Swamp pop

Swamp pop

Swamp pop is a musical genre indigenous to the Acadiana region of south Louisiana and an adjoining section of southeast Texas. Created in the 1950s and early 1960s by teenaged Cajuns and black Creoles, it combines New Orleans-style rhythm and blues, country and western, and traditional French 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 sound

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 and blues backbeat. It is exemplified by slow ballads like Cookie and the Cupcakes’ “Mathilda” (recorded 1958), considered by many the unofficial swamp pop “anthem.” But the genre has also 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), and Dale and Grace’s “I’m Leaving It Up To You” (1963). [John Broven, "South to Louisiana: Music of the Cajun Bayous" (Gretna, La.: Pelican, 1983), pp. 179-83.]

In swamp pop’s south Louisiana-southeast Texas birthplace, however, fans nonetheless regarded as classics many songs that never became national hits. 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.

Roots and early history

As children, swamp pop musicians listened to and even performed traditional Cajun music and black Creole (zydeco) music, as well popular country and western (hillbilly) songs by musicians like Hank Williams, Sr. In the mid-1950s, however, they like other American youths discovered the alluring new sounds of rock and roll and rhythm and blues artists like Elvis Presley and

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 surnames. 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 south Louisiana and southeast Texas, but beyond, where the pronunciation of ethnic surnames like Guillot, Barrios, and DeRouen eluded promoters, deejays, and consumers. [Bernard, "Swamp Pop", pp. 60-62.]

Despite its obvious rock and roll and rhythm and 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".” [Bernard, "Swamp Pop", pp. 84-86.]


Since the genre’s origin in the mid-1950s, over twenty swamp pop songs have appeared in the Billboard Hot 100. Five of these songs broke into the Top 10, and three of them reached number one. While swamp pop drew heavily on New Orleans rhythm and blues, it reciprocated by making a detectable impact on songs like Lloyd Price’s “Just Because,” Earl King’s “Those Lonely Lonely Nights,” Little Richard’s “Can’t Believe You Want To Leave” and “Send Me Some Lovin’,” and Clarence "Frogman" Henry's "(I Don't Know Why) But I Do" and “On Bended Knee” (both Bobby Charles compositions). Swamp pop also left its imprint on the related but distinct genre known as “swamp blues,” including Slim Harpo’s classic “Rainin’ In My Heart.”

Swamp pop’s impact on popular music is heard in the Rolling Stones’ cover of Barbara Lynn’s “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” and “Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’)”, the Honeydrippers’ rendition of Phil Phillips’ “Sea Of Love,” Elvis Presley’s remake of Johnny Ace’s “Pledging My Love,” and The Beatles’ swamp-inspired “Oh! Darling,” and in the work of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Swamp pop also influenced Tex-Mex music, particularly the recordings of Freddy Fender (real name Baldemar Huerta), whose early 1970s swampy songs like “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” and “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.” (South Louisiana and southeast Texas audiences generally consider Fender a full-fledged swamp pop musician.) [Bernard, "Swamp Pop", pp. 104-8.]

Although the genre began a slow decline with the onslaught of the British Invasion, swamp pop music continues to draw devoted fans to south Louisiana and southeast Texas festivals and nightclubs. Only a few younger swamp pop musicians, such as Don Rich, are replacing the original generation of swamp pop pioneers, most now in their sixties. Some younger non-swamp musicians, such as Cajun musician Zachary Richard and rockers Marc Broussard and C. C. Adcock, have acknowledged a strong swamp pop influence. A sizeable catalog of swamp pop recordings, both vintage and new, are on compact disk, guaranteeing that future audiences will be able to enjoy this distinctive American sound.

Selected discography

* Johnnie Allan, "Promised Land", Ace 380, 1992 [UK] .
* Johnnie Allan, "Swamp Pop

* Rod Bernard, "Swamp Pop

* Rod Bernard, "Swamp Rock 'n' Roller", Ace 488, 1994 [UK] .
* The Boogie Kings, "Swamp Boogie Blues", Jin 9045, 1995.
* Van Broussard, "The Early Years", CSP 1007, 1993.
* Cookie & The Cupcakes, "By Request", Jin 9037, 1993.
* Charles Mann, "Swamp Pop

* Randy & The Rockets, "A Blast From the Past – The Essential Collection", Jin 9059, 1998.
* Warren Storm, "Night After Night", Jin 9039, 1995.
* Tommy McLain, "Swamp Pop

* Various Artists, "Eddie’s House of Hits: The Story of Goldband Records", Ace 424, 1992 [UK] .
* Various Artists, "Louisiana Saturday Night", Ace 490, 1993 [UK] .
* Various Artists, "Sea of Love: Louisiana Bayou Hits", 1950s to 1960s, Blues Interactions, 1990 [Japan] .
* Various Artists, "Swamp Gold", Vol. 1, Jin 106, 1991; Vol. 2, Jin 107, 1991; Vol. 3, Jin 108, 1994; Vol. 4, Jin 109, 1994; Vol. 5, Jin 9053, 1997; Vol. 6, Jin 9064, 2005; Vol. 7, Jin 9073, 2002; Vol. 8, Jin 9081, 2006.
* Clint West, "Swamp Pop



*Shane K. Bernard, "Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues" (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996).
*John Broven, "South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous" (Gretna, La.: Pelican, 1983).
*Ryan A. Brasseaux & Kevin S. Fontenot, "Accordions, Fiddles, Two-Step & Swing: A Cajun Music Reader" (Lafayette, La.: Center for Louisiana Studies, 2006).

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