Rod Bernard

Tracks on this list are by Rod Bernard unless otherwise stated (in brackets)

TrackAlbum / Single
This Should Go On ForeverArgo 5327
This Should Go On Forever (King Karl)Excello 45-2153
Just A MemoryMercury 71689
I Might As WellHall Records 1922
Lover's BluesSwamp Rock 'N' Roller CD
Recorded In EnglandTear Drop 3117
Those Were Our SongsArbee A-105
ColindaHall-Way Records 45-1902
My Jolie Blonde (with Clifton Chenier)Boogie in Black & White
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do (Jivin' Gene)Mercury 71485X45

Rod Bernard Swamp Rock n Roller

 

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Contributor: Dave Stephens

ROD BERNARD – AND AN INTRODUCTION TO THE WONDERS OF SWAMP POP

Rod Bernard’s This Should Go On Forever was one of only a handful of swamp pop records to hit the US Pop Chart (or Billboard to be more precise) in that all-too-brief period of public interest in the genre running from, say, 1958 to 1963. It’s widely regarded as a swamp classic and yet there are a number of oddities about the record:

* The song was written and recorded by black swamp pop artist, King Karl (real name Bernard Jolivette). White cajun boy Rod Bernard’s was the version to hit the charts and the one that has lasted through the years. The black version was quickly forgotten. Sounds like the all-too-familiar scenario of the white cover version getting the cream. But it wasn’t. In October 1958, Rod and his band, the Twisters, recorded the song which originated with the Guitar Gable band and vocalist King Karl though not yet recorded by them. It was a number which the band had been playing for some time in its live set. The suggestion was made to their record label, Excello, that they should record it but reportedly the label wasn’t keen. On learning this, Rod sought and obtained permission from Karl to record the song. Floyd Soileau, owner of Jin Records, agreed to release a record but the session itself was actually held at Jay Miller’s (Excello) studio (see Footnotes). After considerable local interest, Floyd Soileau licensed the recording to Argo Records, the Chess subsidiary in Chicago, for distribution. Huey P. Meaux got involved in the promotion activity and the record eventually made the national chart. After this rather unexpected success there was an about turn from Excello Records, and Guitar Gable and King Karl released their own version. But it was too late and/or Excello weren’t able to stand up to the combined promotional power of Huey Meaux and Leonard Chess.

* This Should Go On Forever wasn’t actually the biggest charting swamp pop disc. It only reached #20 in the Billboard Chart, a position that was bettered by Jimmy Clanton and Just A Dream which got to #4 (possibly helped by Jimmy’s marketable teen idol qualities) and Phil Phillips with his fabulous Sea Of Love which reached #2, and, in ’63, Dale & Grace’s I’m Leaving It Up To You which hit the top spot. That said, in my mind, Rod’s record only vies with Cookie and the Cupcakes storming Mathilda for the title Swamp Pop Anthem of Louisiana. And the latter disc only got to a measly #47 in the National Chart.

* I’ve attempted to supply a definition of swamp pop in the footnotes, or at least my version of a definition. One thing you can expect to hear with some confidence in such songs, is a remarkably high misery quotient – typical song titles are Born To Be A Loser and Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. In contrast, This Should Go On Forever is virtually a paean of positivity. The first verse runs:

This should go on forever
It should never, ever end
If it’s wrong to really love you
I’ll forever live in sin

And it continues in this vein. You expect a comedown at the end but it never happens!

In terms of great records there was really only that one from Rod Bernard and he largely cribbed the arrangement from King Karl, Guitar Gable and co. Here’s that marvellous version. It’s so obscure I had to load it myself from vinyl.

But we have to move on. I have a Toppermost to do, and Rod made plenty more tracks that are worth bending an ear to. This Should Go On Forever wasn’t his first release. He’d had a couple of singles on Carl Records, a label so small it made Jin look like one of the big boys, but they hadn’t raised a flicker of interest. Here’s Little Bitty Mama, one side of his debut single:

The deal with Argo was for two singles. Rod picked You’re On My Mind from Lafayette pianist Roy Perkins plus My Life Is A Mystery, another song written by King Karl. The A-side was another swampie but it didn’t click with the public. However, there was good news, or so it must have seemed at the time, in that Rod got signed by one of the big boys in the record business, Mercury Records. The latter released six singles from Rod. In his sleeve notes for The Other Song Of The South: Louisiana Rock ‘n’ Roll (see Footnotes), Bill Millar was less than complimentary about most of them – “Eight other distressingly vacuous ‘teen songs’ and one rocker, Let’s Get Together Tonight, did little to consolidate his success”. Apart from the numbers not quite adding up I think Bill was a little hard on Mercury’s efforts. Of the few I’ve managed to find, and that’s not easy, they’re not a million miles from rock oriented pop of the period though it’s true that swamp pop seemed to have largely disappeared. In Mercury’s defence they were attempting to create hit records – they used producer “Cowboy” Jack Clement on some, and they took Rod to Nashville for, I think, the last three. And Rod himself didn’t seem too unhappy.

