VILLE PLATTE, La. (WVUE) - The unique blend of rock and roll music known as swamp pop grew popular in the dance halls of south Louisiana and managed to score a few top hits in the 1950s and 1960s.
Even now, it’s still the most popular music on one Ville Platte radio station. Charlie Manuel has been working KVPI since the 1950s when local record producers started turning out a new type of music.
“Swamp pop is just good rhythm and blues music,” Manuel said. “The minute the wax was set and dry, we had a copy and we were on it. We really pushed it.”
In 1995, KVPI general manager Mark Layne helped convince the Louisiana Legislature to proclaim Ville Platte the Swamp Pop Capital of the World.
“It was south Louisiana Cajun teenagers who discovered Fats Domino, discovered rock and roll music. And they said, 'Hey, this is our kind of music,” Layne said.
An old train depot in Ville Platte houses the Swamp Pop Museum, where Sharen Fontenot is the manager.
“This was my music. This was what teenagers of the late 50s and early 60s danced to every Friday and Saturday night,” Fontenot said.
On thing you learn here is that most of the swamp pop musicians changed their names when they started recording their songs.
“And they knew that disc jockeys in New York and Los Angeles could not pronounce Fontenot, Thibodaux or Boudreaux. One good example is Bobby Charles, who probably had the very first official swamp pop record, ‘See You Later, Alligator.' He went by Bobby Charles, but his name was Bobby Charles Guidry.”
The south Louisiana music replaced the Cajun accordion and fiddle with the electric guitar and horns. And, the musicians were showmen, having stage costumes like the tuxedos worn by the Boogie Kings and the wingtip shoes, silver hats and black leather jacket worn my Tommy McClain.
The piano used to write the hit song “Graduation Night” sits in the museum, along with a jukebox loaded with swamp pop favorites and tables and chairs from dance halls that are long gone.
“It’s a very emotional music that just kind of expresses how you’re feeling,” Fontenot said.
The music is an oldies soundtrack of the prairies and bayous of south Louisiana that spread around the world and still plays on local radio.
Ville Platte’s Swamp Pop Museum is only open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, visit their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pg/Louisiana-Swamp-Pop-Museum