Cookie and the Cupcakes
Tracks on this list are by Cookie and the Cupcakes unless otherwise stated (in brackets)
|Mathilda||Khoury's 703 / Judd 1002|
|Married Life||Khoury's 703 / Judd 1002|
|Got You On My Mind||Chess 1848|
|Breakin' Up Is Hard To Do||Lyric 1009|
|Mary Lou Doin' The Pop-Eye||Khoury's 731|
|Since Your Love Has Gone Cold||Khoury's 727|
|Sea Of Love (Phil Phillips)||Khoury's 711 / Mercury 71465X45|
|Family Rules (Guitar Jr.)||Goldband G-1058|
|The Crawl (Guitar Jr.)||Goldband 45-1076|
|Secret Of Love (Elton Anderson)||Trey 1011 / Mercury 71542X45|
Contributor: Dave Stephens
COOKIE AND THE CUPCAKES – AND SWAMP POP FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS (SWAMP POP #2)
Swamp Pop is a minority interest and it’s one that’s difficult to defend on intellectual grounds; the song lyrics rarely rise above the mundane and melodically it’s even more limited than blues with well over half the songs using the same two chords sequence. That’s as may be but it attracted interest and arguably love from two well respected rock critics and writers in John Broven and Bill Millar (as I noted in Swamp Pop #1 on Rod Bernard). In that post I didn’t mention an even better known name, that of the late Charlie Gillett. He’s the gent who gave the world the first intelligent book on rock’n’roll, “Sound Of The City”, who played a major role in popularising world music, and who created his own record label and used it to release an album based on the music of South West Louisiana. That album – Another Saturday Night – in its extended CD format contained not one, not two, but three numbers from Cookie and the Cupcakes. Charlie must have been impressed.
There’s a severe danger at this juncture that I could be accused of being in some kind of collusion with Ace Records UK Ltd. since much of what follows is going to be a rave review of the Ace album Kings Of Swamp Pop. So let’s get my denials in up front, I have nothing to do with Ace Records but they do seem to have done a magnificent job. The album contains a generous 30 tracks which were originally released on four small Southern Louisiana labels between 1956 and 1964. I opened one of the paras in my Amazon review of the album in the following manner:
“To say that these guys – and gals, because the great Carol Fran is included – are swamp pop is to understate their impact. Yes, they’re swamp pop but swamp pop with attitude. This music really does sound as if it comes from deep in the swamps. Whereas the typical white swampie tends to be at least a bit suicidal this lot seem to be almost joyous to be in this state.”
And I went on to say:
“Musically there are loads of things happening – some blues, bits of gospel, classic R&B, boogie piano, clangorous guitar, honking saxes, occasional doo wop, instrumental tracks, a Platters cover, Ivory Joe Hunter’s classic I Almost Lost My Mind, Phil Phillips’ big swamp number Sea Of Love, loads of great songs – and it’s all very, very good. Why their place in R’n’R or R&B history – the label doesn’t matter – hasn’t been cemented by now, who knows, but it should have.”
Huey “Cookie” Thierry himself was born in 1936. The band, led by Shelton Dunaway, was already in existence when he joined them in 1953 and, at the time, went by the name of the Boogie Ramblers. They obtained a residency as the house band at the Moulin Rouge Club in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1953. In 1955, they signed a contract with Eddie Shuler’s Goldband Records and released several singles. Sometime in 1956 Cookie took over as front man and the name change came into being that same year. In 1957 they started playing Mathilda in their live sessions and recorded it the same year in the studio of local radio station KAOK. It was first released on another local label, Khoury’s Records run by George Khoury, but it was then leased for national distribution to Jud Phillips (brother of Sam) on his Judd label. The record hit no. 47 in the Billboard chart in 1959 and that was more or less it in terms of national fame. They did get to tour behind headliners like Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis before reverting back to their previous Southern Louisiana stamping ground.
There were plenty of good follow-up records released including a splendid Got You On My Mind but nothing made any serious impact on the national chart. In 1965, Cookie Thierry moved to Los Angeles. The band continued without him with “Little Alfred” Babino taking over as lead singer.
