WRITTEN BY BILL DAHL
“I don’t think that it’s the singer as much as it’s the song,” claims south Louisiana swamp-pop legend Rod Bernard. “The right song at the right time is what makes the hit. I think if Johnnie Allan or Warren Storm or Tommy McLain would have recorded ‘This Should Go On Forever,’ it would have hit for them just like it did for me. It wasn’t anything I did. It was just the right song at the right time.”
But it was 18-year-old Rod’s highly atmospheric reading of Bernard “King Karl” Jolivette’s “This Should Go On Forever” that became a national smash in 1959. Despite competition from King Karl’s original rendition, belatedly released by Excello in the fast-spreading wake of Rod’s hit, and the unknown Ronnie Dee’s soundalike cover on Savoy (cut with Gene Terry’s Down Beats), it was Rod who mimed his smash on national TV. That was a long way from Opelousas, where Bernard held down a daily airshift on KSLO radio.
“A couple of weeks earlier, I was playing songs by Frankie Avalon and Chuck Berry. And all of a sudden, I’m on tour with them! It was like, ‘What am I doing here?’” he marvels. “I’m on the same stage, the same show, with Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley and a whole bunch of guys. Mickey hadn’t made it real big yet, but Jerry Lee had.
“You could tell I was a country boy because I was backstage getting their autographs. They said, ‘Well, weren’t you on the show with us?’ I said, ‘Yeah, but I still would like to have your autograph!’” he laughs. “I had a real good time. I really enjoyed it. I didn’t make a lot of money, but I had a lot of fun.”
More good times are in store on the first night (Oct. 2) of the Ponderosa Stomp when Bernard co-headlines an all-star swamp-pop revue with Gene Terry and Tommy McLain, their backing provided by the Mama Mama Mamas, led by guitarist C.C. Adcock and featuring Pat Breaux, Steve Riley, and Dickie Landry. “I haven’t sung anywhere or played music in years,” says Rod. That makes his upcoming Stomp appearance all the more special.
“I GOT TO REALLY LIKING RADIO”
Born Aug. 12, 1940, in Opelousas, Rod had no musical models in his immediate family, though his grandfather operated the Courtableau Inn in Port Barre where Cajun mainstays Aldus Roger and Papa Cairo held forth.
“I started singing in Opelousas, my hometown, when I was about 7 or 8 years old, on the radio,” says Bernard. “We had a place in Opelousas that was a feed-and-seed store that had radio shows every morning and on Saturdays. And a whole bunch of us from that area, anybody that could play an instrument and sing, was invited to come down and be on the show. So I went several mornings at 6:45 in the morning before school and sang on the radio. Then I’d go on Saturdays on the Saturday show and sing there. And I got to really liking radio.”
Rod played rhythm guitar with the Blue Room Gang, a group of youngsters whose Saturday country-music program on KSLO was sponsored by Felix Dezauche’s feed store. “When I was about 10 years old,” says Rod, “I went up to the radio station where Johnny Wright was the program director and asked him if I could have my own radio program. And he said, ‘Yeah, but you need a sponsor.’ So that kind of threw water on the thing. So I went back to my grandmother’s house, and I was sitting there. Right across the street was the Lincoln-Mercury place, and I knew some of those men there. They would come over to our house and drink coffee with my grandmother and grandfather.
“HERE COMES THIS 10-YEAR-OLD KID”
“So I walked over there and I talked to the owner and told him I’d like to get a radio show, but I needed a sponsor. And he said, ‘Well, what does that cost?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. Let me call Mr. Johnny at the radio station!’ So I called him, and I found out years later what was real funny is that he had adult salespeople calling on this Lincoln-Mercury dealer, and they couldn’t sell him any advertising. He just didn’t believe in radio then. And here comes this 10-year-old kid walking in there, and I sold him a 15-minute radio program, and had it every Saturday. And that led to me having a radio program on Tuesdays, when I got out of school at 3:30. I went on the air at 4 and worked ‘til 10 at night. I did the deejay thing. And then that lasted all through high school. And after high school, I went to work there full time.”
