on 27 June 2011
Ace had explored the bayous of Louisiana twice before, covering the indigenous popular music within the state in the 50's and 60's outside of specifically cajun music to which they'd previously given considerable attention. These albums were, "Another Saturday Night" (the tracks for which were selected by the late Charlie Gillett) and "Louisiana Saturday Night", both of which included music from several Louisiana record labels. These albums effectively introduced the listener to swamp pop, a term either used rather indiscriminately to cover any form of broadly rock'n'roll flavoured music or more specifically, slow ,or slow to medium tempo ballads (sometimes blues) with strong boogie bass lines, almost invariably hammered piano triplets and often, a riffing horn section. Formative influences on swamp pop had been Fats Domino and other New Orleans musicians plus Elvis flavoured country, the latter giving swamp pop its characteristic downer lyrics. The end results can be gorgeous or ponderous depending on your point of view.
This album focuses purely on the Jin label which was formed in 1958 by Floyd Soileau. He also started the Swallow label as an outlet for Cajun. Over the next few years Jin was to record many of what are now regarded as swamp pop classics, several of which are included here (with others on the "Saturday Night" pair plus other Ace albums). The masters of the biggest Jin hits, Rod Bernard's "This should go on forever", Joe Barry's "I'm a fool to care" and "Jivin' Gene's "Breaking up is hard to do", swamp classics all, were sold to major labels so could not be included in the album.
So what is included in here? Starting on the swamp pop goodies we do have an alternative version of Rod Bernard's main claim to fame, "This should go on forever" recorded for American Bandstand. The original version of the song by the writer, King Karl, had been recorded for Excello but had sat in the can due to lack of enthusiasm by the label. However King Karl, a black musician, who was vocalist with Guitar Gable's band, the Rhythm Kings, had included it in his stage show. Rod Bernard, a singer from Opelousas, heard it, obtained permission to record it and did so with his band, the Twisters, for the Jin label. It became a regional hit in South Louisiana and East Texas. Floyd sold the rights to the Argo label, sister to Chess, in Chicago, and the record went on to become a national success. It's very fondly remembered by many musicians in the area and still gets played. In 1999 there was a rather upbeat version included on an album by three highly respected Texas & Louisiana blues singer/guitarists, Long John Hunter, Phillip Walker and Lonnie Brooks (originally known as Guitar Junior). Although its lyrics are slightly more positive than the usual swamp pop number and the tune isn't the one used for most swampies, it's generally seen as the most famous swamp pop song ever (though there are competing claims from Cookie & the Cupcakes "Mathilda").
Immediately one of the endearing oddities of swamp pop music becomes apparent, the fact that both white and black musicians recorded in the genre, and that's in the American South, famed for extreme racial attitudes. The whites involved were usually of cajun extraction as can be noted from their full names rather than the often cut down stage names used. The black/white mixture probably dates back to when Bobby Charles, a young white singer who grew up within a culture of cajun and C&W music, went to New Orleans and recorded, possibly the earliest swamp pop music, under the strong influence of Fats Domino.
The other "big name" (if that's not an oxymoron!) in this collection is Jivin' Gene (Bourgeois) or to give the band and himself their full title, "Jivin' Gene and the Jokers. The two numbers included here, "Going out with the tide" and "Up up and away" represented his first single. His second single was the aforementioned "Breaking up is hard to do" (written by Gene himself and NOT the Neil Sedaka number), which was cut at a Port Arthur Radio station by Huey Meaux, local mover & shaker, and went national via major label Mercury. After which, Gene switched to Mercury and got drenched with strings and pop rubbish. "Going out with the Tide" is as good as "Breaking Up". It has the almost de rigeour swamp tune and the opening words, "Well I'm going down to the river, going to go out with the tide" set the tone immediately. Again written by Gene, possibly this was a variation on a Chuck Willis song with the same name which was also recorded by Domino. Like many of the swamp classics this number has been recorded by seemingly every musician in South Louisiana. There's a great duet version by Freddy Fender and Tommy McLain where they sound almost insanely cheerful - very much at odds with the lyrics! The flip of "Going out with the Tide", "Up up and away" is a decent shuffling rocker - he was probably attempting to cover as many bets as possible with the single.
After the failure with Mercury and another label change, Gene moved into the insulating business but is apparently now retired and performing again and is quoted as saying that he loves r'n'r more than ever now. Reportedly he can be heard playing at Larry's French Market in the Port Arthur area.
Of the other "semi-familiar" names on the album, Johnnie Allen contributes "Crying over you" which is a cross between a swamp item and a Platters style ballad. Rockin' Sidney gives us "My Little Girl", a Domino styled rocker.
Elsewhere swamp pop is represented by, "Crying over you" from Steve Rollins & the Continentals - NOT the same as the Johnnie Allen number, and "Forgive me" from the same band, essentially a slow blues but with swamp inflexions, "Lover Blues" from Red Smiley and the Vel-Tones featuring Clint West, which, again, is a slow blues and has also been recorded by Rod Bernard, "Once Again" from the same band - it's worth noting that "Red Smiley" was actually Bob Shurley, the band's guitarist who wrote both these songs - the vocalist was Clint West (actually Clint Guillory!), "Lesson in Love" from Glen Wells & the Blends with some unusual chord changes, "Give me one more chance" from Rockin' Dave Allen with some nice saxes, "Cheryl Ann" from Prince Charles & the Rockin' Kings (what a name!) with more juicy saxes, "As long as I have you" from Chuck Martin & the Honeydrippers with splendid guitar lead, the delightful, "Forever is a long, long time" from Tibby Edwards who apparently "was a guy from Texas that showed up at the store, handed me a master and asked me to put it out......I never saw him again" according to Floyd, the splendid "Don't take it too hard" from Phil Bo (actually Phil Boudreaux) and "I lost again" from Lee Martin & the Vikings with great horn section.
Another intriguing track from Phil Bo, "She wears my ring", up-tempo this time, tends to get lumped in with swamp pop. I wouldn't know how to categorise it; can't think of anything else like it, but am very pleased to have it.
Most of the other tracks are rockers of various shapes and sizes but there are a few exceptions:
- the other track from Rockin' Dave Allen is a cover of a number from Chicago blues artist Jimmy Reed, "Can't stand to see you go" - Reed was very popular in Louisiana - much of the more up-tempo blues output from Excello was in this vein - interestingly though, Dave Allen was a white guy but you wouldn't know
- a pair of good up-tempo, piano-led blues from a lady called Mary McCoy from Texas - not a lot more seems to be known about her but she is on Facebook - one of the songs is "Deep Elem Blues" the title of which refers to the "Coloured red light district" in Dallas, Texas, and which has also been recorded by several artists including Jerry Lee and the Grateful Dead
- a couple of doo-wop numbers from the Delchords, one of which, "Help me", does sound slightly swampy
All in all, this is a very good package with a great set of notes including fabulous photo`s - the one on the cover of Rod Bernard and band is fantastic - and comments on each artist from Floyd Soileau himself. There are more swamp pop numbers here, several being very obscure, than I've seen in any other collection so if you want to get into the genre, this album is an excellent place to start. Indeed it could be said that this album is almost a swamp pop primer. The rockers are also worth listening to, several of them showing clear derivation from Fats Domino and New Orleans artists of the period. Cajun touches appear on several tracks , placing them very squarely in South Louisiana
I should warn that there are some overlaps between this album and the two "Saturday Night" ones referred to much earlier. If it worries you it's perhaps best to check track listings. The same applies to the "Later Jin Singles" (but not between this pair).