Walkin’ To New Orleans: Cajun Swamp Rock
We’re taking a trip from Texas to New Orleans and plan to get there in time for Mardi Gras. Along the way, we’re revisiting some of the interesting characters we’ve met in past years. Today we’re in the dark swamps along the Atchafalaya River, but the story begins back in Texas.
I remember this scene as clearly as yesterday: I’m in a small garage apartment and two music legends are sitting in my living room. Jivin’ Gene Bourgeois and Johnnie Allan, both South Louisiana music legends, are doing some publicity for a music show in Port Arthur and they decided to “take it” to the reporter. Where he lives.
I had met Allan - who was a high school principal in Lafayette, Louisiana, at the time – at a South Louisiana music legends show the year before. We drove to the show with Jivin’ Gene, who was a neighbor and old friend. Allan was, and still is, one of the most tireless proponents of the South Louisiana music sound. That sound was a tasty blend of rock and roll, R&B and a bit of rockabilly made spicy with some Cajun seasoning. A British guy started calling it “Swamp Pop” in the 1970s but I always hated that term – “Swamp Rock” is more appropriate. Because, as we used to say in Port Arthur, that shit rocks.
Johnnie Allan recorded the music he loved since he was 13 years old. He has cut records since the late 1950s and one, an accordion-flavored cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” even topped the U.K. music charts and went gold (the smokin’ accordion is played by the legendary Belton Richard).
A lot of the swampy music these boys cut back in the day has some of the elements of classic doo-wop and R&B – but one distinction is the presence of the piano triplets that populate many of the songs. The anthem of this music has to be “Mathilda,” originally cut by Cookie and the Cupcakes in 1958. You can pretty much go anywhere in Southeast Texas or South Louisiana and find this on a jukebox. Still.
At the South Louisiana All-Stars show (in 1981) I met Rod Bernard, who had a big hit with “This Should Go On Forever,” Dale and Grace, and many more. One guy who wasn’t there was Bobby Charles, who wrote “Walkin’ To New Orleans” for Fats Domino and “See You Later Alligator” for Bill Haley. And you can’t talk about South Louisiana music without mentioning the Fabulous Boogie Kings – they still play around today but their classic lineup included vocalists G. G. Shinn and Jerry “Count Jackson” LaCroix. Lest you think this is all ancient stuff, we have included some of the more recent names in Cajun rock – C.C. Adcock and the brilliant guitarist Sonny Landreth.
And because I stubbornly insist on the term Swamp Rock, you have to put Doug Kershaw near the top of the list. He started out as a pretty straight Cajun/country rock act with his brother Rusty, but Doug got kinda freaky in the late 1960s. When this guy was at his peak in the early 1970s he was a true wild man: with that long hair and his eyes buggin’ out while sawing furiously on his fiddle, Kershaw went deeper than anyone into the black swamp heart of this great music.
This entry was posted on February 19, 2009 at 1:00 am and is filed under Uncategorized with tags Bobby Charles, Boogie Kings, C.C. Adcock, Cookie and the Cupcakes, Doug Kershaw, G.G. Shinn, Jerry LaCroix, Jivin' Gene, Johnnie Allan, Rod Bernard, Sonny Landreth. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.