THE TWISTERS: “IT WAS JUST LIKE A HURRICANE”
There was one brief hiatus from the KSLO airwaves. “My dad moved to Winnie, Texas. He worked in the oil fields for one year,” says Bernard, who met one of his future producers, Huey P. Meaux, while living in the Lone Star State. “I went to school there my freshman year in high school, and Huey was the only barber in Winnie, Texas, at the time. So I got to know him then. He was my barber, and he had a radio show on KPAC in Port Arthur on Saturdays, where he played French and Cajun music.”
Back in Opelousas, “Hot Rod” patterned his deejay patter on his KSLO program “Boogie Time” after that of J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, then burning up Beaumont’s airwaves spinning rocking R&B over KTRM. But Bernard’s musical ambitions remained. “We were in high school, and Mike Genovese, who was killed in a car wreck right after we graduated from high school in 1958, he was forming a band,” says Rod. “He asked me if I would be the singer. So he named it the Twisters. It had nothing to do with the dance, the Twist. It was just like a hurricane, a twister.” Genovese doubled on guitar and saxophone as the Twisters’ bandleader.
Rod cut his 1957 debut single for Jake Graffagnino’s Carl label pairing the rocking originals “Linda Gail” and “Little Bitty Mama.” “We wanted to have some records pressed that we could bring around to record hops and deejays, and just make a record for the fun of it because no one else was doing that at the time,” says Bernard. “We would hang out a lot at Jake’s Music Shop in Opelousas. And we told him what we’d like to do. So he knew how to put a master tape together, which we did at the Southern Club in Opelousas with one microphone.
“I guess we could have done it at the radio station where I worked, but we ended up recording it at the Southern Club. That’s where we were playing a lot, so we just went over there a couple of nights during the week when they weren’t open, and they let us go up on the bandstand and we set up a tape recorder and one microphone,” he continues. “He sent that in and had some records pressed. The band paid him for the records. He used the name Carl because his son was named Carl. It was just records that we paid for, that we bought to have pressed as the Twisters. It was just for promotion purposes.”
“I KIND OF INHERITED THE BAND”
Genovese received bandleader billing on Rod’s Carl encore, coupling his own stormer “All Night In Jail” and a ballad written by Mike, “Set Me Free.” “He was a very good musician,” notes Rod. This time they set up a mic at Jake’s Music Shop and recorded there, Graffagnino handling the trumpet solo on “All Night In Jail.” “They really didn’t sell anything,” says Rod of the two obscure Carl 45s, pressed in quantities of 500. “Nobody paid attention to it. Most of the radio stations wouldn’t even play ‘em because the quality was so bad. You can imagine, recording it in a nightclub instead of in a studio, it really didn’t have that good quality to it.
“Right after we started playing at teenage centers and things like that, Mike was killed in a car wreck,” says Bernard. “So I kind of inherited the band and kind of took it over, because we didn’t have a leader. And I really wasn’t a leader either. But we just needed somebody to kind of head the band and start booking different places.”
A TOUCH OF COUNTRY, A DOSE OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
A new sound was sweeping south Louisiana, and Bernard got in on the ground floor. “In the late ‘50s, when Fats Domino came out with some songs, Bobby Charles, Jimmy Clanton had ‘Just A Dream,’ there were quite a few songs like that. (Cookie & His Cupcakes’) ‘Mathilda,’ which is probably the greatest No. 1 swamp-pop song of all, it hit real big. I just liked that kind of music. It had a touch of country to it, it had a touch of rock and roll, and it was something that I could play,” he says. “I was a senior in high school when all that happened. And I just really liked it. I just enjoyed singing it, because I was a country music singer before that, and this wasn’t that much different.”
King Karl, front man for local R&B fret wizard Guitar Gable, encouraged Rod to cut his creation “This Should Go On Forever,” which Gable and Karl waxed for Excello and Crowley, La., producer J.D. Miller in February of 1957, only to see it languish on the shelf. “I went to a nightclub one night when I got off work, and he said, ‘Rod is here from KSLO. We’d like to play you our next record,’ which was recorded,” he says.
