This Edsel CD is divided into three near-equal portions reflecting the three distinct phases of Bernard’s career. The first ten tracks in large part are the purest swamp pop, the second ten reflect a country influence, while the album closes with seven mostly classic Cajun tunes informed with a rock sensibility.
The disc opens with ten songs from the infancy of both Bernard’s career and the swamp pop genre, with two of the
numbers by far preceding either.
Both “Jolie Blonde” and “Colinda” are time-honored standards of the south Louisiana songbook. “Jolie Blonde” needs no introduction, dating from earliest recordings of Cajun music and could easily serve as the “national anthem” of south Louisiana, much as “Rocky Top” and “Yellow Rose Of Texas” do for denizens of Tennessee and Texas.
Perhaps of most interest, however, to those of an ethnomusicological bent or those who are fascinated by Louisiana culture, is “Colinda”. Bernard’s bilingual 1962 version, a smash hit in Acadiana and Quebec and a minor one in the rest of America, is but the most famous rendition of a song and dance with roots in Guinea over 400 years ago.
In fact, when the first slavers appeared on that country’s coast, Guineans had been dancing a dance called the Kalinda for many years. They brought this dance with them to New World, most notably to the Caribbean (where it is performed to this day) and to Louisiana. It’s first New World reference comes from Martinique, when in 1678 the Sovereign Council banned it because of both its indecency and its supposed ability to incite slave revolts.
In Louisiana, by the nineteenth century the dance had become associated with both voodoo and a sort of acrobatic Morris Dancing, as folklorist Mina Monroe recorded in 1921: “In Louisiana, the Calinda was a war dance in which men alone took part, stripped to the waist and brandishing sticks in mock fight, while at the same time balancing upon their heads bottles filled with water”.
The dance had become extinct in Louisiana by 1900, but its name lived on in the music of the black Creoles. The Cajuns picked up on these songs and added some variants (most notably, and probably resulting from a misunderstanding of the French homonymic phases allons danser Colinda - “Let’s Dance the Colinda”, and allons dansez Colinda - “Let’s Dance Colinda”). By 1962 the song was well known in the Cajun country, a version having been cut in 1953 by no less an eminence than Governor Jimmie Davis.
Not only are the songs historical, some of them are just plain ol’ pure pop perfection! “You’re The Reason I’m In Love” is a glittering jewel of romantic Swamp Pop that stuns with it’s impeccability. The same could also be said for his biggest hit, “This Should Go On Forever”. Pop music, be it of the Swamp or dry land variety, simply doesn’t come much better than this!
Of note today is the fact that composer King Karl’s lyric, “If it’s a sin to really love you/then a sinner I will be” was
censored by fabled American television emcee Dick Clark when Dick Clark when Bernard was slated to perform the song on Clark’s “American Bandstand”. The concept of a “sinful” love, thought unobjectionable on the Bayou, proved too hot to handle out in the hot dog and apple pie heartland of 1959. Bernard was forced to record a g-rated version, and the lyric was changed to “if it’s wrong to really love you / then wrong I’ll always be”. How rapidly times change.
Other Swamp Pop classics covered in this section include Bobby Charles’ “Small Town Talk” and Jerry Raines’ “Our Teenage Love”. The Chuck Berry style rocker “Recorded In England”, originally cut on Bernard’s own Arbee label, is an interesting novelty. The plight of the home-grown popster in the wake of The Beatles was regarded with bemusement by most stateside musicians, but was nonetheless the death knell for the “golden age” of Swamp Pop. “To Have And To Hold”, in which the singer openly and bitterly regrets his marriage, is another song none too heartland friendly. The chorus, “if I had my life to live over again, then you’d be the one wearing my ring” - directed toward the other woman - would definitely be weighed in the balance and found wanting by the likes of Dick Clark.
