For the past several years, my favorite SXSW showcase has been the Ponderosa Stomp, a tease for the larger event in New Orleans every April. Named after a Lazy Lester song, it celebrates the (relatively) obscure legends of Southern R&B, soul, blues, garage rock, and more. More about that here.
This year's Austin showcase featured, among others, Lil' Buck Sinegal, who has played with Clifton Chenier, Buckwheat Zydeco, Paul Simon (on Graceland), and of course the aforementioned Lil' Band O' Gold. Charlie and I were fortunate enough to sit by the Continental Club back bar with Buck most of the night during the Ponderosa Stomp showcase. (There's Buck soloing with his teeth that very night.) So much great music and laughter. I'm pleased to report he's a down-to-earth, gracious man with shades of a French Creole accent. He played host almost as if it were his very own bar, and kept several of us talking and drinking and laughing well into the night. Buck is planning a new album that hopefully will do great things for him at long last. Meanwhile, I heartily recommend gearing up for it with The Buck Starts Here and Bad Situation. Also check out his YouTube footage. He is truly a musical treasure who could easily give any bluesman a run for the money.
Another big favorite on the bill was guitarist Classie Ballou. He played with Boozoo Chavis on his first single "Paper In My Shoe." Which is widely regarded as the first real zydeco hit. (And there's a great little anecdote about that session on the Stomp site's Classie page.) I've got to see him more often than I have. Even his first couple of notes just riveted people's attention. He's such a master of tone and heart. And it's impossible not to grin whenever he does.
Beaumont's own Barbara Lynn is always a major Stomp highlight for me. "The Empress of Gulf Coast Soul Blues." She also plays around here a couple other times a year, and I'm usually front-and-center there. I happily forked over $30 for her 1988 Ichiban import LP You Don't Have to Go, one of my "desert island discs." I can't believe she doesn't have a website (hmm...), but here's a pretty good Wikipedia page and her MySpace page). She's well represented on YouTube as well. Barbara had a #1 R&B hit in 1962 with "You'll Lose a Good Thing," which she not only sang, but also wrote, and also played lead guitar--lefthanded, no less. (She also did "Sugar Coated Love" and "We Got a Good Thing Going," which the Stones covered a while back.) She plays very bluesy, soulful, rhythmic up- and downstrokes with a thumbpick and all four fingers. (Which I've tried so many times to duplicate at home. With, shall we say, mixed results.) It was a special treat seeing Barbara this year backed by a terrific horn section featuring Ben Cauley, the sole survivor of Otis Redding's band. Word has it she is about to go into the DapTone studio with the Dap-Kings, who backed Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones. And in June she's reissuing her 1968 Atlantic album Here Is Barbara Lynn.
I met Barbara briefly just as she was leaving. When my husband walked up, she asked him, "Oh, is this your wife? I wish I'd known. I've been sitting right by her all night!" When she'd pulled up earlier, Charlie was outside with Buck, and had told her she's a big inspiration to my playing (such as it is!). So she turned to me and said, "You play?" (I just nodded.) "You sing?" "A little." At that point I managed to regain enough composure to say something about trying to sorta play her rhythmic soulful style along with some slide. And that I hoped we might be able to visit a little longer some time. She said yes, and seemed to mean it. Her eyes and smile were genuine and open and supportive. How many guitar heroes can you really say that about? (OK, Hubert Sumlin, Buck Sinegal, Sonny Landreth, Scrappy Jud Newcomb. Not sure there are many more...) Another wonderful thing about Barbara is that she's always played such smokin' blues without ever being a diva or a hoochie or a trainwreck. She's always been her real own self, and always a class act. She doesn't even smoke or drink. Barbara Lynn is a much-needed reminder that it's still plenty rockin' cool to be a lady.
After that came the Atomic Fireball himself--another perennial Stomper, Roy Head. He's an old-school "blue-eyed soul" shouter best known for his 1965 hit "Treat Her Right." He's still got the pipes and the swagger, and his stage moves are not to be missed. (Just keep an eye out for that wildly swinging microphone!) Roy's also about to go back into the studio, possibly with his son (Sundance from American Idol). Now that technology is making the typical music business model obsolete, maybe artists like Roy (and Barbara and Buck and so many others) will stand a better chance of making their own albums their own way, and actually getting them out to people who 'get it.' We certainly deserve a lot more of all these fine, soulful, superbly talented survivors who've paid their dues and then some, and a lot less of all these cute, sanitized, carefully packaged--and utterly empty--Hollywood kids who've never played a single shitty club gig.
It was another great Stomp showcase, once again making me want to work out a way to the big show in NOLA. It was also my annual moment of forgiveness for SXSW turning a big break for unsigned bands into Spring Break for industry snobs. Like the other showcase I babbled about, the industry people there did seem to appreciate what they were seeing. Now if they'll just do something about it.
Updated to fix the Ponderosa Stomp link and add a much better pic of Roy Head. Joseph A. Rowen just captured him perfectly or what.
Also couldn't pass up this portrait of Buck at the 2008 Ponderosa Stomp at the House of Blues. It's not credited, but sure looks like one of Jacob Blickenstaff's many great photos of that show.