Walkin’ To New Orleans: Rockin’ Sidney
We are going to linger for one more day in Cajun country, before making the final push to New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras. Today we look at one of the biggest hits to ever come out of Louisiana.
In 1984, a strange sound was enveloping the nation. It could heard squawking from an outdoor stage in Texas or bouncing between the steel and glass skyscrapers of Manhattan. The sound was the greasy notes of an accordion played by one Rockin’ Sidney Simien, on his song “My Toot Toot.”
Simien recorded the song in his lavish mobile home near Lake Charles, Louisiana, slathering instruments over a drum machine track. “My Toot Toot” was a novelty song where the singer warns “don’t mess with my toot toot.” Of course, people read all kinds of things into the lyric: don’t mess with my drugs, don’t mess with my (name your favorite part of the male or female anatomy). The song’s accordion solos just SOUND nasty, so it was easy to read stuff into it, but Simien insisted at the time the “toot toot” of the title is just a Cajun French term of endearment.
Floyd Soileau, owner of Floyd’s Record Shop in Ville Platte, released it originally on his Maison du Soul Records label and “My Toot Toot” received regional airplay and some cool national press (including an Associated Press story that Soileau and Simien credited with helping “break” the song nationally). Huey Meaux purchased the rights to the song and in turn licensed it to Epic, and by 1985 “My Toot Toot” was heard on radio stations across the country.
“I’m an overnight success,” quipped Rockin’ Sidney at the time. Sidney had been making records since 1957 and had a minor hit in 1962 with the Slim Harpo-style “No Good Woman.” A few of his songs, including “You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine” and “They Call Me Rockin’” were covered by Texas bands the Fabulous Thunderbirds and the Tail Gators, respectively. But nothing was as big for Sidney as “My Toot Toot.” The song went into the country top 40, it charted in the United Kingdom and even assaulted the pop charts for a week or so. Radio stations in big metro markets like New York and L.A. were spinning Rockin’ Sidney every hour, when before they wouldn’t touch a Cajun record with a blowtorch. Sidney played festivals, big halls, county fairs and rodeos and autographed anything from 45 singles to plump female behinds (“sign my ‘Toot Toot,’ Sidney!” they said).
“My Toot Toot” has been covered by a number of people including Fats Domino and Doug Kershaw (as a duet), Jean Knight, Denise Lasalle, Jimmy C. Newman and even John Fogerty for a 1985 TV special. It was huge overseas, and a German company continues to lease the rights today for TV commercials. Nobody seems to know how many cover versions have been recorded, but one thing is certain: the song gave Rockin’ Sidney the fame and fortune he worked for all his life. He won a Grammy Award and used the royalties from “My Toot Toot” to buy a radio station and start his own label.
But this wouldn’t be a true South Louisiana story without some tragedy. Rockin’ Sidney was only able to enjoy his massive success for just over 10 years because he was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1998. However, Rockin’ Sidney went to his grave knowing that he put Zydeco on the map and in people’s consciousness for good. And he created one of the last big regional hits in America. By the dawn of the 1990s, hits were “made” and dictated by radio conglomerates and mega-record labels in faraway cities; Rockin’ Sidney’s “My Toot Toot” came from the Cajun swamps and was created by the people.