If you have ever heard Macons Arthur Bo Ponder plead into a microphone, then you know what I am talking about.
Its what soul music is supposed to be. It bites at your gut. It gnaws at your heart. It sometimes brings salty tears to the brink, and then spills them over the second theres that gritty, growling, begging, beautiful wail.
Ponder is one of Macons remaining original soul survivors. He knew them all very well -- Johnny Jenkins, Otis Redding and James Brown were his contemporaries. He took Reddings place in the Pinetoppers after Redding went solo.
He spent countless hours rehearsing in the upstairs space of what was then the Professional Building, now known as the Robert E. Lee Building, on Mulberry Street, the home to Phil Walden Artists & Promotions and the WIBB studio where James Brown cut Please, Please, Please.
He traveled on the road with the best of the best, during a time of deep segregation, when the road wasnt always easy for a group of touring black musicians in the South. He paid tribute to those same contemporaries as he lost them along the way. In 1987, he performed in Madison, Wis., in memory of Redding. Most recently, he took the stage at the Douglass Theatre in tribute to James Brown.
Ponder didnt face the tragedies that befell his fellow artists. But like any authentic soulster, he doesnt sing without his own set of hardships. Theres no retirement fund for artists like him. When youve been performing as long as he has, theres no back-up plan, either.
Most recently, Ponder began to struggle with his eyesight. Hes legally blind now. But just as other legends have shown us, that kind of setback never gets in the way of a good song.
When Ponder plays with his backing band, they will impress you with their range of covers. Ever heard Lynyrd Skynyrds Sweet Home Alabama sung by an old school soul band? Ponder will sing it to you like it was his from the start. But if you really want to go back to that sweet authentic sound, ask Ponder to sing Dr. Strangelove, a single he recorded for Capricorn Records in the early 1970s.
By then, the original 60s soul sound was facing a change with the introduction of funk and Southern rock. Maybe thats why Dr. Strangelove was only a moderate hit when it should have been a smash. Request it if you catch him live or check it out online. About two minutes into the song, Ponder hits that plead that he does so darn well:
Even though, even though, I neeeeed her ... I love her so, yall. Lord have mercy.
At the end of the month, the Friends of Bo Ponder announced a multi-day celebration in honor of him. Festivities kick off at 7 p.m. Aug. 29 at the new JDs Drama and Dinner Theater (550 Riverside Drive) with a meet and greet. On Aug. 31, there will be live music at the legendary Grants Lounge featuring Big Mike and Just Friends, starting at 7 p.m., and including a fish and grits supper. On Sept. 2, live music will play at Gateway Parks Rhythm & Jazz on the Docks in honor of Ponder.
Ponder is a true Macon treasure. Hes got more earnest soul in his pinkie finger than many hit artists have in their entire career today. Lord have mercy, yall. Lets enjoy it while its right here, right now.
Jessica Walden operates Rock Candy Tours, a Macon music history tour company. To reach her, contact email@example.com or call 955-5997.