The better half and I took a brief sojourn to New Orleans this past week for some rest and recreation. (Recreation is abundant in NOLA; rest, not so much.) This was my fourth trip (2 business, 2 personal) to the Big Easy and I must say if you’ve never been you should consider going.
We here in the States like to call ourselves a ‘melting pot’ but the most obvious manifestation of that is, I think, in New Orleans where so many influences (Cajun, Creole, African, French, Spanish) came together to create a veritable gumbo of humanity.
Unlike my piece last year about the Grand Canyon* this is not a travelogue as such. Although that said, I need a little bit of that to set this piece up. No, this is a music piece. In fact, this trip inspired three posts, one of which will likely surprise long-time readers as much as the idea of doing it did me.
The specific event that inspired this post was a bus tour we took to catch a boat to go on a bayou swamp tour. (This same tour included a trip to a former plantation that housed slaves which was a sobering and enlightening experience.)
The tour was led by some real-life Cajun guy who they should definitely hire to be the ‘good ol’ boy’ for one of those clichéd Southern ‘B’ movies. At one point, Cap’n Tom passed around a baby gator for pictures and then explained the sexual difference between crayfish by showing us their ‘equipment.’ You can hear some of his rambling wisdom in the video at the very bottom of the post.
Anyway, the bayou. Wikipedia: “In usage in the United States, a bayou is a body of water typically found in a flat, low-lying area, and can be either an extremely slow-moving stream or river (often with a poorly defined shoreline), or a marshy lake or wetland. Many bayous are home to crawfish, certain species of shrimp, other shellfish, catfish, frogs, toads, American alligators, American crocodiles, herons, turtles, spoonbills, snakes, leeches, and many other species.”
First up, “Blue Bayou,” a song co-written by Roy Orbison. It was a hit for him in 1963 and then again for Linda Rondstadt in 1977. I already featured Ronstadt’s version in a previous series so let’s focus on Roy.
It’s not too much, I think, to say that with his songwriting skills and his vocal range, Orbison was worshiped by a legion of later singers. Bruce Springsteen:
“Roy Orbison was the true master of the romantic apocalypse you dreaded and knew was coming after the first night you whispered ‘I Love You’ to your first girlfriend. You were going down. Roy was the coolest uncool loser you’d ever seen. With his Coke-bottle black glasses, his three-octave range, he seemed to take joy sticking his knife deep into the hot belly of your teenage insecurities.”
With its haunting arpeggiated opening E7 chord, CCR’s “Born on the Bayou” evokes a sense of mystery and expectation. And now having spent about an hour and a half on a swamp tour – hence being an expert – I can now attest that the overall tempo of the song lends itself well to that ‘swampy’ feel.
For a guy born and raised in California and who had yet to visit the Deep South, with songs like “Proud Mary” and “Bayou” John Fogerty is somehow able to effortlessly conjure up images that stay in your head, make you feel the heat of the swamp rising:
Wish, I was back on the bayou
Rollin’ with some Cajun Queen
Wishin’ I were a fast freight train
Just a chooglin’ on down to New Orleans
There is much that can and should – and will – be said about one Hiram King Williams. Known as Hank Williams, he was one of the most prolific songwriters of the 20th century. This was no mean feat as he managed to live to the ripe old age of 29 before succumbing to a toxic cocktail of drugs.
Released six months prior to his January 1953 death, “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” is named, of course, for the Creole-Cajun rice-based dish. (My wife had it just last night in a bistro off of Bourbon Street. She loves it. And while New Orleans dishes and cooking are typically outstanding, Jumbalaya is one I can take or leave.)
I can practically guarantee you John Fogerty wishes he’d written this song. He loves it so much he did a cover of it on his 1973 solo album, The Blue Ridge Rangers. But we’ve already heard from Fogerty so let’s go back to the source. (This one’s for that shit-kickin’ Canuck, CB.)
*Three people died in plunges at the Grand Canyon recently which surprises me not at all given that there are zero guardrails of any sort up there. You wanna go over, you go over.