Mathilda is justifiably the best known number from the band. In his book “South To Louisiana”, John Broven wrote : “If swamp-pop has a signature tune, an anthem, it has to be the quintessential Mathilda … Even today everyone accepts that if a local band plays Mathilda and nobody dances, the musicians may just as well pack up and go home.” Something that characterised Mathilda was the piano playing something different to the horns riffing away in the overall sonic murk. This was to be a regular feature of Cupcakes records.
The flip, however, sprung a surprise. Married Life was a Texan guitar blues of the sort popularised by Gatemouth Brown, Pee Wee Crayton and others. In this instance the inspiration might have come from one (or more) of those Bobby Bland Duke records out of Houston characterised by stinging guitar from one of his assembly line of fabulous guitarists. “I’ve been married two times in my life, baby, that’s against your daddy’s rules.”
Back to the swamp stuff, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, a cover of the record from Jivin’ Gene and the Jokers (which got a walk on part in Swamp Pop #1), manages to do the near impossible, making this painful process something almost celebratory. Lovely horns and great piano break. Not difficult to imagine the dance floor slowly heaving to this one.
The horn riffing is a particular feature of Since Your Love Has Gone Cold. They couple an ascending phrase with a descending one in a manner not heard on any other swamp record – often the riffing is entirely predictable and it’s rare that invention like this comes into it.
As I’ve already implied there was a lot more than swamp material in the Cupcakes repertoire. Mary Lou Doin’ The Pop Eye is a clumsy title but it hides a chunk of Huey “Piano” Smith nonsense with New Orleans style piano very much to the fore and the horns just behind the beat. Very much a grinder and one that the adjective “greasy” was invented for. This one is also notable for having Shelton Dunaway on lead rather than Mr Thierry. And the record is also notable for having a middle eight, a relative rarity in this form of music – maybe it was there to break up the repetition – they didn’t dream up too many lyrics.
There are goodies just oozing out of Kings Of Swamp Pop – proto-soul, blues with doo wop backing, a Platters cover from Carol Fran which unfortunately lost out due to space reasons – but I’ve saved one of my big faves till last. Got You On My Mind is a twelve bar blues of the sort that often has “easy rolling” in the front. Prominent piano yet again and a kind of satisfying feeling – one of those records when the smile gradually appears on one’s face.
To interject a personal note: I continue to be amazed that Cookie and the Cupcakes aren’t better known. Outside of John Broven, and Shane Bernard’s “Swamp Pop: Cajun And Creole Rhythm And Blues”, nothing of significance would seem to have been written about them. In his “1001 Greatest Singles”, Dave Marsh doesn’t mention Mathilda and internet searches largely yield edible cupcakes of the sort favoured by Bake Off watchers.
One last clip:
It’s not widely appreciated that the Cupcakes provided the instrumental support team for the famous Sea Of Love from Phil Phillips. John Broven reported, “Sea Of Love was simplicity itself, the tune just hung in the mind. With immaculate support from the tripleting Cupcakes band and the serene harmonies of the Twilights vocal group, Phillips meandered his way smoothly through the seductive lyrics.”
Black creole singer Phillips was born Philip Baptiste in March 1926 in Lake Charles, LA, and was no more than an amateur with a day job as a hotel bellhop when he recorded the self-penned Sea Of Love. The arrangement and production were by Eddie Shuler for George Khoury’s label and the backing vocalists were named the Twilights after the session (which is also when Phillips came by his name). After initial local success the record was leased to Mercury Records. It reached #1 in the national R&B chart and #2 in the pop chart. Mercury took over Phillips’ contract but the follow up singles failed to make any impact on the charts. This was as literal a case of a one hit wonder as you’re likely to find.