Which brings us to one of Bernard’s most memorable compositions, “Fais Do Do”, the opener of the ten-song C&W-flavoured middle portion of the disc. Cajun culture, besieged since the discovery of oil in Acadian parishes at the turn of the century, is chronicled by the narrator at the midpoint of the century. With the oil came roads and bosses who wanted English speaking employees, and also on the part of the Cajuns, a turning away from the age old ways. In “Fais Do Do” (which was co-written with the legendary Jack “Cowboy” Clement) a young Cajun girl chooses to dance “the twist” at the fais do-do, and to the dismay of her more traditional father and boyfriend, eschews cooking gumbo and riding the bayous in a pirogue. A fascinating chronicle of the American melting pot at full boil “Fais Do Do” is presented here in two versions.
“Cajun Blue”, warm as a Gulf breeze, and the bitter honky-tonker, “If You Call This Happy Baby” continue the Pelican State country flavour. “Texas Roller Coaster Feeling”, with its sultry back up singers and wafting guitar, is laid back 70’s country rock at its best. The next three country numbers tackle the dark side of life with “Help Me Put Myself Together” and the mordant “New Orleans Jail” remaining essentially upbeat. The third of this trio, the unsettling “Wish I Could Get Up And Go To Bed” is bleak stuff, real wee hours, fifth day of a bender blues.
Later more C&W inflected versions of “Colinda” and “This Should Go On Forever” ensue, bringing on the sdvent of the Cajun rock phase of the disc. “Bell Bottom Bayou” kicks off with a chugging groove and tasty wah wah guitar. Bernard’s voice to me is better suited to either rockers like this or the swamp pop style heard earlier than it is to country. “Cajun Interstate” is an interesting piece of history. The Federal Interstate program really had it’s work cut out for it in Louisiana. To this day the Atchafalaya Swamp Parkway, the Manchac Swamp Parkway, and the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway alone account for a hundred-some miles of raised interstate highway, with scores of other smaller stretches thrown into the bargain. Indeed a sterling testament to the engineers and roadworkers, it is only stretching the truth a little to say that when the time comes to build an interstate to the moon, Cajun labour will be needed.
Three classics from the Cajun songbook follow: “Big Mamou”, “Jambalaya”, and “Hippi-ti-Yo”. “Big Mamou”, sung in alternating verses of French and English, is a hoary, beer-soaked standard, aromatic of drunken despair and sung here with great gusto. Bernard’s ragged but right cut of the Hank Williams tune is among the wildest and woolliest on record, with the whole band joining in on a singularly boisterous chorus.
Turning away from the composition of an “honorary Cajun” we find a song with roots perhaps as old as the state of Louisiana itself: “Hippi-Ti-Yo”. This song was originally recorded in the Swamp Pop style by Bobby Page and the Riff Raffs. The Riff Raffs had learned it in their Central Acadian hometown, where it had been sung (in various forms) since time immemorial by the black Creoles. Folklorist Alan Lomax has speculated that “Hippi-ti-Yo” has it’s origins in the identically pronounced French phase Hip et Taiaut. Hip et Taiaut (which translates roughly as “clever dog”, and gave rise long ago to the the English “tallyho”) was an exhortation used by black Creole cowboys on the trail drives that once passed from Texas through Louisiana to New Orleans, which up until the middle of the nineteenth century (when it was usurped by Kansas) had served as the processing centre for Texas cattle. (Incidentally, Lomax believes that this phrase also inspired the chorus of the famous cowboy song “Get Along Little Dogies”, whose chorus is “whoopee ti-yi-yo, get along little dogies”. Texas cowboys heard the exhortation used by the Creole cowboys and adapted into their own classic song). So once again a Creole song of obscure and ancient origins evolves into a tasty swamp pop tune thanks to the rolling boil of the Louisiana gumbo pot.
The spoken word, “Tear in the Lady’s Eye” finds ex-marine Bernard offering up a few choice words for those who would set Old Glory alight.
~John Nova Lomax, November 1998