I always knew if we lived long enough that we'd end up in a museum someday," Johnnie Allan ("Lonely Days and Lonely Nights") told a crowded room of fans and fellow musicians at the old railroad depot that is now a museum. "I feel that today, you've given us recognition and dignity."
When we think of south Louisiana music, most often Cajun and zydeco come first to mind, but swamp pop has actually outsold both of them nationally with more than 20 Billboard Hot 100 songs, five Top 10 songs and three Number One songs.
We first began to hear the distinctive rhythm and blues style in the early 1950s, probably beginning in 1954 when Huey "Cookie" Thierry put together an obscure band called the Boogie Ramblers and cut a record for Lake Charles producer Eddie Schuler with "Cindy Lou" on one side and "Such as Love" on the other. The band later changed its name to Cookie and the Cupcakes, and since then we have "cried and cried" over its big hit, "Mathilda."
Historian Shane Bernard, who just happened to be the son of swamp pop singer Rod Bernard and who wrote what many consider to be the definitive swamp pop history, said nobody tried to "invent" swamp pop - it just happened.
"Swamp pop represents the natural result of colliding cultural elements - Cajun and Creole, black and white, French and English, rural and urban, folk and mainstream - that coalesced on the prairies of southwestern Louisiana," he wrote.
Bernard contended way back when that the music was deserving of its own museum.
"Although often misunderstood and even ignored by many enthusiasts of south Louisiana's ethnic music, swamp pop deserves recognition and preservation as the region's third major indigenous genre, along with Cajun and zydeco - not only because it once thrived in the region and even attracted national audiences, but because it descends from traditional Cajun and black Creole sources," he said.
Johnnie Allan put it a little bit simpler, "Thank you for recognizing that swamp pop music is a major part of south Louisiana."
Jay Randall ("Cherry Pie") agreed that the museum finally honored at home a music and a set of musicians known around the world. "I never thought I'd live to see the day," Randall said. "I'm old."
A good many of the musicians who recorded swamp pop hits during its heyday from the mid-1960s until Beatlemania took over, did not think of it as a distinct sort of music. They regarded it just as rock and roll with a south Louisiana flair that perhaps reflected a little bit of the so-called New Orleans sound.
But Allan said in an interview some years ago that it was quite different, and it might have been the result of the people who made the records, not the people who sang on them.
"If you want to hear the difference between swamp pop music and New Orleans-style, Fats Domino-type music, listen to 'Blueberry Hill' and listen to 'Mathilda,'" he said. "You'll hear the difference."
He said that's because producer Cosmo Matassa in New Orleans (who recorded Domino) had a different idea of how rock and roll music should sound than (Acadiana producers) J.D. Miller did or Floyd Soileau did.
The genre's near extinction came in the 1960s, when most swamp pop artists refused to embrace the "Mersey sound" of the British invasion, and when that's what everyone seemed to want to hear.
But Allan said things weren't quite as bad as some people would have us believe.
"We had to start including Beatles songs in our repertoire because the crowds at the clubs... wanted to hear it," he recalled. "But they still wanted to hear swamp pop, too. I don't think swamp pop music ever... died to the degree that Cajun music did."
Cajun made a comeback and its story is memorialized in a museum in Eunice. And now a revived swamp pop has its own place to keep its history alive so that in the words of the Rod Bernard song, "This Should Go on Forever."
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.