I’m using the rest of my selections in this Toppermost to highlight some more of the black performers in the genre. A gent who you might not have associated with this form of music is blues man Lonnie Brooks. He was born Lee Baker Jr. in Dubuisson, LA in 1933 but moved to Port Arthur, just across the border in Texas in the fifties. In the early days Lonnie used the name Guitar Jr. though he switched to Lonnie Brooks following his move to Chicago in 1960 after discovering there was already a Guitar Jr. in existence. His self-penned Family Rules, a typical swamp ballad was a local hit in 1957. But I can’t leave the Lee/Lonnie/Guitar Jr. story there. In ’58 he had another regional hit with a dance craze number called The Crawl. This must be the first time I’ve had two dance craze selections in a Toppermost.
My last selection comes from one of the more obscure performers in the genre: Elton Anderson doesn’t even warrant a Wiki entry. However, he did reach #88 in the US National Chart with Secret Of Love, when it got picked up for distribution by Mercury. Opening with a slow solitary guitar, it had the poignance of some of the best swamp music. Nothing more followed of note but a cover of King Karl/Guitar Gable’s number Life Problem met with regional success in ’62
1. I included a “definition” of Swamp Pop in the Footnotes of Swamp Pop #1, also known as Rod Bernard. The quotation marks are merely to indicate that this was my definition, rather than anyone else’s – they do differ.
2. There’s a little about Goldband Records in the Footnotes to Swamp Pop #1.
3. I’ve made use in the text of John Broven’s “South To Louisiana: The Music Of The Cajun Bayous”, an excellent tome which covers all forms of Louisiana roots music not just swamp pop.
4. The song Got You On My Mind wasn’t an original. That honour goes to a gent called “Big” John Greer who sang and played tenor sax. His record dates back to 1951 and it bears some similarity to the Ivory Joe Hunter style of blues.
5. The title, Mary Lou Doin’ The Pop Eye always reminds me of an even more absurd one, Three Girls Named Molly Doin’ The Hully Gully, a little charmer from the Johnny Otis Show in ’59.
6. Carol Fran was a blues/soul diva who could well have slotted neatly in the chain Bessie Smith / Ruth Brown / LaVern Baker / Etta James / Aretha Franklin if only she’d had the breaks. Born in Lafayette, she signed with Excello Records in 1957. Her first single, a blues ballad entitled Emmitt Lee, held out lots of promise:
1962 saw a switch to George Khoury’s Lyric Records and that excellent version of the Platters’ The Great Pretender that I referred to earlier. She followed this with another stunning version of a song that’s been covered too many times. Crying In The Chapel. Carol actually managed to make it sound new.
Other discs from Carol in the mid/late sixties found favour in later years with the Northern Soul audience in the UK. Unfortunately, such limited market acclaim didn’t translate into mass market plaudits and Carol’s talent has remained hidden to all but a small minority over the years. After virtual retirement from recording she signed with Black Top Records in 1992 and has subsequently released several albums.
7. Very early on in his career, Lonnie Brooks worked in Clifton Chenier’s band. Other notable Texan or Louisianian blues guitarists to work in the band were Lonesome Sundown and Phillip Walker.
8. Texan white R&B band The Fabulous Thunderbirds recorded both Mathilda and The Crawl early on in their career.
9. Little Alfred Babino sometimes appears in print as Little Alfred Babineaux. While the second might sound more likely in the French oriented culture of Louisiana there are otherwise reliable authorities who quote the first.
10. Some of the early Cookie records, including Mathilda in 1958, are credited to Cookie and His Cupcakes.
“South To Louisiana: The Music Of The Cajun Bayous” by John Broven (1983). The book covers all types of Louisiana roots music not just swamp pop but it does it extremely well. Highly recommended.
From Dave’s toppermost, Mathilda, Married Life, Got You On My Mind, Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do, Mary Lou Doin’ The Pop-Eye, Since Your Love Has Gone Cold are on the Cookie and the Cupcakes collection from Ace Records, Kings Of Swamp Pop. Sea Of Love, Family Rules, The Crawl, Secret Of Love are on On Bended Knee: The Birth Of Swamp Pop CD.
Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is available as an ebook and is described by one reviewer as ‘probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across’. “RocknRoll” contains further reflections on Swamp Pop in its 1,000+ pages. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” this year, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX.