George Perkins, the deep-soul and gospel artist who was slated to perform at this fall’s Ponderosa Stomp, died unexpectedly at his home in Hammond, La., on April 17. He was 70. Perkins was best-known for the hit “Cryin’ In the Streets,” an anthem he aptly pronounced “the right song at the right time.”
Born Sept. 25, 1942, at Denham Springs, La., Perkins came out of the gospel tradition.
“When I was 16 or 17, gospel was real hot,” recalled Perkins earlier this year. “I started a quartet, the Silver Stars, with Frank Turner and a couple of my nephews. We did a lot of Soul Stirrers songs.”
George Perkins points his fingers toward Soul Heaven, where the soul and gospel singer presumably has since gone after passing away in April. The “Cryin’ in the Streets” singer was scheduled to appear at the 2013 Ponderosa Stomp. (Photo copyright Aubrey Edwards)
The Silver Stars proved to be popular, appearing at local church services and gospel music programs. In 1968 the Silver Stars were invited to record for the Ebb Tide/Ebenezer’s Gospel label. Two singles appeared: “They Call Him Jesus” and “Father Don’t Forget Me.” While Perkins maintained a busy singing career, he also managed to graduate from business college, eventually becoming an insurance agent.
Two years later, fate would enter Perkins’ life in a way no one could have predicted.
“A hillbilly guy gave me the title to the song ‘Cryin’ In the Streets,’” said Perkins. “I came up with the rest of the lyrics. The lyrics were about the Dr. Martin Luther King assassination and the civil rights movement. I arranged the song, and it came out on the Golden label. WXOK in Baton Rouge started playing it. It stayed at No. 1 there for two months. Then it started to hit all over the South, Memphis to Florida.”
While Golden placed the record with All South Distributors in New Orleans, the label was hard-pressed to keep up with demand for the single outside of All South’s network of retail accounts. In stepped Houston’s Leland Rogers (brother of future country superstar Kenny) who owned Silver Fox, a label distributed nationally by Shelby Singleton Enterprises. Silver Fox leased the “Cryin’ In the Streets” master, and Rogers’ hooked Perkins up with a booking agent in Nashville.
“I performed all over the South: Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, all through the Carolinas. I stayed plenty busy traveling for months.”
Perkins was proudest of his weeklong stint at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem.
“I had the No. 3 record in New York, recalled Perkins — quite an accomplishment for a down-home Southern R&B record. “The Delphonics were No. 1 ["What You See (Is What You Get")] and Shirley Brown was No. 2 (“Woman To Woman”). The No. 4 record was the O’Jays’ ‘The Backstabbers.’”
When the dust finally settled, “Cryin’ In the Streets” had spent 12 weeks in the Billboard R&B charts, rising as high as No. 12.
The follow-up on Golden was “How Can A Broke Man Survive.” Despite its merit, the record stalled. Perkins moved on to Johnny Vincent’s Ace label in Jackson, Miss., even recording the inevitable “Baby I’m Fed Up With (Crying In the Streets).” No hits were forthcoming, and he did no better with a second-line record he cut in New Orleans with Clinton Scott.
1972 saw Perkins signing with writer/producer Jerry Strickland, who had formed the Soul Power label in Shreveport. Despite being perky Southern soul, both singles stalled.
By 1974, Perkins was working for the Royal Shield Insurance Co. in Baton Rouge. The company’s owner not only backed Perkins by giving him time off when he had out-of-town gigs, but also went as far as opening a recording studio (Deep South) and starting a label (Royal Shield) to help promote Perkins’ career.
“They had big plans for that studio,” said Perkins. “It was state of the art. They spent a lot of money on it, but it just couldn’t make a go of it. There just weren’t enough record companies in Baton Rouge to sustain it.”
As far as his Royal Shield releases were concerned, there were a couple of nice outing including the churchy “You’ve Been Good To Me,” which featured his old partner Frank Turner. Unfortunately, Perkins’ career seemed mired in the shadow of his original hit, which he even remade on Royal Shield. Perkins had a couple releases on his own label, GP, and he bowed out with a release on — you guessed it — the Cryin’ In the Streets label.
“I pretty much stuck to gospel after the early 1980s,” said Perkins. “In 1984 I cut a gospel album, ‘The Best of George Perkins.’ I still sang in church.”
Perkins leaves a wife, three sons, and three daughters.
On July 30, Lincoln Center Out of Doors and the Ponderosa Stomp will present She’s Got the Power!, a celebration of the Girl Group sound and a salute to the women behind the unforgettable hits.
In breaking news, Ronnie Spector, Queen of the Girl Groups and one of the defining voices of female rock n’ roll, will headline She’s Got The Power! Her timeless style and sound continues to influence performers today, as evidenced by the latest wave of young bands who frequently cite her as a primary inspiration. Ronnie will join her old friends to perform on the evening show, which kicks off at 5 p.m. at the Damrosch Park Bandshell.
The story of the girl group sound is also a unique New York story, in which young writers, producers, and musicians from all walks of life collaborated to create a style that celebrated American teenage dreams, in songs that combined raw emotional urgency and sophisticated musical production. Kids everywhere responded to their music, sending the girl groups to the top of the charts, dominating the airwaves for several years and defining the era between early rock and the British invasion.
Lesley Gore, LaLa Brooks (formerly of the Crystals), Arlene Smith (formerly of the Chantels), Barbara Harris (of the Toys) Margaret Ross (of the Cookies), Maxine Brown, Brenda Reid and Lillian Walker Moss (of The Exciters), Peggy Santiglia Davison and Jiggs Sirico ( of The Angels®), Beverly Warren (of the Raindrops), Nanette Licari (of the Delrons), Baby Washington and Toni Wine will breathe life into unforgettable songs with the backing of the Boyfriends, led by musical director Jeremy Chatzky.
An afternoon symposium dubbed Girl Talk will present moderators Lauren Onkey of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, journalist Alison Fensterstock and Sheryl Farber (producer of Rhino’s box set One Kiss Can Lead To Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost & Found)) discussing their histories and lives on the road and in the studio, with a special panel devoted to the legacy of the late Ellie Greenwich, who’ll also be honored with a musical tribute that evening. An Interview with Lesley Gore and a panel with the Exciters and the Angels will also be presented.
