What is swamp pop? Meet its past stars and discover its Louisiana roots
Song lyrics, vinyl records and decorated jackets hang from the walls as you enter the Louisiana Swamp Pop museum in Ville Platte.
The tunes of some of the genre's biggest stars play in the background as you begin to explore the rich history and its artists.
Swamp pop is one of Louisiana's unique and popular forms of music. For more than 60 years people in southern Louisiana and southeast Texas have been creating and enjoying this version of Cajun rock.
Born during a period of American rock 'n' roll, teenage rebellion and political tension, swamp pop told a tale of what Louisiana was experiencing at that time.
Cajun and zydeco music have always been some of the most popular genres of music to come from Acadiana.
Using classic Louisiana French, folk instruments and traditional musical story telling Cajun and Zydeco became staples of Louisiana music, often regionalized because of laws in place at that time prohibiting French from being spoken.
Many of the founding fathers of swamp pop grew up listening and playing Cajun music in dance halls. This combined with the strong national crazes of R&B and rock 'n' roll allowed early artists to create the sound we now celebrate as swamp pop.
Who started swamp pop music?
First known as South Louisiana rock music, the pioneers of the sound were young teenagers when they began making music.
"We were the happening music at that time," Swamp pop legend Johnnie Allan said. "You weren't really hearing Cajun music on the radio at the time. Us kids offered something that was new."
Allan began his musical career playing Cajun music in a band called Walter Mouton and the Scott Playboys. He played Cajun music with Lawrence Walker and the Wandering Aces until he discovered rock during high school.
"In 1956 I was a senior in high school and I was really digging rock music," Allan said. "We began playing rock 'n' roll on the side and Lawrence Walker found out. He was upset, so the whole band quit. We then decided to start playing South Louisiana rock 'n' roll."
The first swamp pop song is credited to Robert Charles Guidry, who was known as Bobby Charles. His "(See you) Later Alligator" was an instant hit in Louisiana and gained national attention when it was covered by Billy Haley & His Comets.
To be considered swamp pop the the song must include emotional lyrics often about love, tripleting honky-tonk style piano, strong R&B back beats, a bellowing horn and a feel good rhythm.
By 1958 nearly a dozen swamp pop artists were making their mark on American music and its heyday continued until about 1964.
Artists like Johnny Preston, Phil Phillips, Dale & Grace, Tommy McLain and Barbara Lynn had songs on the hot 100 charts nationally. Other artists like Warren Storm, Johnnie Allan, Cookie & The Cupcakes, Clint West and T.K. Hulin made popular music that circulated mostly around Louisiana and Texas.
After 1964 there was a sharp decline in Swamp pop music on national radio and fewer performances when the British Invasion quickly took over the music industry, but in South Louisiana the demand for the new music never died completely
Swamp pop today
Communities like Ville Platte continue to celebrate the art form today.
Sharon Fontenot is the founder and curator of the Louisiana Swamp Pop Museum. Fontenot has always had a deep love and appreciation for the music and enjoys sharing that with others.
"This is really my type of music," she said. "It's still played here, even though we don't have nearly as many places to play it anymore. Before, you knew that every Friday and Saturday night no matter if you were in Ville Platte, Lafayette or St. Martinsville you would hear swamp pop."
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The museum is one way of preserving the legacy of swamp pop and celebrating the artists, producers and song writers of the era. Over the past decade the museum has drawn guests from across the country and globe, allowing the story of the music to be shared with future generations.
Though few new swamp pop artists emerge now, some bands perform popular songs during live shows or even record covers or classics.
Long-time swamp pop musician Tommy McLain recently made a comeback after 40 years with a new album titled "I Ran Down Every Dream." The new album includes a feature from the late godfather of swamp pop, Warren Storm.
"It warms my heart when I can play and see young people singing," Allan said. " I'm 84 years old and have always loved doing this. I believe the music is bigger than what we think and will go far. When I perform there is nothing better than watching people old and young flock to the floor when their favorite song is played."
Swamp pop is like a gumbo combining multiple styles of music, instrumentation and culture into something loved by many. There are still radio stations, festivals and fans honoring this South Louisiana legacy. People like Allan, Fontenot and countless others can only hope the genre won't die with the artists as time passes.