Dave Bartholomew and the Ponderosa Stomp

Monday, September 20: 5:03 p.m.

It’s Stomp time! This week we’re headed down to New Orleans to attend the 9th Annual Ponderosa Stomp Festival. The musical lineup is fantastic, as ever. We’re also helping out with the Stomp Music History Conference, a series of live interviews and first-person discussions with the stars of the show, as well as DJs, record men, field recorders and others who shaped musical history. Dr. Ike, the mastermind of the Stomp, has been a key advisor to us here in putting together this year’s American Music Masters tribute to Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. He will interview Dave Bartholomew at the Stomp conference on Saturday, and we’ll stream it live here at rockhall.com. I asked Dr. Ike to reflect a little bit on Dave’s significance to rock and roll and on working with him at the Stomp, and he graciously agreed. 

Dave Bartholomew and The Ponderosa Stomp
by Guest Writer Dr. Ike

When I originally conceived of the Ponderosa Stomp, one person who’s involvement I felt essential was Dave Bartholomew. Dave is the ultimate unsung hero. His arrangement and production on Fats Domino’s “The Fat Man” – with the emphasis on the big beat – resulted in the birth of rock and roll.  That record alone could guarantee Dave’s immortality, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Dave wrote, arranged, and produced just about every record Fats Domino cut.  He put together the legendary studio band at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M studio: Red Tyler, Herbert Hardesty, and Lee Allen on sax; Frank Fields on bass; Earl Palmer on drums; Salvador Doucette, Edward Frank, and James Booker on piano; and Ernest McLean and Justin Adams on guitar.

As the Imperial Records A&R man in New Orleans, he was free to sign and record whoever he wanted. His work with Fats, Smiley Lewis, Lloyd Price, Shirley and Lee, Jewel King, and The Spiders helped put New Orleans rhythm and blues on the map. In addition to the hit makers, Dave signed and recorded a “who’s who” of New Orleans musicians, including Tommy Ridgley, Roy Brown, Bobby Mitchell, Archibald, Frankie Ford, Huey Smith, Bobby Charles, Cousin Joe, Billy Tate, Sugar Boy Crawford, James Wayne, Guitar Slim, Chris Kenner, Blazer Boy, Earl King, Earl Curry, Al Reed, Ruth Durand and The Bees.  Dave’s work inspired out-of-towners like Amos Milburn, Big Joe Turner, Johnny Fuller, Pee Wee Crayon and T-Bone Walker to record with him at Cosimo’s studio.

As a songwriter, Dave is unmatched.  Some of his classics include “Who Drank My Beer While I Was In The Rear,” “Blue Monday,” “The Monkey,” “Carnival Day,” “Shrimp and Gumbo,” “One Night,” and “Gumbo Blues.”

An incredible trumpet player, Dave was nicknamed “Ole leather lungs” for his ability to hold a note.

His career as a recording artist produced some prime examples of rocking New Orleans rhythm and blues – “Ah Cubanos,” “Four Winds,” “When the Saints Go Marching In Boogie,” “Ain’t Gonna Do It,” “Snatching It Back,” “Gert Town Blues,” “Carnival Day,” and the previously mentioned “The Monkey” and “Shrimp and Gumbo.”

You see why I felt it was paramount to get Dave booked for the first Ponderosa Stomp.

The first step in this process was to get Herbert Hardesty’s help.  Herbert was the saxophone player who recorded the overwhelming majority of sax solos on all of Fats Domino’s records.  Herbert has known Dave since the late Forties when he first joined Dave’s band.  I met Herbert in the late Nineties when he tried to pick up my wife before we were married.  She introduced Herbert to me and told him we were going to be good friends.  It was a good prophecy as we became good friends over the next few years.  Herbert has since lent his sax to many of the Ponderosa Stomp marathons.

Herbert and I met up to discuss a game plan.  We thought it would be really special if we could reunite Dave with the remaining members of the great J&M studio band.  Herbert put me in touch with Ernest McLean and Earl Palmer.  Earl and Ernest were great cats who were totally down with the Stomp and the reunion.  With Herbert, Earl and Ernest all committed, it was time to meet with Dave.  We met up with Dave at Dooky Chase’s restaurant – Dave and Herbert’s old hang since the late Forties.  Over dinner, I laid out my pitch to have Dave and his band play the Stomp and then have Earl, Ernest, and Herbert come up to join the band for a few numbers. Dave, always very direct, looked at me and replied, “Since you are taking care of my musicians – Earl, Herbert and Ernest – I will come do this.”  I was elated.  Dave Bartholomew was booked to play the Stomp.  