“And he sang ‘This Should Go On Forever.’ It really hit me, speaking as a deejay, it was a really, really good (song). Very commercial. And I kept telling him that, every time a record (by the band) would come out. He was on Excello. He’d bring it to me. I’d say, ‘Is that that song I like?’ And he said, ‘No, the record company doesn’t like it.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Well, they just don’t think it’s commercial.’ I said, ‘Man, tell ‘em to put the thing out. You’d have you a hit!’ And they never did put it out.”
“MAN, I’VE GOT A SONG”
With Excello boss Ernie Young unconvinced of the song’s potential, Karl didn’t mind the thought of Rod cutting a fresh version of “This Should Go On Forever.” “(Jin Records owner) Floyd Soileau in Ville Platte called me and said, ‘You guys want to make a record? I’m starting a record label!’ And I said, ‘Sure!’” says Bernard “He said, ‘Can you find a song?’ I said, ‘Man, I’ve got a song. I don’t remember the name of it, or remember the melody, or remember the words.’ But I went over to Karl’s house, and I told him the deal.
“I said, ‘Would you mind if I recorded it?’ He said, ‘No, because the record company that I’m with, they’re never gonna put it out.’ We didn’t have any portable tape recorder, so we sat on his front steps and he taught me the words and the music to ‘This Should Go On Forever.’ And I left there and drove right back to the radio station where we had tape recorders, and I put it on tape so I could remember it. Between the time I left his house and got to the radio station, I was singing it over and over in the car, and I changed it a little bit. I didn’t realize I changed it, but I changed it a little bit.”
“JUST A BUNCH OF 18-YEAR-OLD KIDS”
Bernard and the Twisters cut their version at Miller’s Crowley studio, just as Karl and Gable had. “That was the only studio I knew of around here. Now, he didn’t have anything to do with it. Floyd is the one that owned it, lock, stock, and barrel. J.D. had the publishing on it,” says Bernard. “We had very little to do with J.D. He really didn’t have much to do with the record, except he was in the studio that night when we were recording it. He made a couple of suggestions that were good about some breaks at a certain time in the song, and doing it this way. Our band was not real strong. It was just a bunch of 18-year-old kids, so he called in a couple of his musicians that played in his studio (guitarist Al Foreman and bassist Bobby McBride), and they played along with us. And it really added a lot to the song.”
“I STRAINED SO MUCH I DEVELOPED A NOSEBLEED”
It wasn’t an easy session. “I sang so much from about 7 at night ‘til 3 the next morning, I strained so much I developed a nosebleed,” says Rod. “The final cut, I had a towel around my face. And I always said maybe I should have kept doing that. Maybe that was my style, and I didn’t know it!” On the flip was Rod’s own rocker, “Pardon Mr. Gordon.” “I wrote that when I was a senior in high school,” he says. “Just me starting out, trying to write a song. So Floyd said, ‘What are we going to put on the other side?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve got a song I wrote, a rock and roll song called “Pardon Mr. Gordon.”’ And he said, ‘Well, let’s do it!’”
Soileau issued the coupling on Jin. “It hit real big around south Louisiana, and then it hit real big in Lake Charles. It became No. 1 there,” says Rod. “The same thing happened in Baton Rouge, then it went on to New Orleans. Spread out to Beaumont and Houston. And by the time it hit No. 1 in Houston and No. 1 in Atlanta, we had all these big record companies calling us wanting to lease it, which is the way they did back then. They’d find an unknown singer on an unknown label with what seemed like a hit record, and they’d all try to lease it. Floyd settled with Leonard Chess in Chicago. They sent us a nice check in advance and made us a good offer to put it out nationally. So we made a deal with them to go ahead and do it.”
“I HAD MIXED FEELINGS ON IT”
Repressed on the Chess subsidiary Argo, “This Should Go On Forever” roared up the pop and R&B charts during the spring of 1959 — and Rod got a quick lesson on the vagaries of the music business. “When Floyd sent it in to Billboard and Cash Box on his label, which was Jin, they gave it a really poor rating. Said it was a very amateurish-sounding song made by a bunch of teenagers that couldn’t play music that well and all that. We got like a D rating,” he says. “When Chess leased it, it was selling all over the South. And he put the exact same track — didn’t add anything to it, nothing — he put it out on Chess, and when they sent it in to Cash Box and Billboard, they made it a Pick of the Week and said it was destined to be one of the big hit records coming out of the South!”
