Although by the time the first performer hits the stage, the factory assembly line will have ground to a halt for the night, a more appropriate venue could hardly be imagined: In this monolithic building, located a block south of Beale Street, craftsmen create Gibson ES Series electric guitars - specifically, the B.B. King "Lucille" model and the Chet Atkins model.
The roster for the 2006 Ponderosa Stomp reads like a Gibson guitar dream team of rockabilly, blues, R&B, and soul greats:
First and foremost, there's Scotty Moore, who's been playing Gibson models since 1952. Elvis Presley's right hand man from the King's days at Sun Records on through the height of his RCA period (that's Scotty on everything from "That's Alright, Mama" to "Jailhouse Rock") Moore reinvented rock 'n' roll with his blasts of R&B infused country riffs, jazzy vamping, and fiery phrasing. Later, he recorded the vastly underrated - yet aptly titled - The Guitar That Changed the World album. A few years ago, Gibson issued twelve Scotty Moore signature guitars, a modified ES-295, one of which hangs in Memphis' Rock 'N' Soul Museum today.
Memphis guitar genius Travis Wammack plays a Gibson ES-335 - practically at the speed of light. From his recording debut - on the Fernwood Records label at age eleven - through his session work at Muscle Shoals and most recently, his gig holding down the guitar chair in Little Richard's band, Wammack has earned a reputation for grinding and wailing that makes him a stand-alone talent. Factor in the series of recordings he cut at Roland Jane's Sonic Studios from 1963-67, which yielded such brilliant instrumental singles as "Scratchy," "Firefly," "Tech-nically Speaking," "Night Train," "Hideaway," and "Hallelujah I Love Her So," and you'll wonder why Wammack isn't a household name.
The six-foot, seven-inch tall Sleepy LaBeef is the ultimate rockabilly survivor, parlaying his raw talent into a career that's lasted five decades. His first single, "I'm Through," was released on Starday in '57; seven years later, he moved to Nashville and signed to Columbia. In '68, his hit "Every Day" hit the charts, followed by "Blackland Farmer," cut for Shelby Singleton's Plantation label a year later. LaBeef laid down his Gibson ES-150 to play a swamp monster in the Southern drive-in horror flick The Exotic Ones, then moved to Sun Records to cut "Thunder Road," "Boogie Woogie Country Girl," and "There Ain't Much After Taxes." An indefatigable touring act, LaBeef has released a handful of albums on Rounder Records since the 1990s.
Jody Williams, the architect of electric blues guitar, led Howlin' Wolf's band in the early '50s, playing alongside a young Hubert Sumlin on "Evil," "Forty-Four," "Moanin' At Midnight," and "All Night Boogie." He later led Bo Diddley's band and played on killer Vee-Jay sides by fellow Stomp performer (and Gibson player) Billy Boy Arnold, cut his own "Lucky Lou" for Argo, and originated the lick on Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange." Williams, who still plays Red Lightnin', his original Gibson ES-345, recently emerged from a 30-year retirement to win a W.C. Handy Award for his comeback album, Return of a Legend on Evidence Records.
New Orleans-born Fillmore Slim grew up singing and playing the blues on his Gibson ES-335, touring with Joe Tex and Little Willie John and cutting unforgettable - but incredibly scarce - singles like "You've Got the Nerve of a Brass Monkey." These days, Slim is more often recognized for his second career as a San Francisco pimp, immortalized in the 1999 documentary American Pimp. Nevertheless, he's still got skills on the six-string - and he'll prove it when he straps on his Gibson at the Ponderosa Stomp.
The last surviving member of the first-generation swamp blues fraternity that includes Slim Harpo, Lightnin' Slim, and Lonesome Sundown, Lazy Lester, who plays a Gibson acoustic, is best known for killer cuts like "Ponderosa Stomp," "Patrol Wagon Blues," "I Hear You Knockin'" and "You're Gonna Ruin Me Baby." Armed with a harmonica and his trusty Gibson, Lester brings the spirit of Crowley, Louisiana and the musical gumbo of J.D. Miller's Excello Records genre-jumping recording sessions to life when he hits the stage.
Just after her sixteenth birthday, Gibson L6S guitar slinger Lady Bo found herself playing on classic Bo Diddley tracks like "Hey, Bo Diddley," "Mona," "Say Man," "Crackin' Up," "Road Runner," "Bo Diddley's A Gunslinger," and "Aztec." In the '60s, Lady Bo was an esteemed sessions player who lent her skills to hits by the Bopchords and the Continentals, as well as Les Cooper's "Owee Baby" and the Soul Rockers' "Wiggle Wobble." A rhythm guitarist in James Brown and Sam & Dave's bands, Lady Bo still - jaw-droppingly - delivers the goods.