With Dave committed, I turned my attention to getting all the rest of the Ponderosa Stomp planning done – not an easy feat when you work full time as an anesthesiologist.  The venue would be the Fine Arts Center in uptown New Orleans – an old converted movie theatre that could hold 500 people.  Besides the reunion of Dave Bartholomew his old band mates, the lineup was to include Hubert Sumlin, Gatemouth Moore, Eddie Bo, Tony Joe White, Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana, Paul Burlison, Lazy Lester, Jerry McCain, Barbara Lynn, Calvin Newborn, James Blood Ulcer, Classie Ballou, The Rebirth Brass Band, Big Jay McNeely, Jody Williams, and Warren Storm among others.  Things were moving along.

About a month before the Stomp, Dave summoned me to meet him at Preservation Hall on Saturday afternoon.  He wanted to see the venue.  As we arrived, I could tell he was taking it all in.  Suddenly, he turned to me and said, “I don’t think this will work.  It isn’t big enough.”  I was shocked.  I tried encouraging him that it would work.  He replied, “We’ll see.”  This really unnerved me.  Was Dave going to do the show or would he change his mind and back out?  Seeking to get some calming advice, I called on Earl Palmer and Herbert Hardesty for some words of wisdom.  Each one reassured me to chill out – Dave would be a man of his word.

A week later, my phone rang at midnight.  It was Dave on the other end.  “Ira,” he said, “why aren’t you taking out ads on television?  No one knows about your event.”  I told him that we had a limited budget for advertising and could not afford television ads.  I assured him that people will be there.  Dave, of course, was, like, “Yeah, right.”  This would become a nightly ritual for the next two weeks – consisting of Dave telling me I needed to take out television ads or asking why there wasn’t a full page ad in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.  I kept trying to reassure him.  Here I was telling the creator of rock and roll to calm down!  A few days before the Stomp, Dave stopped calling.

Finally, the first night of the Ponderosa Stomp arrived and a crowd of 400 people showed up to see a lineup of mainly blues acts.  The Rebirth Brass Band was tearing it up onstage when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Dave Bartholomew at the entrance.  I walked over to find him bopping his head and dancing to the music.  As I greeted him, he said, “I came over to see if anyone would show up.  You have a nice crowd.  I think this is going to work.”  I breathed a big sigh of relief – I had passed the test. 

I took Dave backstage to meet up with Earl Palmer, Ernest McLean, and Herbert Hardesty.  They were like little kids who hadn’t seen their best friend in a long time.  They hugged each other, took photographs, and just started cutting up.  Soon, they dragged Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana, and Lazy Lester into a photo (they thought Scotty and DJ represented the next step in the evolution of rock and roll music).  They hung out for hours.  When Dave got up to leave, he told me they were going to have a lot of fun playing together.  Man, what a relief!  I had finally gotten the man responsible for rock and roll’s backbeat fully on board and he was ready to tear it up.

After two long and insane nights of great music, Thursday night – the night Dave was playing – finally arrived.  You know it is a special night when you spot Allen Toussaint and Cosimo Matassa in the house.  It was an incredible scene backstage – Allen, Cosimo, Dave, Earl, Ernest, and Herbert all together talking about the old days.  Dave’s band was so big that some of the members were actually positioned off stage! 

Dave’s theme song kicked in and the crowd went wild.  Dave and the band do “The Monkey” and a medley of Fats’ songs – it sounded just like the Fats records.  It was amazing.  Then Herbert, Ernest, and Earl join the band for some simply incredible music.  All the musicians onstage are beaming smiles as they know it is a special night.  The joy and happiness on the faces of Dave, Herbert, Earl and Ernest was palpable.  This was the special moment they had waited years for and they made the most of it.  Dave had the biggest smile you ever saw on his face as he uncorked a trumpet solo musicians one third of his age couldn’t blow.  The crowd didn’t want the show to end.  They were on their feet and going crazy as Dave and the band exited.  They played an awesome musical set.  For a minute, I couldn’t believe that I had actually pulled it off.  Despite all of the stress Dave put me through, it was well worth it.  It was a night I will never forget. 

Over the years, I have come to recognize Dave as one of the most giving and generous men I have ever known in my life.  He is a very regal, dignified, direct, “let’s down to business” person.  He is a perfectionist and pays attention to the smallest detail.  I am extremely honored and proud to be able to call Dave Bartholomew a good friend.

To find out more about the Stomp, go to ponderosastomp.com.


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