Which reminds me that I should draw the reader’s attention to an excellent article cum interview with Rod which was published in the Ponderosa Stomp blog.

I’m not even going to attempt to compete with author Bill Dahl. His blog on Rod, or Swamp Pop Royalty as he refers to him, is far more comprehensive than anything I could dream of producing without totally plagiarising the source. And it has YouTube clips of almost everything, even some that were uploaded by yours truly.

Which takes me back to the music. Just A Memory is the flip of one of those Mercury singles and it’s one that Bill Millar did approve of. This one still has the swamp feel about it helped by reverb guitar – rare for the time period – and some delightfully lugubrious sax as I comment below the upload, and note the little skitter at the end. On this one the higher production values don’t do any harm either, though that’s something of an exception to the normal rule.

After Mercury, Rod returned to the Louisiana and East Texas ‘little labels’ which included Jin again, plus others. There were a few more swampie efforts throughout the sixties but these were intermingled with other tracks which were sometimes less evocative of the area. Bear in mind that Rod and team, which included Jack Clement for some of the time plus label owner Roy Hall, were attempting to make hit records and preferably do a little more than just earn a living. They didn’t have a duty to produce swamp pop which we could (re)discover fifty or so years later.

Let’s zero in on those swamp laments first. Both Forgive and Loneliness – typical titles – had their merits but I reluctantly dropped them purely on the basis of numbers. Loneliness was a fairly standard use of the usual swamp pop progression i.e. Eb to Bb and back again. I might well be using the term ‘usual swamp pop progression’ again which is why I felt I should clarify here. Forgive, however, was a slow twelve bar blues with an attractive riff carried on guitar. In my view the relatively sparse backing complements the lyrics well.

The two I have selected are I Might As Well and Lover’s Blues. In the case of the former it was the title that drew me to it. Intelligent usage of everyday phrases might have been relatively common in other early forms of rock music but that wasn’t normally the case with swamp, which was usually happy to trot out well worn lyrics albeit of a miserabilia variety. Since Jack Clement had a hand in several Bernard productions I did wonder if the lyrics were down to him but he gets no credit.

Lover’s Blues is not dissimilar to Forgive but this time Rod was recording with an early supergroup , the Shondells, which involved Johnnie Allan, Skip Stewart and himself. It’s another twelve bar blues, only on this one the full band joins in after the minimalist first verse. Contains some pleasing guitar and drumming:

Next up, a few non swamp efforts which show Rod as a more rounded performer.

Both Recorded In England and Those Were Our Songs get in the list for novelty value, something I thought I’d never say since such songs are not usually my cup of tea. The first named is a wry comment on the Brit invasion and it demonstrates that cajun lads could play Chuck Berry riffs just as well as someone who’d been educated at Dartford Technical High School and Sidcup Art College. If you can ignore a rather vague understanding of the geography – You gotta get to London, get that Mersey sound – this is rather splendid, the guitar work is good and Rod’s cajun sounding voice is attractive, though I’m unsure whether he’s trying to put on an ‘English’ accent.

Maybe you didn’t realise that doo wop had penetrated to Lafayette, LA, which is where this next one was recorded. The composer credits for Those Were Our Songs read Arr. R Bernard but effectively all he did was provide a bit of intro and linkage to a load of doo wop goodies, and I freely confess that I’m purely including this out of nostalgia. (It’s what my band used to do while we should have been practising, only we usually started with Teenager In Love.)

Colinda, or Allons Danser Colinda as the bastardised French version ran in Louisiana, was a regional folk song which Rod featured in his stage act and which formed the basis for a marginally “rocked up” version, released in ’62 that met with some local success. It’s one of those uncategorisable records that seem to crop up frequently in this area; sung part in French, part in English, not cajun, not zydeco, not swamp pop but certainly not without charm.

The last batch of songs all come from the period 1962 to ’66. My final Rod pick comes from an album he did in ’76 with zydeco accordion legend Clifton Chenier, Boogie In Black & White. Most of the tracks are predictable rockers with an abundance of enthusiasm but which might have benefitted from some tighter production. I’d make an exception for the boys’ take on the Joe Turner classic Shake, Rattle & Roll. And I’d make an even bigger exception for a superb waltztime My Jolie Blonde where everything gels and both players wail away into the sunset, at the end of another Saturday night in that dance hall out in the sticks near Eunice, or was it Lake Charles.

Let’s go out with a bang. Let it roll Rod!