Bill Bragin, director of public programming at Lincoln Center, explains, “Our mult-year partnership with the Ponderosa Stomp is very much focused on welcoming under-appreciated popular music artists into the cultural canon. We’re thrilled to celebrate these powerful female artists, who have had such a lasting impact on American popular music, at Lincoln Center, where their art stands alongside world class orchestras, opera divas, Tony-Award winners and ballet companies.”
For lagniappe, click here to see Ronnie on the Sha Na Na show doing “Be My Baby.”
Ex-Slim Harpo guitarist James Johnson plays at Phil Brady's nightclub in Baton Rouge circa 2003. He'll be at this year's Ponderosa Stomp as part of the Excello revue.
Baton Rouge blues giant James Johnson’s scheduled appearance at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp is perhaps one of the most highly anticipated performances in recent memory, especially because this amazing guitarist does not often travel outside Baton Rouge to perform.
Everyone knows that bedrock of the 1960s Baton Rouge swamp-blues scene, Slim Harpo (James Moore), whose haunting harmonica was matched by the stinging twin-guitar attack of his lesser-known sidemen, Rudy Richard and James Johnson. It’s Johnson’s biting guitar that puts the “chicken scratch” into Harpo’s 1966 Excello hit, “Baby, Scratch My Back,” which reached #1 on the R&B charts and #16 on the pop charts. As members of the King Bees, the Richard-Johnson tag team also graces many of the other major Harpo sides, including “Rainin’ in My Heart.”
The video below shows Johnson playing with searing yet laid-back intensity in tandem with Lil’ Ray Neal and other Neal family members at a Lafayette juke joint in January 2011. [The New Orleans Saints lost to Tampa Bay the day this video was shot, but the music fans who heard Johnson and the Stomp-like roster of blues and zydeco heavyweights on this show left the club feeling like winners. If, God forbid, the Saints lose to the Chicago Bears on Sept. 18, 2011, your having witnessed James Johnson at the Stomp earlier that weekend will likewise salve your wounds.]
To see the Ponderosa Stomp lineup as scheduled so far, click here. To buy tickets for the Stomp (Sept. 16-17), click here. For travel packages, click here.
Ponderosa Stomp fans know that the most magical sounds often emanate from the most primitive of conditions. Take, for instance, the flood of hits that flowed from the legendary 15-by-16-foot hole in the wall that comprised Cosimo Matassa’s original J&M recording studio on Rampart Street. The same with Eddie Shuler’s tiny Goldband studio, which he opened in the rear of his TV repair shop in Lake Charles. The landmark songs recorded in just those two Looziana incubators – like Antoine Domino’s “The Fat Man,” Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used to Do,” and Phil Phillips’ “Sea of Love” – mesmerize listeners almost because of their technical limitations, not in spite of them.
Jivin' Gene Bourgeois
Likewise, Jivin’ Gene, aka Gene Bourgeois, of Port Arthur, Texas, began his ascent to swamp-pop immortality by singing in the toilet. Not his greatest hit, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” but rather the equally swampy “Going Out With the Tide,” later covered by another Meaux protégé, Freddy Fender (here in a duet with Tommy McLain).
“He walked in with blue jeans and bare feet and kinda like Clark Kent’s version of Superman, with horn-rimmed glasses. And he wanted me to record his rock ‘n’ roll band. I told him I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but if he wanted to bring his band in, let’s get down to it. In the KPAC studio there was an old Magnecord in mono – you never heard of stereo in those days – and two pots and a toilet in the corner of the room. And he had to sing in the toilet. I had a big old RCA ribbon mike, a diamond-shaped thing, and I hung it up on the boom and put my amplifiers in a horseshoe shape. The drums had to be way back. I thought I was gonna have to put them out in the street before it was over ‘cause it was getting too loud. I called [Ville Platte’s Jin label owner] Floyd [Soileau], saying, ‘I think this guy has potential.’”
Soileau would release “Going Out With the Tide” as Jin 109 (backed with “Up, Up, and Away”), and it became a regional hit. Bourgeois confirms the story, but with a different twist. “Yeah, I really did sing in the shitter. But it was because I was so shy, I didn’t want anyone looking at me when I sang,” he told the 30 Days Out blogger.
In a separate post, 30 Days Out writes about the sonic effects of the commode in creating the plaintive swamp-pop sound (though apparently confusing “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” with “Going Out With the Tide”):
“My favorite Gene story was about the time they recorded ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do’ at KPAC radio studios in Port Arthur. Gene used to get stage fright when he sang, even when the audience was only his band and a producer. So Huey stuck Gene in the men’s room along with a microphone and turned out the lights. The great echo you hear on the song came from that location – and it became a trademark of the great Texas-Meets-Louisiana swamp rock sound. Every time I think of Port Arthur, that tune begins to play in my brain: ‘Breaking up is hard to doooooooo/Making up is the thing to doooooooo.’”
Meaux and Soileau then booked a recording session for Jivin’ Gene at Jay Miller’s storied studio in Crowley, La., and it was there that Gene cut the definitive version of his most famous tune, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” which hit #69 on the Billboard charts in 1959. According to Soileau:
“It was about Gene’s wife problems. We did a Fats Domino-type thing and put the record out. Right away Huey started getting airplay on it in East Texas, and I got airplay on it down in this area, and things started happening. And Bill Hall still had his eyes open, and we made a deal with him to get it in on Mercury Records. And as a result his Big Bopper Music got the publishing on the original sides and that was his compensation. And Huey managed the artist and I had the record label and the record company, so I had my compensation. We had a three-way thing going there for a while, and Mercury took on with Jivin’ Gene and did fairly well with him.”
