These cuts were made in one of Barry’s several underground periods, when for compelling reasons both contractual and commercial he recorded while pretending to be black. The records sold surprisingly well considering that touring in support of them was obviously out of the question. “Roosevelt Jones” was the black-sounding moniker that Barry chose; it’s interesting to note that Barry itself is also a pseudonym. Many Cajun performers prior to the 70’s would Anglicize their names, and Barry’s real surname is Barrios. Only in pre-PC America could you have a Cajun with an Anglo stage-name also adopting a “black” stage name and singing in dialect.
This is a variant of the double-tour trick that used to go on in New Orleans in the days before widespread television. Label heads would frequently break a hit by a new, unfamiliar artist, and then send out on tour a small army consisting of the real deal along with numerous (often more talented) impostors. Dr. John wrote in his autobiography, to cite just one such case, that he once toured with James Booker, who was pretending at the time to be Huey Smith. In these recordings, it becomes apparent that Barry, were it not for slight variations in skin tone, could have toured as Fats Domino.
No musician was more important in the evolution of the Swamp Pop genre than Antoine ‘Fats’ Domino, with one snappy defintion of the genre even having it that the style is nothing more than “half Domino and half fais do do.” It is no exaggeration to declare that nearly each and every Swamp Pop tune is in some part informed by the Fat Man’s genial genius. In fact, many Swamp Poppers were so enthralled with Domino’s sound that they cut entire albums of Domino’s material, and in your hands you hold one such labor of love.
There is a school of rock historical thought that credits Domino with being the true inventor of rock & roll. In that regard he has much competition. But as the spiritual father of Swamp Pop he has no competition.
Domino’s fans and his personal taste both cut across color lines. In pre-Civil Rights America, very few black artists enjoyed as much universal adulation as Domino, with Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, and Nat King Cole coming to mind as exceptions proving the rule.
The childhoods of Barry and Domino were very similar, both having grown up in rural areas downriver from New Orleans into large, poor, intensely musical Catholic families, marginalized by either their color or their culture or both. A shared French-language background no doubt explains the ease with which Barry handles Domino’s unique vocal mannerisms. Both were but a generation or so removed from the time when little English was spoken in south Louisiana.
It’s not easy to say why, or even with any certainty to say it is so, but there does seem to be a greater ability among white Louisiana musicians to sound more convincingly “black” than those from elsewhere in America. Barry pulls off the trick here, much as Frankie Ford, Ronnie Barron and of course the aforementioned Dr. John have done. It is not a simple matter of having grown up in close contact with black people, for if that was the case musicians from all over the south could pull off the trick. It is impossible to quantify, but the musicians in Louisiana were always more willing to set aside the Jim Crow laws and jam with those from across the tracks than those from the outside the state, so perhaps that is the rub.
The tracks themselves, oddly enough, are often country tunes rather than selections from the rhythm and blues canon. “Come What May” was a Clyde McPhatter hit, but others such as “Is It Wrong” and “You Don’t Have to Be A Baby To Cry” come from the songbooks of Webb Pierce and Tennessee Ernie Ford, repectively. Elvis fans will recognize “Come What May” as being one of the King’s many subjects. A white man posing as a black man singing country music is surely odd, but in this case at least, eminently enjoyable.
~John Nova Lomax, April 1999