Louisiana musical influences. Although a fairly obscure genre, swamp pop maintains a large audience in its south Louisiana and southeast Texas homeland, and it has acquired a small but passionate cult following in the United Kingdom, northern Europe, and Japan.
The swamp pop sound is typified by highly emotional, lovelorn lyrics, tripleting honky-tonk pianos, undulating bass lines, bellowing horn sections and a strong rhythm produced many upbeat compositions, such as Bobby Charles’ "Later Alligator" (1955), popularly covered (re-recorded) by Bill Haley & His Comets.
During the genre’s heyday (1958-1964), several swamp pop songs appeared on national U.S. record charts. These included Jimmy Clanton's "Just A Dream" (1958), Warren Storm’s "Prisoner’s Song" (1958), Phil Phillips’ "Sea Of Love" (1959),
Rod Bernard’s "This Should Go On Forever" (1959),
Joe Barry's "I’m A Fool To Care" (1960), Dale and Grace's "I’m Leaving It Up To You" (1963).
In swamp pop’s south Louisiana-southeast Texas birthplace, fans regarded many songs that never became national hits as classics. These include Johnnie Allan’s "Lonely Days, Lonely Nights" (1958), Buck Rogers’ "Crazy Baby" (1959), Randy and the Rockets’ "Let’s Do The Cajun Twist" (1962), T. K. Hulin’s "I’m Not A Fool Anymore" (1963), and Clint West’s "Big Blue Diamonds" (1965), among numerous others.
As children Swamp Pop Artist often performed Cajun music and black Creole (zydeco) music, as well as popular country and western (hillbilly) songs by musicians like Hank Williams, Sr. In the mid-1950s, however, like other American youths, they discovered the alluring new sounds of rock and roll and rhythm and blues artists like Elvis Presley and Fats Domino. As a result, these teenaged Cajuns and black Creoles stopped playing Louisiana French folk compositions like "Jolie blonde," "Allons à Lafayette," and "Les flammes d’enfer" and instead began to sing rock and roll and rhythm and blues compositions in English. At the same time, they switched from folk instruments like the accordion, fiddle, and iron triangle to modern instruments, such as the electric guitar and bass, upright piano, saxophone, and drumming trap set.By the late 1950s, swamp pop musicians had developed their own distinct sound and repertoires. They performed to receptive crowds in local dancehalls like the Southern Club in Opelousas, Landry’s Palladium in Lafayette, and the Green Lantern in Lawtell. In addition, they released recordings on local record labels, such as Floyd Soileau’s Jin label of Ville Platte, Eddie Shuler’s Goldband of Lake Charles, Carol Rachou’s La Louisianne of Lafayette, Huey Meaux’s Crazy Cajun label of Houston, and a number of labels owned by J. D. Miller of Crowley, Louisiana (who also recorded swamp pop tunes for larger national labels, such as Ernie Young’s Excello Records label of Nashville.Swamp pop musicians often adopted Anglo-American stage names that masked their Cajun and black Creole heritage.
John Allen Guillot, for example, became Johnnie Allan; Robert Charles Guidry became Bobby Charles; Joe Barrios became Joe Barry; Elwood Dugas became Bobby Page; and Terry Gene DeRouen became Gene Terry. Some of these musicians changed their names because they were ashamed of their rural French heritage — a feeling shared at the time by a segment of the Cajun and black Creole populations. But economics motivated most swamp pop musicians: They wanted to sell records not only in southern Louisiana and southeast Texas, but beyond, where the pronunciation of ethnic surnames like Guillot, Barrios, and DeRouen eluded record promoters, disc jockeys, and consumersDespite its obvious rock and roll and rhythm & blues influences, swamp pop was not devoid of folk characteristics. For example, Bobby Page and the Riff Raffs recorded "Hippy-Ti-Yo," a bilingual rock ‘n’ roll version of the traditional Cajun French song "Hip et taïaut," and Rod Bernard did the same with "Allons danser Colinda," another important folk composition. Joe Barry re-recorded his swamp pop hit "I’m A Fool To Care" in French under the title "Je suis bêt pour t’aimer." And Randy and the Rockets issued "Let’s Do The Cajun Twist," an English remake of the Cajun French favorite "Allons à Lafayette."Swamp pop originated in south Louisiana as a blend of New Orleans rhythm and blues, hillbilly, rockabilly, cajun, and creole music. The style evolved in the mid-1950s when cajun and creole teenagers began exchanging fiddles, accordions, and steel guitars for saxophones, pianos, and electric guitars. What resulted was great music from down on the bayou that took over the dancehalls and jukeboxes of south Louisiana.Esteemed South Louisiana saxophonist, Harry Simoneaux, aptly described swamp pop music as, "Half fais-do do, half Domino." Swamp pop originated in South Louisiana and a small area of East Texas as a blend of New Orleans rhythm and blues, hillbilly, rockabilly, cajun, and creole music. The style evolved in the mid-1950s when South Louisiana's cajun and creole teenagers began exchanging fiddles, accordions, and steel guitars for saxophones, pianos, and electric guitars. As the young people strove innocently to emulate their idols, they unwittingly fell upon a simple but very distinct musical formula. A typical swamp pop recording features highly emotional vocals, piano triplets, loping drums, horns playing long whole notes, as well as the guitar and bass doubling the piano's bass line. Rarely do the songs include more than three chords.