Gene went on to do further recording for Mercury, mostly in Nashville, even redoing a version of “Going Out With the Tide” – cum violins – that made The Cash Box listings in 1960. However, somewhere in the process the “swamp” got taken out of the swamp pop. As Warren Storm, whose own Nashville recordings sound slightly castrated compared with his Louisiana-recorded oeuvre, would tell Shane Bernard in “Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues” about his Music City studio experience:
“Oh yeah. It wasn’t swamp pop. It was more pop than anything else. … It was the Nashville sound, that’s where it was. Nashville. … It was mechanical because it was the Nashville sound. All the records that came out of there, it was the same music background.”
(Apparently Nashville producers found little need to turn to the outhouse as an acoustical accoutrement, what with Floyd Cramer, Boots Randolph, and Chet Atkins in house at any given time.)
Bourgeois would later record for Chess, Hall-Way, and TCF-Hall into the 1960s before dropping out of music for almost 20 years and working as an insulator – reportedly even plying his trade on the Alaskan pipeline like so many other Cajuns who have found work around the globe in the petroleum industry both on- and offshore. [See author Woody Falgoux's "Rise of the Cajun Mariners."]
By the 1980s, nostalgia for the past took hold, and the accolades began to pour in. Gene was inducted in 1993 into the Louisiana Hall of Fame (Lou Gabus’ precursor to the current hall) and the Museum of the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame in 1995, and he received the Louisiana Hall of Fame Living Legend Award in June 2003.
Jivin' Gene Bourgeois sings at a 2004 benefit at Pat's in Henderson, La.
In recent years Gene has joined forces with fellow East Texan Ken Marvel, a keyboardist and singer whose working band provides able backing for Bourgeois on his semi-regular gigs. However, as a bandleader in his own right, Marvel is not content, like so many other groups, to merely recycle the golden swamp-pop oldies in letter-perfect, note-for-note renditions. Yes, he pays tribute to the masters, but on his two CDs (“Mr. Swamp Pop” and “Swamp Pop Music”) Marvel has actually written numerous well-crafted original songs with mature themes, sung with passion and earnestness. And it doesn’t hurt that he uses a crack coonass band for his recording sessions (including Warren Storm, Wayne Toups, Jon Smith, Pat Breaux, Jason Parfait, Steve Grisaffe, Tony Ardoin, and Mike Burch, among others). Be sure to catch Marvel playing around East Texas’ Golden Triangle area or else at his occasional Louisiana appearances.
No longer reliant on the porcelain gods for acoustical succor, Jivin’ Gene has reunited with Floyd Soileau’s Jin label with a new CD, “It’s Never Too Late,” recorded at David Rachou’s La Louisianne studio in Lafayette and released in 2009. Gene wrote or co-wrote nearly every cut on the 14-song CD and is backed by Warren Storm on drums and rubboard, Ken Marvel on keys, and Rick Folse (son of legendary Vin Bruce band alumnus Pott Folse) on sax, among others.
Don’t miss Jivin’ Gene at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp. To buy tickets, click here. To learn more about this swamp-pop legend, read this and this.
Jivin' Gene's 2009 release on the Jin label, featuring his original songs and drumming by Warren Storm
Frogman Henry leads a Ponderosa Stomp Revue this Wednesday that also features Jean "Mr. Big Stuff" Knight, Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, Bobby Allen, and Paul "Lil' Buck" Sinegal.
This is a rare local appearance by Frogman, 74, but the pairing with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sponsorship couldn’t be more appropriate. After all, as Frogman tells it, he learned at least some of his musical chops from several legendary Louisiana inductees, such as:
Henry Roeland Byrd, aka Professor Longhair: “I used to sneak into the Pepper Pot (in nearby Gretna) to see Professor Longhair. It was just him and a drummer, but it sounded like a whole band in there. When I played talent shows at school, I played his numbers and dressed just like him with tails and a long Indian wig.” [“The Soul of New Orleans: A Legacy of Rhythm and Blues” by Jeff Hannusch]
Antoine “Fats” Domino: “Fats was my inspiration. When I sat down at the piano, I tried to play everything he did. As far as I’m concerned, Fats is the real king of rock and roll.”
Dave Bartholomew: Frogman’s first brush with Bartholomew – Fats’ producer, bandleader, and co-writer – was during his stint with Bobby Mitchell’s Toppers, with whom Frogman got his start, eventually recording several Imperial sides with the group. According to Hannusch, “the Toppers auditioned for Imperial’s Dave Bartholomew, who thought the teenagers had potential. Henry played trombone on the group’s first session but eventually got fired because he missed a gig in order to attend his own shotgun wedding.”
Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, backed by guitarist Irving Bannister at Stomp 2004, is singing this Wednesday at a Stomp Revue sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The split from Mitchell and the Toppers proved to be fateful. After high school, Frogman began working as a pianist at local West Bank clubs, and it was at the legendary Joy Lounge at Fourth Street and Huey P. Long Avenue in Gretna where Henry was inspired to write his most famous song, “Ain’t Got No Home” – and thus the Frogman was born. According to a 1999 Times-Picayune profile by Bill Grady:
Henry conceived the tune in a rare moment of annoyance while playing the Joy Lounge in Gretna in 1956. The bandleader, Eddie Smith, wouldn’t let the musicians quit until the place emptied of customers, and Clarence was bushed. “I was trying to tell the people to go home, so I hit a riff on the piano and I start singing, ‘Woo-woo-oo-oo-oo, ain’t got no home,’” Henry said. “I got my nickname from a disc jockey at WJMR, Poppa Stoppa. People were requesting the song. They’d say, ‘Play the frog song by the frog man!’ So Poppa Stoppa said, ‘From now on, you Frogman.’”
Recorded for the Chess label by New Orleans bandleader Paul Gayten and powered by key Domino sidemen Lee Allen and Walter “Papoose” Nelson, the song climbed to #3 on the Billboard R&B chart and took Frogman to auditoriums all over the country, including the Apollo. Over the years it has sold more than 8 million copies, having been featured in films such as “Diner” and “The Lost Boys” and – more infamously – as theme music on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. Other standout songs include “Lonely Tramp,”“I’m in Love,” and “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” which features piano by another Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Allen Toussaint.
Guitarist Paul "Lil Buck" Sinegal, seen here in 2002 with the late Nat Jolivette at the Circle Bar, leads the band at this Wednesday's Stomp Revue also featuring Jean Knight and Bobby Allen.
