Former UL Lafayette students keep Swamp Pop music alive

(Source: University of Louisiana at Lafayette)
(Source: University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

Lafayette, LA (KPLC) - The following is a news release from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette:

Lafayette's Ray Boudreaux is helping to spread the gospel of swamp pop, one of Louisiana's original music genres.

Boudreaux, who advanced to the top eight on "The Voice," NBC's talent competition, will perform at Downtown Alive! on Thursday.

Although he was eliminated last week, he helped introduce Louisiana music to a much wider audience.

The former University of Louisiana student credits a UL Lafayette alum — music legend Johnnie Allan — as an inspiration.

Allan, whose real name is John Allen Guillot, helped create swamp pop.

He was born in 1938 and grew up near Rayne, La. His mother, Helen Falcon Guillot, came from a family of Cajun music pioneers. In 1928, her paternal uncle, Joe Falcon, and his wife, Cleoma Breaux Falcon, were the first to record Cajun music.

Music was a big part of Allan's life when he was growing up.

"I remember singing with my mother's brothers and sisters on the back porch of our old house near Bosco and listening to the Grand Ole Opry and a radio station out of Del Rio, Texas. My mother told me years later that I would sing three songs without missing a word at the ripe old age of 3!"

He bought his first guitar when he was about 11, using money earned by selling vegetable seeds. His mother taught him to play.

At 13, he and fellow classmate Walter Mouton formed Walter Mouton and the Scott Playboys. Two years later, he joined the Cajun band Lawrence Walker and His Wandering Aces. Allan played drums and steel guitar.

In 1958, he formed the Krazy Kats with some other members of Walker's band. Together, they concocted swamp pop, a blend of Cajun, country, rhythm and blues, and rock 'n' roll. Allan's swamp pop career extended into the 1970s and '80s and included several tours of Europe.

He also had a career as an educator. "I only worked on weekends playing music. I was dedicated to the school profession during the week," he said in a recent interview. In 1981, he took an early retirement.

Allan is largely retired from the music business. He only performs about eight or 10 times a year and when he does, he's electric.

He gave one of those rare performances at Lafayette's Blue Moon Saloon on Nov. 15 for the 10th annual Archive Aid, a fundraising concert for the University's Archives of Cajun and Creole Culture. He shared the bill with The Rex Street Rounders, a band made up of University faculty members; the Revelers; and Bonsoir Catin.

Although Allan only performed three songs, he was the night's top attraction.

His energetic performance wowed the crowd packed around the small stage. Few in the audience could have guessed that the charismatic entertainer with the bold, resonant voice is 75 years old.

In 2011, Allan had emergency double-bypass heart surgery. He's made a full recovery, but the experience prompted him to make decisions about his collection of papers and other materials related to his career.

"I decided that it was time to put it in a place where it would be accessible to someone doing research on Louisiana music," he said.

Allan made a significant donation to the University. It includes a complete collection of his commercial recordings; a set of posters from his career; letters and correspondence; copies of his books; newspaper and magazine articles; video recordings and more than 2,500 photographs.

Some of the images were featured in Memories: A Pictorial History of South Louisiana Music, 1920s-1980s, which he first published in 1988 and updated in 1995.

"I'm proud to say that these books are in a lot of major universities, worldwide. That, in itself, is rewarding for me," he said.

In 1992, Allan published Born to be a Loser: The Jimmy Donley Story. Donley was a troubled man and brilliant songwriter who never rose to national prominence; he committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 33.

Allan co-wrote the book with the late Dr. Bernice Larson Webb, an English professor who taught a creative writing course he took at UL Lafayette.

Among Allan's contributions to the University's collections is the master recording for an album he produced of his great-aunt Cleoma Breaux's music. Cleoma B. Falcon: A Cajun Music Classic was released in 1983.

"I was happy to do it because I felt her contributions as a musician had largely been ignored. Uncle Joe was getting all the limelight and hey, she has some good songs. She was an excellent songwriter and performer and she had been overlooked," he said.

Allan's materials are held at Edith Garland Dupré Library in the Louisiana Room; the Cajun and Creole Music Collection, which holds commercial recordings; and the Archives of Cajun and Creole Folklore, which are housed in the Center for Louisiana Studies.