 

Footnotes

1. Louisiana music is different. Yes they produce music that also appears from other parts of the US – blues, R&B, country and so on – but it’s not unusual for them to put their own stamp on it. They also produce music that doesn’t emanate from other parts of the US – cajun and zydeco. Throw all that lot together in the mid to late fifties, add in a new ingredient that was coming out of places like Memphis, New Orleans and other big cities and you get Louisiana rock’n’roll. That’s a pretty wide scope but it’s possible to identify a portion of it, usually of a slow and often lugubrious nature which got labelled swamp pop by English writer John Broven in his excellent book “South To Louisiana” which was published in 1983.

I spent a disproportionate amount of time rambling on about swamp pop in my ebook “RocknRoll”. I’ve drawn from that material in order to attempt to convey to you what I mean by those two words. To me, swamp pop is a collective name for the slow to medium tempo ballads with lyrics heavily influenced by the lachrymose country tradition to a near suicidal state, and with music combining both R&B and country usually with either an anguished or resigned vocal and with a piano almost invariably appearing, with hammered triplets, often with booming saxes and always with a bass stating the inevitable riff usually in unison with other instruments. There are touches of Fats Domino in the mix – remember he brought a country influence into New Orleans music – and shades of Elvis; think numbers like the extravagant Love Me and slightly later, the blues ballad One Night. A goodly number of swamp pop tunes are distinctly similar, many using the limited chord sequence (Eb – Bb and back). There are other tunes used but almost all of them stick to very basic chord changes.

Swamp pop music flourished in South Louisiana to the west of New Orleans, in places like Lake Charles, Eunice and Lafayette and just across the border with Texas, in and around Port Arthur and Beaumont. Its origins will probably never be that well known. Many of the white inhabitants of this part of Louisiana and East Texas were Arcadians or Cajuns, for short. For years their preferred form of music was (and largely still is) what is generally termed cajun music, though sometimes known locally as ‘French’, due to the fact that the vast majority of cajun songs are sung in the language. The songs are usually played on fiddles and accordions. However, not that far away to the East, in New Orleans, the traditional forms of music were very different. Blues and R&B had been part of the staple musical diet from way back and artists from the city and its environs had toured the clubs in South Louisiana from the late 40s. Fats Domino in particular, was very popular throughout Louisiana and South Texas. Other New Orleans based artists whose records would have been popular were blues singer Guitar Slim with Things I Used To Do and its various mutations, plus Earl King whose Those Lonely, Lonely Nights had the typical swamp pop chordal pattern. At the same time popular music on the radio was starting to change from easy listening and hillbilly to doo wop from New York, jump blues from LA and rockabilly from Memphis. The younger cajun and creole (black) performers took on board this music, mixed it with the more sentimental slow cajun laments and sometimes added a touch of hillbilly music and something like swamp pop came out the other end. This didn’t mean that there weren’t cajun and creole, doo wop, blues and rockabilly performers. There were, and to confuse things, these were sometimes the same guys who recorded swamp pop (and sometimes also, still played cajun songs).

Unlike cajun which was essentially white music, and zydeco which was creole or black music, swamp pop managed to straddle racial boundaries. Although it was in the deep South, Louisiana was much more relaxed in attitude than other Southern states which led to artists on both sides working together more frequently than elsewhere in the US. White artist Bobby Charles working in a predominantly black New Orleans environment is an example of this.

2. According to the Bill Dahl interview with Rod in the Ponderosa Stomp, the name of his backing group, the Twisters, had nothing to do with the dance. Rather it came from the southern name for hurricane – the twister.

3. Also according to the Bill Dahl interview (and confirmed by John Broven), Rod had a nosebleed while recording This Should Go On Forever, and ended up doing it with a towel wrapped around his face.

4. When I first came across Excello Records, via the excellent Guy Stevens compiled collection, Authentic R&B (1963), I jumped to the erroneous conclusion that Excello was based in Louisiana. I might not have been the only one to get this wrong. Excello were actually run from Nashville but had a long term relationship with J.D. (Jay) Miller whose studios were in Crowley, LA. It was there that Miller recorded swamp blues artists like Slim Harpo and Lightnin’ Slim (and, of course, King Karl).

5. Prior to the This Should Go On Forever episode, King Karl and the Guitar Gable band had recorded other records for Excello including the typical swampie, Irene:

6. The Jin label of Ville Platte, LA, founded and run by Floyd Soileau, recorded a lot of swamp pop and cajun music. Between them, Excello, Jin and Goldband Records of Lake Charles, LA recorded a terrific amount of what we now term roots music from South West Louisiana. Ace Records UK have made much of this available on CD.

7. Of particular significance here is the Ace compilation, Rod Bernard Swamp Rock ‘n’ Roller, which contains not only Rod’s Jin output but also tracks he recorded for other small Louisiana labels.

