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BOBBY ARDOIN Editor/Consulting Writer

A mid-20th century St. Landry Parish musical era, defined primarily by locally-created bands displaying their rhythm and blues craft in small Southwest Louisiana nightclubs, was momentarily revisited Thursday night.

State Supreme Court Justice Jimmy Genovese brought an intrigued twilight crowd of listeners at the historic Michel Prudhomme Home back into the 1950’s where musicians with duck-tailed hairdos and white shoes packed their horns, drums and microphones into station wagons in search of dances and record deals that were often completed in rudimentary studio settings.

“This is our culture and these are our people,” said Genovese, who was the featured guest during the first of several planned Prudhomme Home Speaker Series events.

Kenny Tibbs and Sidney Janise, who played with Kenny And The Jokers during that decade were also on hand for the event.

Genovese, 74, is qualified to speak with authority about the “Swamp Pop,” musical era which caught fire around 1956 and whose tentacles eventually stretched across St. Landry to nearby parishes and overseas.

He was about seven-years-old when his older brother, Michael Genovese III began forming a touring band called The Twisters along with Charles Boudreaux.

The Twisters resembled musicians of the modern-day garage band scene, Jimmy Genovese recalled, as his mother would relocate the dining room furniture inside the family home on South Court Street in Opelousas, so Mike, Charles and the other band members had room to perform.

Dancing at the time was becoming popular in area clubs around Opelousas, said Genovese and Mike Genovese and Boudreaux were anxious to capture that moment with their own music.

A pianist, horn players, a drummer and a dynamic young singer, Rod Bernard, were added to the Twisters and the group began advertising with billboards and taking their sound on the road, Genovese said.

“They were featured in jam sessions on KSLO radio. The band began writing songs and they cut a couple of records like “Linda Gail,” and “Little Bitty Mama” at Jake’s Music Shop in downtown Opelousas on the Carl record label. The gigs started coming to them and The Twisters and The Boogie Kings were the two bands that became the most popular at that time, Genovese noted.

Local Musical Venues

Genovese said The Twisters and The Boogie Kings often played to young crowds at the Opelousas Teenage Center, located about 100 yards from the Genovese residence.

However they also became the featured bands at the Southern Club on U.S. 190 west of Opelousas, the Evangeline Club in Ville Platte and other notable clubs in nearby parishes.

With Marian Pressley on the piano, William Harmon and J.B. Terracina on the horns, Ray Thomasee playing drums and Mike Genovese on the saxophone, The Twisters burst into prominence, Genovese recalled.

Crossover Musicians

One unique aspect of Swamp Pop musicians, said Genovese, was their untethered allegiance to one band.

“It was not unusual to see these guys play one night with one group and then if a band needed a horn player for instance, he might go and fill in as a player with another band,” Genovese added.

That was the situation on July 4, 1958, when Mike Genovese, then 18, died in an automobile accident on U.S. 190 between Lawtell and Eunice. Mike Genovese was returning from playing with another band in Eunice when the vehicle he was driving was struck head-on.

The Twisters, the band Mike Genovese started, was ascending in popularity at that point and just several months later, Rod Bernard recorded “This Should Go On Forever,” a song that gained popularity in America and other countries.

Multi-Racial Swamp Pop

Genovese noted that the Swamp Pop phenomenon was not limited to just White musical groups.

“Blacks and Whites at that time knew each other and they played music together, jammed together, sat together, which speaks to the amount of talent that was available on both sides,” said Genovese.

White musicians like Warren Storm, Skip Stewart, Johnny Allen and others occasionally played music with Bernard Jolivette,  Lil’Bob and his band at area clubs like Slim’s, Richard’s Club, the White Eagle, The Step-Inn, Green Lantern, The Bamboo and Berlina’s.

Often the Black musicians around St. Landry attracted nationally known artists like Otis Reding, James Brown, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, B.B. King and Cookie And The Cupcakes, Genovese said.

“I’m impressed how the two cultures mixed, got along and respected one another. I think the reason is that music is something that gets into the heart and soul,” Genovese said.

Swamp Pop, Genovese said, is still a popular genre in Europe.

“It all began here in these parishes and around Opelousas and the music started that was here back then is alive and still standing today,” said Genovese.

Authors

  • Courtney Jennings

    Courtney Jennings is a contributing writer with St. Landry Now since 2023 covering local events throughout the parish. She also runs the local publication MacaroniKID Acadia-St. Landry, an online publication and weekly e-newsletter on family friendly activities, local events, and community resources for parents.

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  • Bobby Ardoin