Excello woke up and belatedly released Guitar Gable’s rendition. “When mine started hitting real big, then Excello had it already in the can. So then they put it out,” says Rod. “But mine was so far along and being played nationally on the Top 40 stations that what they did was try to catch up with us and bypass us with what was really the original version. But nobody knew that. And I had mixed feelings on it, because he really should have had the hit record.”
Suddenly Bernard was a hot commodity. “I got to go on tour, and I got to be on ‘American Bandstand’ a couple of times, and ‘Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Show’ once, and Buddy Deane, Milt Grant. All of those guys, they had programs like Dick Clark’s ‘American Bandstand,’” says Rod. “I would go on tour and go fly into each city, and some promotion guy would pick me up at the airport, bring me to the hotel, and the next day they’d pick me up and take me to a TV station where the show was. And I’d do the TV show and talk to the emcee of the program.”
“ALWAYS ONE OF MY FAVORITE SONGS”
Rod chose as his Argo followup “You’re On My Mind,” another swamp-pop ballad penned and first waxed on the Mel-A-Dee label by Lafayette, La., pianist Roy Perkins. “It was always one of my favorite songs,” says Rod. “Those three-chord progression-type songs, there were so many of them around here. And I liked ‘You’re On My Mind.’ We played it in the band the Twisters a lot. So we recorded it.” King Karl provided the B-side, “My Life Is A Mystery.” It didn’t hit.
“We put it out, and then Chess took it and put it out because that was the deal we had. But then they didn’t own me after that or have me signed up after that,” says Bernard. “About the same time I recorded it, I met Bill Hall in Beaumont, who was the Big Bopper’s manager, and signed up with him. And he got me on Mercury right away. So I didn’t have a contract with Argo. It was just for one song, and they had an option on the second one, the second one being ‘You’re On My Mind.’
“Naturally, Chess didn’t push mine very much. Maybe I should have stayed with them. At the time, it seemed like a better thing to go with Mercury because it was a big, big company. But maybe too big,” he says. “Bill had George Jones and me and Johnny Preston, who had ‘Running Bear,’ and Jivin’ Gene, who had ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.’ And he got us all on Mercury with Shelby Singleton, who was vice president of Mercury, which was how he got the Big Bopper on there. Anyway, we all ended up on Mercury.”
“ONE MORE CHANCE” ON THE CHARTS
Recording at Hall’s Beaumont studio, Bernard had a minor national hit in late ‘59 with his first Mercury outing, “One More Chance.” It was penned by the Bopper, who had recently perished in the horrific plane crash with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. “Jack Clement had moved from Memphis,” says Rod. “Bill talked him into moving to Beaumont. And they built this studio, and that’s where we recorded most of the things during that period of time.” Bernard wrote the flip, “Shedding Teardrops Over You.” Both sides were quality swamp-pop ballads.
Authorship on both sides of Bernard’s early ‘60 Mercury encore, twinning the jumping “Let’s Get Together Tonight” and a swampy “One Of These Days,” was credited to Karl Harrington, who wrote for Hall’s Big Bopper Music. Then Mercury dispatched Rod to Nashville to cut with Music Row’s A-Team, including saxist Boots Randolph and pianist Floyd Cramer.
“That was a time when Brenda Lee and a bunch of people like that were hitting it big with the Anita Kerr Singers and the Jordanaires,” explains Rod. “They were getting one hit after another, so Mercury said, ‘We should bring Rod up here and let him record with this!’ More or less like an orchestra was what it amounted to. It sounded like a good deal to me, so we went up there and did it.” In the process, Bernard’s swamp-pop edge was smoothed out. Nonetheless, he made some nice singles in his new surroundings.
JOHNNY AND EDGAR WINTER “DID THEIR USUAL GREAT JOB”
First out of the box was the engagingly upbeat “Dance Fool Dance,” another of the Bopper’s creations (Boots provided a delicious sax solo). Clement’s pop-oriented ballad “Two Young Fools In Love” occupied the flip. Bernard’s next 45, pairing “Just A Memory” and the Bopper’s “Strange Kisses,” was done at the same date. Rod wrote his early ‘61 Mercury offering “Lonely Hearts Club,” attached to a reprise of Otis Williams’ doo-wopping Charms’ “Who Knows” (it was the B-side of their 1954 R&B chart-topper “Hearts Of Stone”).
