For the next ten years, Ponder recorded as a leader for New York based labels ABC Impulse, Lester Radio Corporation, and Milestone from which seven albums were released. In addition to this, Ponder appeared as a sideman with Charles Earland, Willis "Gator" Jackson
and Mickey Tucker amongst others. Ponder's two albums for ABC Impulse, Illusions (1976) and White Room (1977), resemble While My Guitar Gently Weeps (1973) in that they are heavily funk influenced, feature both originals and covers of popular hits, and include string arrangements on top of the core band. The Motown hit "Do It Baby" (recorded in 1974 by the Miracles) opens the second side of Illusions and features Ponder rendering the melody and taking a solo with a wah-wah pedal, which was popularized by rock guitarists Jimi Hendrix
. Similarly programmed, White Room opens the second side with another "chart topper," this one taken from the British rock group Cream's 1968 album Wheels of Fire. In both cases, producer Esmond Edwards increased the recognizability of the album by including covers from the most commercially successful contemporary genres. For crossover albums, achieving a hit on the U.S. charts could be accomplished this way, just as it had been done with Wes Montgomery's version of "Going Out Of My Head," though there was also the chance of having a hit original single. Hoping to capitalize on the success of guitarist George Benson's singing, Edwards opens White Room with Ponder's original "If You Need Someone To Love," on which Ponder both sings and plays. Ponder's experiences singing in doo-wop and R&B groups becomes apparent as he renders the love song with the stylistic inflections and melodic treatment of Stevie Wonder
, a veteran jazz bassist and previous member of Miles Davis' mid-1960s quintet, appears on Illusions, infusing the funk and Latin jazz influenced songs with a more traditional jazz sensibility. On the R&B ballad "Jennifer," Carter and Ponder exploit their fullbodied, acoustic sound, forgoing electronic effects and using hollow body instruments. The group stretches the Ponder original to nine minutes, long over the average length of most popular releases created for airplay, and features extensive soloing by Ponder. Here, Ponder can be heard using his thumb technique to bring out a singing quality in the spacious melody and improvise with octaves. "Jennifer" is longer in form and more harmonically complex than the other tracks showing Ponder's adeptness at "playing changes" and not relying on blues guitar clichés to propel his solos. The album concludes with a Ron Carter original, which features himself and Ponder (later to become the resident guitar-bass duo at Manhattan's club Sweet Basil) with percussionist Eddie "Bongo" Brown. The song is slow and wandering with elements of Spanish and Brazilian music mix with American blues. Stripped of the keyboard, drums, and horns, Ponder shows his developing strength as an orchestrator on the guitar, effortlessly shifting between block chords, octaves, and melodic lines all the while maintaining solid control of the slow pulse. Ponder's ability to simultaneously fill the roles of various instruments in small ensembles, and even when playing solo, has been key to his strength as an innovative guitarist though under documented on his early recordings.