Nashville-based R&B king Johnny Jones has parlayed his skills on the Gibson ES-335 into a life-long career as a studio musician and first-rate performer. As the founder of the Imperial Seven, Jones crossed paths with a young Jimi Hendrix - then playing alongside future Band of Gypsies bassist Billy Cox in the King Casuals - who often showed up at gigs at the New Era Club to sit in and glean tips from the master. By the mid-1960s, Jones was playing alongside Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown on Hoss Allen's mind-blowing TV dance show "The!!!!Beat"; soon after, he joined the King Casuals, who were signed by Brunswick Records in '68 and released a trio of singles, "It's Gonna Be Good," "Soul Poppin'" and a soulful rendition of "Purple Haze" that rocked the blues world. After a few singles on Atlanta's Peachtree Records and a stint in Bobby Blue Bland's band, Jones retired, only to resurface in the late '90s to reclaim his crown with new albums on the Black Magic and Northern Blues labels.
Harmolodic guitar master James Blood Ulmer - who plays a Gibson Byrdland model - started out with gospel and doo-wop, backing groups like the Del-Vikings and the Swing Kings. Early on, Ulmer relocated to Detroit to form the progressive jazz combo Focus Novii. A move to New York in the early '70s led to a gig at Minton's Playhouse, where he played with John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Larry Young, and Rashied Ali. Then the atom bomb hit: Ulmer hooked up with Ornette Coleman and recorded his first album, Tales of Captain Black. Opening shows for Captain Beefheart and Public Image, Ltd, Jackson formed a killer band that included Ronald Shannon Jackson and Calvin Weston on drums, trumpeter Olu Dara, and David Murray on sax. After years of riding his funk-punk-jazz-melt-in-your-mind synthesis, Ulmer started laying down the blues, recording two phenomenal albums, Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions and Birthright.
The best guitar slinger South Louisiana has to offer, Lil Buck Sinegal - whose weapon of choice is a Gibson ES-335 - honed his chops as an Excello session man and Clifton Chenier's longtime guitarist. Revered for his work with Lil Bob of "I Got Loaded" fame, Rockin' Dopsie, and Fernest Arcenaux, Lil Buck also recorded his own killer instrumentals - including "Cat Scream" and "Monkey in a Sack" for the La Louisianne label in the late '60s. An inductee into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame, Lil Buck plays with Lil Band O Gold today.
Detroit native Dennis Coffey played his Gibson ES-175 on virtually every Motown session from the late '60s through the '70s, including the Temptations' "Cloud Nine," Freda Payne's "Band of Gold," and more than 100 other gold and platinum selling hit records including the guitar-driven instrumental hit "Scorpio". His career also encompasses eleven solo albums and CDs, including his latest, Under the Moonlight, which reached #4 on the New Adult Contemporary Chart and sold 50,000 copies; a movie score; and writing credits on more than 150 songs. The author of Guitars, Bars and Motown Superstars, Coffey appeared in the critically acclaimed documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown. With his quartet, he performs regularly at the world-renowned Detroit jazz club, Baker's Keyboard Lounge.
Although Gibson grinder Skip Pitts played on many Stax sessions, he got his start in Washington, DC. Before he turned fifteen, Pitts was part of a doo-wop group that auditioned for Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic Records; soon after, he backed northern soul great Gene Chandler on his "Rainbow '65" hit single and performed on Chandler's Live at the Regal album. By sixteen, Pitts was playing with the Isley Brothers, then, a few years later, he joined Wilson Pickett's Midnight Movers. Of course, Pitts is best known for the mighty wah-wah chords that cut through the opening of Isaac Hayes' seminal "(Theme from) Shaft," as well as his onstage work with Black Moses and the Bo-Keys.
Blues and soul star Syl Johnson sang and played with Magic Sam, Billy Boy Arnold, and Junior Wells in the '50s before cutting sides with Jimmy Reed at Vee-Jay at the end of the decade. After recording a solo debut on Federal, he toured with Howlin' Wolf until '62, when Willie Mitchell signed him to Hi Records. Johnson, who plays a Gibson ES-335, hit big with "Come On Sock It To Me, "Is It Because I'm Black?" and "Take Me to the River" before moving to the Shama and Boardwalk labels, then Evidence, which released his axe-slinging epic Two Johnsons Are Better Than One in 2002.
Tickets for the 5th Annual Ponderosa Stomp are available for $40 per night at
www.buyolympia.com/events/index.php?details=170 . More than 60 legendary artists - an all-time record - will perform on three stages over a three-night period, while the Stomp will also feature ancillary events including a DJ Night, a Record Show, and more. Information about the line-up and the venue can be found at http://www.ponderosastomp.com .
The Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau are also presenting monthly concerts at the Circle Bar and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, both located in New Orleans. The non-profit, volunteer-run organization, founded by a group of rock 'n' roll fanatics to celebrate the pioneers of blues, country, swamp pop, jazz, soul, and R&B, has presented more than forty shows, helping to resurrect the careers of dozens of "lost" musical legends, including Howard Tate and Jody Williams, over the past five years.