ince the mid-fifties rock and roll has been the dominant music of young Cajuns. While recent years have witnessed something of a revival of interest in French music, both black and white, it is south Louisiana's rock bands, not its French hands, which draw most young people to the dance halls. Many of the area's rock musicians, however, reflect their own Cajun backgrounds in their music. Clint West, one of the best of the ''South Louisiana Soul'' musicians, is a good example of French traditions continuing (albeit in diluted form) in rock music.

There are a number of singers who have continued to draw crowds to dance halls ever since rock and roll fever came to Cajun country in the fifties. Johnnie Allan (real name: John Guillot) still packs them in at Boo Boo's, between Lafayette and Breaux Bridge. Sixteen years after his records first appeared on the jukeboxes; Cookie and the Cupcakes, a black group that recorded the still locally popular "Mathilda" continues to play music, mostly for white crowds.

LYRICS and TRANSLATION
"Sweet Susanna"

  he list of Cajun rockers who came of age in the fifties, many of whom still play regular dances, goes on and on: T. K. Hulin, Rod Bernard, Bobby Charles (Guidry), Herbie Stutes, and Warren Storm (Warren Schexneider) are some of the more prominent names, not to mention the scores of guitarists, pianists, drummers, bassists, and horn players who have backed them up. The Cajun influence on the music is often subtle and hard to detect – an inflection here, a word of French there. Some of the bands whose crowd is on the middle-aged side might play one or two smoothed-out Cajun tunes in the course of an evening. Many of the Cajun rock musicians, however, consider their music to be quite apart from and more sophisticated than the Cajun music that they grew up with.

Rock and roll took hold in south Louisiana at a time when for many people the word "Cajun" had only derogatory connotations. Rock was apparently a route to mainstream, fifties American culture, and as many people changed the music they listened to and played, some also went as far as pretending not to be able to speak French.

 Clint West

hile Clint West is one of the strongest performers in the genre of south Louisiana rock and roll, he brings to his music a sound that is often rooted in his own Cajun background. His contribution to this album, "Sweet Susannah," blends elements of rock and country with an interpretation of the traditional Cajun waltz form. Born Maurice Guillory on August 11, 1938, West recalls his first musical experiences as beating time with a pair of spoons on his family's cowhide-seat chairs. His family, he recalls, was not particularly musical: "I thought there was something wrong with me," he remembers, "because when everybody else was playing sports, I just wanted to stay inside and listen to the radio."

He did go to the dance halls with his parents, and at the Bel Amour Club in his hometown of Vidrine, an accordionist named Gilbert Mayeaux heard twelve year-old Clint beating the wall in perfect time. The next week, Clint was on the bandstand as one of Gilbert Mayeaux's Vidrine Playboys, developing his solid drumming style behind the accordion, fiddle, and guitar. Guillory finished high school and attended a business college, moving from there to a job as a bookkeeper in an insurance office. His job didn't last very long, Clint says, because the boss claimed that he drummed with his pencil on the radio to the exclusion of keeping books. From that day on, he has been a professional musician.

est began his rock and roll career with Red Smiley and the Veltones, a group from Palmetto, La. Two years later, in 1960, he joined a Monroe, La. band named the Roller Coasters, with whom he played for another two years. In 1962 Clint West's own name gained a good deal of regional prominence when he formed his highly popular and now fondly remembered Boogie Kings. The ten-piece band made trips out west to Las Vegas and Hollywood, only to enhance his popularity back home in Louisiana. He plays today to intensely loyal crowds who still request the songs that made the Boogie Kings top dance hall figures between 1962 and 1965.

At one recent dance in Lafayette, a typical scene: "We've got some people here all the way from Port Neches, Texas," Clint announces, "and they want to hear "Try To Find Another Man." There is scattered applause, and the dance floor fills with people who heard the song in high school when the Boogie Kings played their senior prom, as well as with longhaired kids who probably had their IDs checked at the door. Occasionally, Clint brings out his accordion and plays a Cajun waltz or two-step.

he Boogie Kings and Clint West split in 1965, and the separation caused a court fight, with the "original" Boogie Kings attempting to hold the prestigious name, and Clint West and a new crop of Boogie Kings claiming the name as theirs. The original Boogie Kings won in the Ville Platte courtroom, but undaunted, Clint West called his new group the Fabulous Kings, a group he kept until 1968.

In 1974 Clint West continues to play the music that started him out in rock and roll in the late fifties and early sixties, but he has also changed with the times. He no longer plays with a large group of Kings, and increasingly, he is finding room in his music for the Cajun sounds of his childhood in Vidrine.

 

copyright 1974 and 1999
Ron and Fay Stanford

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