8. The Other Song Of The South: Louisiana Rock ‘n’ Roll, compiled and annotated by Bill Millar, was released in 1975, on vinyl of course. It came out during the peak of the let’s-get-in-on-the-act rockabilly reissue activity. The sleeve itself looked very similar to the rockabilly ones. Maybe to con the buyer, maybe not. Whatever the motive, it was an absolute eye-opener. This was the first time most of the contents had been heard outside of Louisiana. The term “swamp pop” hadn’t been created yet but this was it. And it came with superb notes from the great Bill Millar, who was happy to offer opinions and not just toe a company line.

9. The record You’re On My Mind from Roy Perkins features in Swamp Pop #4 on this site (on Bobby Charles and a little about the beginning of it all).

10. When Rod Bernard signed for Mercury (which must have been something like promotion to the Premier League for a boy from the bayous) several others also agreed contracts including Johnny “Running Bear” Preston and Jivin’ Gene and his Jokers (genuine band name). (Jivin’) Gene Bourgeois came from Port Arthur, Texas. Like Rod he’d also recorded a song for Jin Records, but with the session held at the Excello studios, which had made him something of celebrity in the area. The song was Breaking Up Is Hard To Do and it most definitely wasn’t the Neil Sedaka track of that name:

11. The reader will note the appearance of “swampies” in my text. That’s purely because “swamp pop songs/numbers” can get a tad repetitive and boring and my alternative does at least slightly ring the changes.

12. The name that Rod, Johnnie Allan and Skip Stewart chose for their group, the Shondells, was unfortunate. For reasons unbeknown (to me at least), it’s been selected by umpteen other bands/vocal groups over the years, each presumably unaware of the others. The most famous would have to be Tommy James and the Shondells.

13. Johnny and Edgar Winter, both of whom were born in Beaumont, East Texas, played on Rod’s Colinda.

14. The well-known Cajun song Allons Danser Colinda is about a Cajun boy asking a girl named Colinda to do a risqué dance with him, probably derived from the Calinda dance which was reported to have been performed in New Orleans by Afro-Caribbean slaves brought to Louisiana.

15. My intention on putting this document together was to start to infill a small hole in the incredible selection of essays which form Toppermost; that hole, of course, being swamp pop. This is the start of a series which is intended to present and discuss some of the best of a little known and little understood genre. As an alternative title I’m calling this one Swamp Pop #1.

 

Bibliography

“Swamp Pop: Cajun And Creole Rhythm And Blues” by Shane K. Bernard (1996). The first book to be written which focusses on swamp pop, it was based on a thesis Shane produced for his masters degree. It includes a series of interviews with many of the key artists, some of whom would have been personal friends of Shane’s father Rod and regular visitors to the family household, I don’t own the book but it gets very positive reviews on US Amazon.

“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 (see link in Footnote 1).

 

From Dave’s toppermost, Rod Bernard’s This Should Go On Forever, I Might As Well, Lover’s Blues, Recorded In England, Colinda are on the Ace compilation Swamp Rock ‘n’ Roller. This Should Go On Forever by King Karl, Rod Bernard’s Just A Memory and Jivin’ Gene’s Breaking Up Is Hard To Do are on the On Bended Knee: The Birth Of Swamp Pop CD. My Jolie Blonde by Rod Bernard & Clifton Chenier can be found on the Louisiana Saturday Night compilation CD from Ace Records.

 

Swamp Pop toppermost series
#1 Rod Bernard
#2 Cookie and the Cupcakes
#3 Jimmy Donley
#4 Bobby Charles
#5 Freddy Fender

Swamp Blues toppermost series
#1 Lightnin’ Slim
#2 Lonesome Sundown
#3 Slim Harpo
#4 Lazy Lester
#5 Silas Hogan

 

Rod Bernard on Discogs

Rod Bernard (Wikipedia)

La Musique de New Orleans et de la Louisiane

Rod Bernard biography (iTunes)

Clifton Chenier (1925-1987) – The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame

Huey P. Meaux ~ The Crazy Cajun

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.

TopperPost #558

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Oct 2, 2016

    Dave, thanks for another fascinating Toppermost. Was good to discover more about the history of Swamp Pop. The record that came to mind most often when listening to the slower tracks here was Elvis “One Night with You.’ Was wondering if Smiley Lewis would fit ino the Swamp Pop genre or was he more of an influence on it?

    • Dave Stephens
      Oct 2, 2016

      There will be a Toppermost on Fats Domino one day and Smiley Lewis plus “One Night Of Sin” – original title – will get some attention in there. And it’s true that the slower form of New Orleans rock’n’roll particularly, but not only, including Domino had a very strong influence on the whole swamp pop phenomenon. Presley style rockaballads were also influential and it all came together in that magnificent El cover of “One Night” (his title).

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