But the music didn’t stop with “Ain’t Got No Home.” With an assist from Louisiana songwriting legend and Chess labelmate Bobby Charles, Frogman scored his biggest hit with “(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do,” which reached #4 on the national pop chart and has gone on to be featured in numerous films, including “Forrest Gump.” No less an authority than sex goddess/actress Elizabeth Hurley called “But I Do,” which appeared in the Hugh Grant-James Caan film “Mickey Blue Eyes,” “one of the most heavenly songs ever recorded.”
Seen here in 2004, Frogman Henry will be performing this Wednesday at the Howlin' Wolf for a Ponderosa Stomp Revue sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Oddy enough, this wasn’t Frogman’s only association with Cajun music legends. According to Hannusch, after leaving Chess, Frogman joined forces with the notorious producer Huey Meaux of Winnie, Texas, recording “five great singles for Meaux that were leased to Parrot Records including the classic ‘Cajun Honey.’” Frogman also interpreted material supplied by another swamp-pop songwriter of Bobby Charles’ caliber whose ditties Domino also had waxed: “There was a guy out of Biloxi, Jimmy Donley, that wrote great country songs. He used to write and record for Huey so there were a lot of his songs around. He wrote ‘Think It Over,’ which was one of my favorite tunes.” In recent years, this writer has heard Frogman refer to his own music as “swamp pop” – no doubt because his repertoire has never gone out of style in the dance-crazed, more rural areas of southernmost Louisiana, whose musicians in cross-fertilizing fashion crafted their own New Orleans-inspired swamp-pop tunes, fueled as they were by the sounds of Crescent City-style R&B emanating from the city’s radio stations.
Frogman Henry smiles as ailing swamp-pop legend Joe Barry sings in public for the last time before his death in 2004.
In 1964 Frogman had his greatest brush with fame – that is, with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Beatles, opening 18 concerts for the Fab Four, including at New Orleans’ City Park Stadium. Frogman then plied his trade on Bourbon Street, tinkling the ivories for 19 years in various clubs during a storied era when giants such as Cousin Joe, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, and Frankie Ford still trod that famous musical conduit. His contributions to music have been recognized by his induction into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame as well as the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, to name just a few.
Frogman Henry fans John, Paul, George, and Ringo clown with the New Orleans R&B legend in 1964.
One of Frogman’s later songs, ironically first recorded by British duo Chas and Dave, perfectly encapsulates the New Orleans piano tradition with goosebump-generating gusto. Pure rollicking R&B in a joyous, pounding Fats-style, “That Old Piano” tells the story of how such magical music has so often sprung from the humblest of origins, rooted in family traditions passed down from generation to generation during house parties and Saturday-night fish fries where a beat-up piano served as the centerpiece of interaction and the primary inducement for dancing. This video features Frogman performing the song live with a full band.
Though still going strong when he does gig, Frogman’s influence will now certainly live on in the music of his son, Clarence “Tadpole” Henry III, who performs R&B and soul at local clubs and festivals. Still, Ponderosa Stomp fans should come out Wednesday night to see why we think rock immortality in Cleveland should be the next stop for the Frogman, one of the treasured survivors of the golden age of New Orleans R&B. “People want to see the Frogman, but you know the Frogman wants to see the people too,” Henry once told Jeff Hannusch. So go see the Frogman, a very Special Man …
Frogman Henry smiles alongside Texas shouter Roy Head, with Stomp kingpin Dr. Ike at right.
The Ponderosa Stomp Revue, presented by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is set for June 8 (Wednesday) at 9 p.m. at the Howlin’ Wolf at 907 S. Peters St. in New Orleans.
Ex-Stax recording artist Jean "Mr. Big Stuff" Knight, whose hits also include "You Got the Papers (I Got the Man)" and "My Toot Toot," is singing at the Stomp Revue this Wednesday at New Orleans' Howlin' Wolf.
The opening of the Morganza Spillway to spare Baton Rouge and New Orleans from potentially massive Mississippi River flooding has many Ponderosa Stomp fans breathing a sigh of relief, but not so for those still in harm’s way: the hardy denizens of the Atchafalaya Basin’s culturally rich communities, which have served as spawning grounds for Cajun, swamp-pop, and other visceral forms of Looziana music.
“There have been some unique communities in the Atchafalaya Swamp then and now,” writes Jiro “Jireaux” Hatano in a 2003 article titled “The Music Entertainment in the Atchafalaya Swamp.” “While some of them were abandoned after the great flood of 1927, others are still alive, and a couple of communities are doing well at music entertainment business.” As the great flood of 2011 looms, how many of these fragile but surviving music epicenters will be wiped out?
Ancient moss-draped cypress trees tower above the Atchafalaya Swamp.
The dancefloor at Whiskey River Landing in Henderson, awaiting the arrival of the likes of Steve Riley or Geno Delafose.
Swamp-pop legend Tommy McLain performs in front of the massive swamp-scene mural at Pat's Atchafalaya Club in Henderson.
But head south toward Morgan City, where the Atchafalaya River meets the Gulf of Mexico, and along the swamps and bayous and lakes of the basin you’ll find in little one-horse towns – or just up the bend along winding country roads amid dense junglelike vegetation – some still-vibrant oases of coonass culture, where the multi-generations (grandparents, mom/dad, and grandchildren) all come out to kick out the jams on Saturday nights, learn the Cajun two-step at the Sunday fais do-dos, and scream “Aaaaaiiiieeeeeee” to their sometimes angst-ridden, other-times joyous ancestral sounds.
In the relatively large petroleum-powered burg of Morgan City you might find one Vince Anthony, former Looziana rockabilly blazer from the late 1950s who now cranks out countless CDs of well-crafted swamp-pop originals — with the same regularity that sugar cane is harvested each fall — all sung in a voice as smooth as Mello Joy coffee and rich as Steen’s cane syrup. Born Vincent Guzzetta, Anthony and his band the Blue Notes recorded singles for the Hilton and Viking labels, including at Cosimo Matassa’s legendary studio in New Orleans. Later, GG Shinn recorded a scorching version of the Anthony-penned “Devil of a Girl” for Montel Records in Baton Rouge.
