. He plans to handle guitar duties while Hemphill sings and plays tambourine, but, he cautions, "one never knows what to expect with Jessie Mae." Inside Sounds head Eddie Dattel agrees. "I haven't worked with Jessie Mae directly, so I wasn't sure what her feelings were about performing. Apparently, she's all geared up to do it."
From her trailer in Como, the headstrong Hemphill proclaims, "I feel strong. I'll do a little something." Then she pauses for a moment. "My doctor told me not to get tired and wore out," she continues. "I don't need to strain, but if I feel good enough, I'll do it."
That's reason enough to make it to the Bon-Ton CafÇ. The show starts at 7 p.m.; $5 will get you in the door.