Sonics make N.O. debut at Ponderosa Stomp

Photo by MERRI L. SUTTON -- The Sonics Show caption
Photo by MERRI L. SUTTON -- The Sonics

Unlike their 1960s Pacific Northwest peers The Kingsmen, Paul Revere and the Raiders and Jimi Hendrix, Washington state’s especially loud, raucous The Sonics never reached the national limelight.

During a mid-’60s run, The Sonics released three albums and the now classic garage-rock singles “The Witch” and “Psycho.” They performed in Oregon, northern California, Idaho, Montana and Canada. The Sonics traveled to the East Coast just once. The group never made it to the South.

A band revered by music connoisseurs with an ear for influential, obscure sounds but unheard of by the mainstream, The Sonics are a great fit for New Orleans roots-music festival the Ponderosa Stomp.

Following a hiatus in 2012, the Stomp is back through Saturday. The concert portion of the festival is returning to one of the venues where it spent its early years, Rock ’n’ Bowl. The Sonics are scheduled for midnight Friday.

This year’s Ponderosa Stomp also features ’60s Sunset Strip garage band the Standells (“Dirty Water”), Latino pop-rock singer Chris Montez (“Let’s Dance”), rhythm-and-blues singer-songwriter-producer Swamp Dogg and many more.

The Sonics formed in Tacoma in 1963. That means the group is making its New Orleans debut during the band’s 50th anniversary year.

“We’re all excited about going there,” singer-keyboard player Gerry Roslie said from Tacoma. “We haven’t even been close to New Orleans. Any time somebody says, ‘New Orleans,’ I think music and Mardi Gras and bands playing all over the place. I don’t know if that’s what it is, but that’s what it feels like to me.”

The Stomp can count itself among the limited number of gigs The Sonics play.

“We get several offers for things,” Roslie said. “But instead of flying and the driving between, one night to the next, we take it easier than that, so we don’t burn ourselves out.”

The Sonics reunited in 2007, 40 years after disagreements within the group prompted Roslie to be its first member to quit. His departure signaled the end of The Sonics’ first era.

“I got a couple of businesses of my own, nothing to do with music,” Roslie recalled. “And everybody kind of wanted to try something else.”

It took persistent invitations to play Cavestomp, a garage-rock festival in New York City, for The Sonics to consider a reunion.

“When these people from New York first asked us, we weren’t even thinking about band stuff,” Roslie remembered. “But he kept calling us and making the offer better. We finally said, ‘We’ll practice a little bit and see if we think there’s anything there.’ ”

Rehearsals for The Sonics’ potential reunion show in New York felt right.

“There was a lot of rust and mistakes, but the feeling was there,” Roslie said. “We just had to brush up on our tunes.”

Extremely nervous though The Sonics were at Cavestomp, the band got a hero’s reception. Roslie, not believing his eyes, thought he was in an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

“Even with our nervousness and a few clunker notes, they didn’t care,” he said. “They were mosh-pitting and stage-diving and everything. And when we got done, they autographed the heck out of us.”

Since their Cavestomp reunion, The Sonics have performed in the U.K., Europe, Canada, the South By Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin and, closer to home, at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre.

“It’s a mind blower,” Roslie said of the return of The Sonics.