Morgan City swamp-popper and rockabilly guitarist Vince Anthony in the late 1950s or early '60s.
Morgan City also served as the post-rock retirement home of former Specialty recording artist and Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack runnin’ pardner Jerry Byrne of “Lights Out” fame (not to mention “Carry On” and the humid south Looziana dirge “Raining.”). Having eschewed the decadent life of dim lights, thick smoke, and loud, loud music in his later years, Byrne died in 2010, an apparently successful nonmusical businessman.
Specialty recording artist and longtime Morgan City resident Jerry Byrne ("Lights Out").
Brothers in swamp pop and unique hairstyles: Warren Storm and Don Rich pose outside LA Cajun Stuff record store in Houma.
North toward Pierre Part, along Louisiana Highway 70 midway between Morgan City and Donaldsonville, you’ll find yourself on the shores of Lake Verret – in Don Rich country. Son of the legendary-in-those-parts musician Golen Richard, Cajun keyboardist, accordionist, and soulful singer-songwriter Don Rich is keeping the swamp-pop fires burning in numerous gigs along the U.S. 90 corridor stretching from Lake Charles to Gretna.
Don Rich's sister, Liz the Gator Queen from the "Swamp People" TV show.
A Jin recording artist and Louisiana and West Bank music hall-of-fame member, Rich also tips his hat to traditional Cajun music, classic country such as George Jones, and soul giants like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. When the godfathers of swamp pop pass into that great sock hop in the sky, Don Rich will take his rightful place as an elder statesman of the tear-jerking genre. Don also has a few notable relatives, including cousin Bobby “Da Cajun” Richard, a disc jockey with a swamp-pop and Cajun show on KCIL 107.5 FM in Houma, as well as his sister Liz “The Gator Queen,” who is starring on The History Channel’s “Swamp People” show.
Don Rich is no stranger to the musical venues of Pierre Part and environs, and this writer had the pleasure of visiting one that now is lost to the ages, perhaps a casualty of Hurricane Gustav’s rising waters in 2008: Chilly’s on Lake Verret (827 Shell Beach Road). “The Cajun Country Guide” by Macon Fry and Julie Posner describes the boisterous joint in its latter heyday:
“This is just a great place, a hidden treasure! How could such a wildly popular dance hall exist since the 1930s on a tiny scrap of sinking land 2.5 miles off the Baton Rouge to Morgan City Highway? It helps that the dance hall actually sits on stilts over tranquil Lake Verret and that hundreds of recreational fishermen back their boats in here on weekends. Slow dancers can gaze out the window at moonlight and moss reflecting on the water. The place does not look very old; according to current owner ‘Chilly’ Russo, grandson of the original builder, it was 75 percent obliterated by Hurricane Andrew and few years earlier 50 percent destroyed by Hurricane Juan. After each storm a new plywood floor was placed on the old pilings. A young crowd shows up for the Saturday-night Swamp Pop shows by local singer Don Rich, but the big event is the Sunday-afternoon Cajun dance. Folks drive from Morgan City and Baton Rouge or come by boat from around Lake Verret to dance, drink, and hang out on the patio by the lake.”
Indeed, this place was a true gem, reminiscent of the now-obliterated seafood shacks and camps mounted on pilings at New Orleans’ West End and elsewhere along Lake Pontchartrain. Here’s a video of Foret Tradition playing the Fats Domino classic “Josephine” at Chilly’s (also known as “The Old Lake” club).
The legendary swamp-pop/Cajun music stronghold Chilly's nightclub, mounted over rickety pilings on Lake Verret.
Alas, Chilly’s is gone-pecan, but still going strong is the Rainbow Inn on La. 70. According to Fry/Posner:
“The Rainbow is perhaps the quintessential South Louisiana barroom and dance hall. Built in the late thirties, it is a wooden structure with a broad stucco face that sports two round Coke signs and its name is bold red lettering. An old kitchen and dining area in one side is now unused, but the main room with its long bar and wide dance floor still gets action. Bands are scheduled intermittently but usually on Thursday night. The favorite performer is Don Rich, a young local Swamp Pop singer. In its heyday the Rainbow got top Country acts as well as South Louisiana stars like Johnny Allan and Warren Storm.”
The circa-1930s Rainbow Inn in Pierre Part, also known as "Don Rich country."
Another amazing throwback-style dancehall is Stevie G’s in nearby Belle River, also on La. 70. This joint really packs them in, and during breaks from the live music, the dance floor fills up with young flesh cavorting and gyrating to the sounds of a DJ, generating a sexy, sweaty scene not much different from a late-night Crescent City meat-market bar such as F&M’s or the Goldmine. But when Don Rich or one of the visiting swamp-pop legends takes the stage on weekends, you know you’re in Cajun country, and the elder folk join their younger progeny to cut the rug in grand, effortless, and tireless fashion. Stevie G’s also brings in the torch-bearing young Turks of swamp pop from New Orleans’ West Bank – bands like Foret Tradition, Junior and Sumtin Sneaky, and Brad Sapia – as well as the hugely popular college-and-beer-oriented zydeco stars Jamie Bergeron and Travis Matte from central Acadiana.
The packed dancefloor at Chilly's on Lake Verret near Pierre Part.
A glowing billboard beckons to swamp-pop lovers outside Stevie G's nightclub in Belle River.
Music abounds from the teeming Cajun bayous, but then so does the food – and not just seafood. And some music joints have found new life serving up the grub. One unique venue just outside Morgan City perfects finger-licking-good yardbird in an imposingly squat venue a few miles off U.S. 90: Chester’s Cypress Inn. According to Fry/Posner:
“Nestled in a stand of cypress trees halfway between Houma and Morgan City, this little hideaway has the best fried chicken this side of grandma’s kitchen table. A sign boasts, ‘If the Colonel had our recipe, he’d be a general.’ You won’t find any nouveau Cajun cuisine here, just plates piled high with fried chicken, fish, froglegs, and mounds of crispy onion rings. Chester Boudreaux has passed away, but his children, Calvin Boudreaux and Bobbie LaRose, have kept the Inn much the same as it was when he opened in the forties. The tables are still covered in plastic, and the waitresses still carry cardboard plates laden with golden fried food from the adjacent building that houses the kitchen. Crowds drive the twenty miles from Morgan City and Houma (past dozens of new fast-food franchises) to eat in the homey dining room that once housed a dance hall.”