"In South Louisiana the radio played Fats Domino all the time and the musicians here copied his style of music," said Johnnie Allan, the most prolific swamp pop artist of all time. "But our musicians couldn't sound like the New Orleans musicians on Fats Domino or Earl King records. They felt the music differently, and rather than playing New Orleans music note-for-note, they integrated it with the cajun music they heard when they were growing up."Record producers like Floyd Soileau (Jin), Eddie Shuler (Goldband), and especially J.D. Miller (Excello), also deserve credit for creating swamp pop.Together they created a style of music that caught a lot of peoples' attention-not just in South Louisiana but around the world."Swamp pop's classic period was 1958 to 1964, when nearly two dozen swamp pop recordings reached the national charts. During this time the music wasn't referred to as swamp pop, it was simply the South Louisiana Sound.
The term swamp pop didn't come into general use until the early 1970s when British music writers like John Broven and Bill Millar began using the term to describe South Louisiana rock 'n' roll.The initial swamp pop record to receive attention outside Louisiana was Bobby Charles' feverish "(See You) Later Alligator." Charles' thunder would be stolen by Bill Haley's cover version, but Charles would become a prolific songwriter and influential swamp pop artist for over a decade. He would later record South Louisiana hits like "Watch It Sprocket," "Laura Lee," "Why Can't You," and "No Use Knockin'." Charles also wrote "Walkin' To New Orleans" for Fats Domino, and "I Don't Know Why But I Do" for Clarence "Frogman" Henry which were tremendous hits.Other important swamp pop records from the mid-1950s include Roy Perkins's "You're On My Mind," Cookie and the Boogie Ramblers's "Cindy Lou," Guitar Gable and King Karl's "Irene," and Guitar Jr.s' "Family Rules"; their popularity however was confined primarily to South LouisianaIn 1958, the swamp pop sound finally reached beyond the bayous when Rod Bernard's "This Should Go On Forever," Warren Storm's "Prisoner's Song," and Jimmy Clanton's "Just A Dream" appeared in Billboard magazine's Hot 100. In terms of record sales, 1959 was the high water mark for swamp pop, as Jivin' Gene's "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do," Rod Bernard's "One More Chance," and Cookie and the Cupcakes' (formerly the Boogie Ramblers) "Mathilda," reached the Hot 100. Although "Mathilda" was only a minor national hit, in South Louisiana the song became a revered anthem. "'Mathilda' is swamp pop period," declared Allan. "When 'Mathilda' came out every radio station-R&B, country, pop, rock 'n' roll- played it. In Louisiana 'Mathilda,' was to swamp pop what 'Jole Blon' was to cajun music. Even today, every swamp pop band has to play 'Mathilda' at least once a night or the audience gets upset." America continued to embrace swamp pop in the early 1960s as Elton Anderson's "Secret of Love," Joe Barry's "I'm A Fool To Care" and "Teardrops In My Heart," Slim Harpo's "Rainin' In My Heart," Cookie and the Cupcakes's "Got You On My Mind," Barbara Lynn's "You'll Lose A Good Thing," T.K. Hulin's "I'm Not A Fool Anymore," and Dale and Grace's "I'm Leaving It Up To You" and "Stop And Think It Over," reached the national chartsSwamp pop's golden era ended when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. Resistant to change, swamp pop couldn't contend with the new wave of rock music from England or that sweeping the United States. Later, isolated swamp pop releases like Tommy McLain's "Sweet Dreams" and Freddie Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" were national hits, and Johnnie Allan charted in Europe with "Promised Land," but the popularity of swamp pop was mostly confined to South Louisiana.Today, Allan and other old-school swamp poppers like Tommy McLain, Warren Storm, Rod Bernard, Van Broussard, the Boogie Kings, Lil' Bob and the Lollipops, Little Alfred and the Cupcakes (Cookie's old group), and T.K. Hulin, still perform on weekends at clubs, casinos, and dance halls in South Louisiana and East Texas. Younger artists like Don Rich, Deuce of Hearts, Lil' Band of Gold, LA Express, Treater and Wayne Foret also continue the swamp pop tradition.