The City of Ville Platte is preparing to host its Fourth Annual Swamp Pop Reunion dance February 23, as it continues to move forward in opening a Swamp Pop museum here.
“This is way over due,” Swamp Pop artist Johnnie Allan said recently of the city’s move to open a museum dedicated to this genre of music. “The music is as indigious to southwest Louisiana as Cajun and Zydeco.”
As an artist, Allan did his part in preserving Swamp Pop music not only as a musician but as an author. He released his first book in 1988 (A Pictorial History of South Louisiana Music (1920s to 1980s) Memories, Volume One; South Louisiana and East Texas musicians) about the music and another volume (Volume I and II) followed in 1995.
Allan said John Broven gave him the inspiration to begin his book on musicians of this area. Broven penned “South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous,” first published in 1983, and featured the multi-musical genres prevalent in South Louisiana.
“He wrote about the different genres of music in South Louisiana,” Allan said. “I read the book and came across name after name.”
Allan knew many of the names, but sometimes wondered who were these people; what did they like. He said this gave him the inspiration to begin his book on Swamp Pop artists from South Louisiana and East Texas. He began gathering info for his book in 1981 and spent the next seven years learning about various artists, musicians and their families. He collected photos and visited homes to either collect photos or photograph his subjects. He said he was happy to say he didn’t lose one photo he was entrusted with and was able to return all photos to their rightful owners. He made phone calls, all in the name of gathering information for his book.
Once he went to Opelousas to get information on Lee Roy Washington, a blues singer and guitarist. His mother had only two pictures of her son; the one featured in the book and one in his coffin. She told him she had never heard a recording of her son singing. Allan photographed her son and said he might know of a recording. “I said I wasn’t promising anything, but I would try to get a copy.”
Allan left Opelousas and headed to JD Miller’s Record Shop in Crowley where he knew a copy of Washington’s music existed. He located the record, returned to Opelousas and presented it to Washington’s mother. “The smile on that lady’s face,” Allan recalled. “It was worth it.
“I had lots of fun,” he said as he talked about meeting people he had never met before and reuniting with old friends like “Teetsie.” (Teetsie was Adrianne Joy Fryou, the wife of Jiles Perry Richardson Jr., known as JP by his friends and The Big Bopper by the rest of the world. Richardson died in a plane crash February 3, 1959, along with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Vallens. He is best known for his recording of “Chantilly Lace.”
“I met a lot of musicians I’d never met before; so many of them; it’s impossible to list,” he said as he recalled the people he visited with to compile the pages of his book.
Some of the famous names he included in his book are Fats Domino, Owen Bradley, Jimmie Davis, Dick Clark, Billy Walker, Dave Edmunds, Doug Kershaw, Jimmy Newman, George Jones, Johhny Rivers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddy Raven, Freddie Fender, Joe Cocker, John Fred, Joe Stampley, Jimmy Clanton, Frankie Ford, Phil Phillips and Buddy Guy.
And with the publication of his book, which the first volume is now considered “sold out,” Allan uses his personal copy to gather the signatures of those musicians included in its covers. The first pages of the book contain musicians, who no longer live amongst us but whose music keep their memories alive. But deeper into his personal copy, and one can see the signatures. “Over 1,200 signatures,” Allan smiles. “I bring it to church with me in case I meet a musician.”
One of those signatures reads, “Dear Johnnie, Thanks for all the hard work that goes with rock and roll music.” It’s signed by Jerry Lee Lewis.
Today, his first volume, which once sold for $22 for soft covers and $32 for hard covers, might be found on Ebay for $120. His second volume can be located more easily. Once he published the first book, some artists called and said they had information for his book. He used that information to add 50 pages to a second publication, which is known as Volume I and II.
Allan was born John Allan Guillot in 1938, in Rayne. As he ages, he doesn’t perform as often as he did in those earlier days. He still has a performing schedule, and he will be one of the performers in Ville Platte next week. He said Ville Platte is a great place for the Swamp Pop Museum. Laughing, he said he hoped it opened before many musicians like him were gone. “I believe Ville Platte is the appropriate place,” he said as he added that he was glad someone got the initiative to put something together like this.
If you’re interested in purchasing tickets for this musical event, you will have to purchase them before February 23. No tickets will be sold at the door. For more information, call 363-1121 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: Sharon Fontenot said work is continuing on the Swamp Pop Museum. She recently met with Ronnie Landreneau, city engineer, to discuss the plans, and the museum board is scheduled to meet later today, February 19. At the moment, there’s no projected opening date, but the city continues to move forward with the project, which started approximately four years ago. In those four years, they have secured a building for the museum and the property rights to locate the building near the railroad tracks. And of course, the public continues to support the project by attending functions like Swamp Pop Reunion IV.