Chester's Cypress Inn outside Morgan City, where a motorcycling Bob Dylan ate the onion rings.
And I’m not the only outsider captivated by the semi-submerged charms of Looziana’s backroad bastions of swamp culture: No less than Robert Zimmerman, aka world-renowned rock bard Bob Dylan, famously describes a motorcycle sojourn he took through these sugarcane- and cypress-studded hinterlands during his 1990s stint living in New Orleans to record for producer Daniel Lanois. Dylan too has partaken of the joys of Chester’s antique grease, according to this excerpt from his autobiography “Chronicles”:
“Crossing into Thibodaux, we rode near Bayou Lafourche. It was a clammy day, light rain off and on and the clouds were breaking up, heat lightning low on the horizon. The town has got a lot of streets with tree names, Oak Street, Magnolia Street, Willow Street, Sycamore Street. West 1st Street runs alongside the bayou. We walked on a boardwalk that ran out into the water above the eerie wetlands-small islands of grass in the distance and pontoon boats. It was quiet. If you looked you could spot a snake on a tree branch.
“I moved the bike up close near an old water tower. We got off and walked around, walked along adjoining roads dwarfed by ancient cypress trees, some seven hundred years old. It felt far enough away from the city, the dirt roads surrounded by lush sugarcane fields, labyrinths of moss walls in crumbled heaps, marshlands and soft mud all around. On the bike again we cruised along Pecan Street, then over by St. Joseph’s Church, which is modeled after one in Paris or Rome. Inside there’s supposed to be the actual severed arm of an early Christian martyr. Nicholls State University, the poor man’s Harvard, is just up the street. On St. Patrick’s Street we rode past the palatial grand homes and big plantation houses, deep porched and with many windows. There’s an antebellum courthouse that stands next to clapboard halls. Ancient oak trees and decrepit shacks side by side. It felt good to be off by ourselves.
“It was early afternoon and we’d been going for a while. Dust was blowing, my mouth was dry and my nose was clogged. Feeling hungry, we stopped into Chester’s Cypress Inn on Route 20 near Morgan City, a fried chicken, fish and frog legs joint. I was beginning to get weary. The waitress came over to the table and said, ‘How about eating?’ I looked at the menu, then I looked at my wife. The one thing about her that I always loved was that she was never one of those people who thinks that someone else is the answer to their happiness. Me or anybody else. She’s always had her own built-in happiness. I valued her opinion and I trusted her. ‘You order,’ I said. Next thing I know, fried catfish, okra and Mississippi mud pie came to the table. The kitchen was next door in another building. Both the catfish and the pie were on cardboard plates, but I wasn’t nearly as hungry as I thought I was — just ate the onion rings.
“Later on, we rode south towards Houma. On the west side of the road there’s cattle grazing and egrets, herons with slender legs standing in shallow bays – pelicans, houseboats, roadside fishing – oyster boats, small mud boats – steps that lead to small piers running out into the water. We kept rolling on, started crossing different kinds of bridges, some swinging, some lifting. On Stevensonville Road we crossed a canal bridge by a little country store and the road turned to gravel and began to wind treacherously through the swamps. The air smelled foul. Still water – humid air, rank and rotten. Kept riding south until we saw oil rigs and supply boats, then turned around and headed again towards Thibodaux. Thibodaux was neither here nor there and my mind started thinking opposites. Thinking about maybe going up to the Yukon country, someplace where we could really bundle up. By dusk we’d found a place to stay outside of Napoleonville. We pulled in for the night and I shut the bike down. It was a nice ride.
“We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast cottage that was behind a pillared plantation house with sculpted studded garden paths, a cream stucco bungalow that had a certain charm stood like a miniature Greek temple. The room had a four poster comfortable bed and an antique table – the rest, camp style furnishings, and it came with a kitchenette equipped with utensils, but we didn’t eat there. I laid down, listened to the crickets and wildlife out the window in the eerie blackness. I liked the night. Things grow at night. My imagination is available to me at night. All my preconceptions of things go away. Sometimes you could be looking for heaven in the wrong places. Sometimes it could be under your feet. Or in your bed.”
Speaking of Houma, one of the best places to buy swamp-pop and Cajun music CDs (when not listening to the power-packed programming on KLRZ-FM out of Larose or KMRC in Morgan City) is at LA Cajun Stuff in the Southland Mall, a staunch booster of local music from in and around the Atchafalaya Basin, with numerous in-store performances with artists such as Vin Bruce and Treater, always-free bottomless coffee, and the colorful conversation and down-home hospitality of owners Pat and Dale Guidry. A former shrimper from Cut Off — the same town that spawned ex-Saint QB Bobby Hebert and swamp-pop legend Joe Barry — the bilingual Dale is often called out to speak French to the visiting buses of European tourists hungry for a genuine ethnolinguistic experience to write home about. Swamp-pop singer-songwriter and Stomp favorite Jerry Raines of “Our Teenage Love” fame also still calls Houma home these days.
LA Cajun Stuff at the Southland Mall in Houma, your source for swamp-pop, Cajun, and zydeco music.
These are just a few of the Looziana cultural islands — and icons — at risk from the spillway’s rising floodwaters. Though this Touro Infirmary baby can’t claim to know even a fraction of them intimately or to have even scratched surface in describing this diverse, multi-ethnic area, I’d feel gut-punched if they are swept away – like so many legendary local venues lost to the eroding sands of time and/or decay (and a tidal wave of parking lots), like the Dew Drop Inn and the Club Tijuana in New Orleans, the Joy Lounge in Gretna, or the Junkyard in Marrero. And America will have lost some of the remaining, endangered vestiges of a rich culture whose roots can be traced back to the Acadians’ Grand Dérangement and whose contributions to the nation — and indeed the world — are incalculable. And like the wetlands that envelop it — irreplaceable.
The opening of the Morganza Spillway threatens an Atchafalaya Basin teeming with life -- and music.
Of the unfortunate dwindling number of 1960s and ’70s New Orleans R&B recording artists, thankfully we still have Wallace Johnson to appreciate. He never had much more than a handful of neighborhood hits, but his small clutch of singles – and one great CD – were some of the best local R&B of the era.
Johnson was born Oct. 8, 1937, in Napoleonville, La., 65 miles southwest of New Orleans on Bayou Lafourche.
“When I was 13, I saw Roy Brown at a little town called Bertrandville.” said Johnson in 1998. “I stood in the front row and focused on nothing but him. This was when he had (big) records out like ‘Cadillac Baby,’ ‘Brown Angel’ and ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight.’
“I went in the service in 1954. I was stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington. One day at the service club, a guy asked me if I sang. I didn’t, but the next thing I knew, we had a five-member group. This was during the doo-wop era. We performed at talent shows and usually won.”
Johnson got married while in the service. After being discharged, he and his growing family moved to New Orleans, where he had several relatives. Still interested in music, Johnson enrolled at Houston’s School of Music under the G.I. Bill. He unsuccessfully auditioned for Dave Bartholomew at Imperial Records and later for Harold Battiste at Specialty. Battiste expressed interest, but Johnson was told Specialty was winding down its New Orleans activities. However, Batiste revealed he had another project in the works.
“Harold was going to start his own label, AFO. He said it was time for New Orleans musicians that make the music to make the money – not out-of-town companies that came here to record. That’s how I wound up on AFO.”
Johnson debuted on AFO in 1962 with “Clap Your Hands” / “Peace of Mind.” It was a great release, but Johnson got caught in a record-business trick bag. AFO briefly had a national distrubutor, Sue Records, that helped catapult Barbara George’s “I Know” to the top of the charts. Sue and AFO had an bitter split – in a nutshell – over George’s contract and services. That meant Johnson’s single had only local distribution, which meant limited sales and promotion.
“We cut that session at a little studio built behind Ric Records office on Baronne Street,” said Johnson. “That was the first time I met Allen Toussaint, but he couldn’t play on the session because he had a contract with Minit Records. But the rest of the AFO combo played on the record. I cut the session and moved back to Napoleonville after I broke my ankle. Later I found out the label folded and the AFO cats moved out to the West Coast. Then I started seeing Harold on the ‘Sonny and Cher’ show every week.”
Johnson began working weekends at the clubs along Bayou Lafourche. His marquee gig was opening shows for national acts like Ile and Tina Turner and Bobby “Blue” Bland at the Sugar Bowl in Thibodaux. Johnson moved back to New Orleans in 1965 and ran into Toussaint again.
“Allen had just got out of the service and became partners with Marshall Sehorn. This was right after Allen produced Lee Dorsey’s ‘Ride Your Pony.’ I wound up doing several singles with Allen.”
Johnson’s initial Toussaint-produced single – “Something To Remember You By” / “If You Leave Me” – appeared on Sansu and was distributed by Bell. Though it begged to break nationally, it stayed a local record, largely overlooked by the sudden explosion of British music in America. The follow-up, “I’m Grown” / “Baby Go Head,” was also distinctive, but it met a similar fate.
“None of those records were cut live,” recalled Johnson. “Allen would have the musicians record a backing track and then I’d come in and do the vocals. I thought ‘Something to Remember You By’ was pretty good. ‘I’m Grown’ was pretty arrogant song that told a different story. The last single I did with Allen was on RCA (in 1973). ‘I Miss You Girl’ and ‘On My Way Back’ were cut in Atlanta.”
The RCA single didn’t do much, and Johnson returned to Napoleonville, where he drove trucks and worked in a lumber yard to support his family. After his wife died and children grew up, Johnson moved back to New Orleans and worked for company that laid sewer lines. In the mid-1990s, Johnson re-encountered Toussaint and saw a revival of his music career.
“At the time I used to go by Allen’s house to shoot pool,” Johnson said. “I asked him what he thought of me cutting a demo. He said, ‘Go ahead.’ He said, ‘Get the musicians and you can use the studio (Sea-Saint) anytime.’ I met some guys that played with Rockin’ Dopsie Jr., and we did four songs.
“Allen heard the demo and came by my house a couple weeks later. He said, ‘I have some friends in New York are interested in starting a label’ and would I be interested in being involved? Of course I was. I wound up doing a CD ‘Whoever’s Thrilling You’ that came out on NYNO in 1996.”
The release set off a brief firestorm of activity, but Johnson eventually returned to driving a truck for a living. NYNO fizzled, and in 2000, Johnson moved to Atlanta to live with his daughter. His appearance at the 2010 Ponderosa Stomp this Saturday night will mark his first return to New Orleans in a decade.
In town for the Stomp and need something to do tonight? Venture out to Metry to witness a slab of yat grandeur with the dynamic duo of “Eddie and Earl” at Mo’s Chalet. That’s non other than Eddie “Gypsy Woman” Powers and Earl “Pass the Hatchet” Stanley holding down their steady Weds night gig. Mo’s Chalet has been chronicled here previously by Lakeview Kid. “Give the people what they want!”
Lakeview Kid described the regular patrons of Mo’s Chalet thusly:
And “the people,” in Mo’s case, fit a certain demographic. They are either members of “the Greatest Generation” or hail from the immediately younger age groups. These are the people who grew up in a still-vibrant New Orleans, attended its grammar and high schools, and bore witness to not only the jazz revival of the late 1940s and early ’50s, but also the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. These are the people who remember Butera and Prima blazing away on Bourbon Street and at the Beverly Club. These are the people who saw Pete Fountain and Al “Jumbo” Hirt trading lightning-bolt licks at Lenfant’s on the lakefront. These are the people who when they hear the name “Dukes of Dixieland” immediately think “Assunto brothers”—you know, those nice neighborhood Italian boys from around the French Market who just happen to have a red-hot family band. These are the people who grew up buying Fats Domino 45s and swaying to Jerry Raines’ “Our Teenage Love” at the CYO dances. They remember serving detention-hall stints with Roland “Stone” LeBlanc at Warren Easton High, or eating cheeseburgers next to a teenage Frankie Ford at Da Wabbit in Gretna after a sock hop at the McDonoghville VFW. These are New Orleans’ salt of the earth, and those who still make it out to Mo’s Chalet are the silver-fox survivors. They’re still boogieing down and drinking up well into their 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Writer Jeff Hannusch profiles CP Love and will interview him at the Mint.
Vocalist C.P. Love might well be best known for a song he didn’t record, rather than one he did. Love had been offered “Groove Me” by King Floyd but passed on the song, feeling Floyd deserved to record it and would do a better job with it. While he could have recorded a major hit, Love still managed to notch a couple of regional successes and assembled a compact, but enjoyable resume of soul and R&B recordings.
Born Carleton Pierre Love in 1945, he was raised on the West Bank of New Orleans. At the age of 12, Love taught himself to play guitar and formed a four-piece band. He later switched to bass when he joined Little Benny and the Creoles, a group that sometimes featured Walter Washington. Originally, Love didn’t sing, but when the vocalist couldn’t learn new material, he began fronting the band on bass and vocals. Eventually, Love dropped the bass and concentrated on singing.
“I liked Sam Cooke, Elmore James, Danny White and Smiley Lewis,” recalled Love in 1999. “That’s what was on the radio. I started going by the Dew Drop and hanging out with Deacon John, Esquerita and Earl King.”
One of Love’s first marquee gigs was sharing the bill with Professor Longhair at Jessie’s Lounge in Marrero.
“I sang some Bobby Mitchell tunes and Fess backed me up,” recalled Love, “The band was just Fess and a drummer. All he had (the drummer) was a bass drum, snare and one cymbal. But when he played he sounded like two drummers. In the middle of the set a guy came in with a shovel and hit two guys over the head with it over a woman. All hell broke loose. Me and Fess grabbed his (electric) piano and carried it outside. He was driving an old limousine with the seats taken out of the back. We just slide the piano in and sat in the front seats. After the fight Jessie (the owner), came outside and asked us to start playing again. Fess said, ‘No, we’re going home.’ He was a quite guy and didn’t go for no humbug.”
In the mid-1960s, Love joined the Invaders, a band that played local club and Tulane’s frat row. One evening, Elijah Walker, a longshoreman turned music entrepreneur, caught the Invaders and liked what he heard.
“Mr. Walker booked dances and shows,” said Love. “He’d bring in whoever had a hot record and put a New Orleans band behind them. One of the bands Mr. Walker hired cancelled a date and he hired us to take their place. After the show, he asked us if we were interested in making a record with him. Naturally, I said ‘Yes.’ Mr. Walker learned the music business the hard way and he didn’t take any shit.”
Walker and Earl King had started a label, King Walk, and in 1968 had Love record “Plenty of Room For More”/”You Call the Shots” at a Conti Street studio located behind an auto body shop. “You Call the Shots” was penned by King and reminded listeners of Wilson Pickett. It did well in New Orleans and lead Love to another recording project. Walker brokered a deal with MGM Records to have Love record a “sound alike” album. Back then, it was common to find LPs and 45s in department store containing covers of current hits at a fraction of the price of the original release. Love recorded an album’s worth of covers by Otis Redding, James Brown and Wilson Pickett in Baton Rouge.
King Walk folded so Walker started a new partnership with arranger Wardell Quezergue dubbed Pelican Productions. Then along came King Floyd and “Groove Me.”
“I told Mr. Walker about King,” said Love. “King had just come back from California. He heard I had made a record and he offered me ‘Groove Me.’ I heard the song and immediately knew it had something. But I thought King had a really unique voice and that he should be the one to record it. We made a tape of King doing ‘Groove Me’ and brought it to Mr. Walker. That was the first time I met Wardell. Wardell heard ‘Groove Me’ and he said to Walker, ‘I believe we have something here.’”
In May of 1970, Love was scheduled to record a Joe Broussard song “I Found All These Things,” at Malaco’s Studio in Jackson, Mississippi. Instead, Love suggested to Walker that Floyd should take his place.
“Walker said, ‘Why do you want to look out for him all the time?’ I just thought it was a good song and King should record it. I never gave not recording the song a second thought.”
Later, Love did record the stupendous ballad “I Found All These Things,’ and like “Groove Me,” Atlantic picked it up to distribute. The song sold well locally, and might well have broken in other markets, had a tour with James Carr not fallen through.
But with “Groove Me” in the charts, Floyd returned Love’s favor by inviting him to open his shows. Love spent nine months touring with Floyd, and then several more with Candi Staton and Bobby Womack. By the mid 1970s, Love was back in New Orleans where the recording scene was pretty much stuck in park. Love survived by playing on Bourbon Street at several venues.
“I did Bourbon Street for 10 years,” said Love. ‘At first it was a job I looked forward to. Later it was a job I looked forward to getting away from. I started at the Sho Bar and later worked at La Strada. At La Strada we’d come on at 7:00 and play until 9:00 p.m. Then Frogman Henry would come on and play until 1:15. Then we’d do another set. I did that for two-and-a-half years. My job was to make the cash register ring and I was good at that. But when Bourbon Street went non-union, you had to take a big cut in pay. I couldn’t accept that.”
A change of scenery was in order and in 1986, Love moved to the Bay Area. Love made some good connections and he managed to stay busy working the club and festival circuit between Seattle and San Diego.. He also cut a four-track EP for Carlo Ditta’s Orleans label. Ditta had briefly relocated in California and managed to arrange a session withe ex-Meters Leo Nocentelli and George Porter. While many listeners were pleased with the effort, Love felt he was rushed and the results could have been better.
In 1999, Love returned to New Orleans to help take care of his ailing mother. Ironically, in 2003, Johnnie Taylor posthumously had a mild radio hit with his cover of “I Found All These Things.” Love continues to perform occasionally around New Orleans.