After a coupling of “Sometime (Tell Me)” and “I’m Not Lonely Anymore” quickly faded during the late summer of 1961, Hall brought Bernard home to his new Hall-Way label. Among Hall’s regular sessioneers in Beaumont was a pair of prodigiously talented young albinos. “We used Johnny Winter and Edgar Winter on a lot of my stuff I cut there in Beaumont because they lived in Port Arthur,” says Rod. “They came down and played a lot on my sessions and did their usual great job.”
The Winters played on Rod’s first Hall-Way single, a rocked-up revival of the Cajun standard “Colinda” that hit the shelves at the start of 1962. “I didn’t want to do it,” says Bernard. “We played ‘Colinda’ on the bandstand, saying this was the Louisiana national anthem. Actually, it’s ‘Jole Blon,’ but anyway, we’d say it. And Bill heard us play it one time. And he said, ‘Man, I want you to record that Cajun song!’ So that’s when Jack Clement started putting arrangements to it. He set it up into that rock and roll-type beat.
“COLINDA” CLIMBS DURING CAMP LEJEUNE EXILE
“I recorded it the night before I left to go to Parris Island. I had joined the Marine Corps. And I was at the boot camp. I went to combat training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and we were laying in the bunks one night with radios on, all tuned to this one station around Camp Lejeune. And the guy said, ‘I’m gonna play you Rod Bernard’s new record!’ And he played ‘Colinda.’ And it really shocked me because I didn’t even know Bill had released it, or was going to. I hadn’t been in touch with him in months because during boot camp and all that, it’s really tough. You can’t make phone calls, you can’t have TV sets, you can’t have radios, you can’t read newspapers. So I was kind of out of it for 12 weeks. I didn’t know what was going on.
“Dick Clark’s people called to get me back on there, because ‘Colinda’ hit this ‘Bubbling Under the Top 100’ without any promotion at all. It just hit big, like of all places like in Boston and in Canada and certain cities in the South. And it hit big enough to where it was No. 102 or No. 103 in the nation with me in boot camp at Parris Island. So Bill tried to get me out of the Marines long enough to just go up there and do it on ‘Bandstand.’ But the Marine Corps people wouldn’t let me out to go do it, so we never did get to promote it.” Jerry Woodard provided the equally driving opposite side, “Who’s Gonna Rock My Baby.”
“WE WERE GOING TO TRY TO DEVELOP A NEW SOUND”
Clement penned Bernard’s next Hall-Way offering “Fais Do Do” that summer (subtitled “Fay Doe Doe” for the edification of non-Louisianians). “Jack was going to do some more Cajun stuff like that with me,” says Rod. “We were going to try to develop a new sound along the ‘Fais Do Do’ and ‘Colinda’ things.” How the ebullient “New Orleans Jail” made it all the way down from Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music in New York for the flip is anyone’s guess (depending on the pressing, it was either written by Charles Koppelman and Don Rubin or Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil). “I never did really like it that much,” says Rod. “But other people did. They requested it a lot when we were on the bandstand. We played it a lot in nightclubs.”
Mercury’s Smash subsidiary distributed Rod’s ‘63 Hall-Way outing “Wedding Bells” (its opposite side, the clever charmer “I Had A Girl,” name-checked several pop stars of the day and was penned by rocker Narvel Felts). The name of Bill’s self-named label had been shortened to Hall by the time Rod turned in a strong rendition of R.S. Hebert’s swampy ballad “Forgive” in 1963. “Somebody in south Texas had recorded it, and it didn’t do anything for them,” he says. “Then Bill Hall heard it and said, ‘That’d be a good song for Rod.’ So they taped it and taught it to me.” Apparently the original was done not long before by Jimmy “Frenchy” Dee and released on the Scope and Taper labels; Mickey Gilley played piano on the obscure single and later cut “Forgive” himself for Stan Lewis’ Shreveport-based Paula Records.
Rod revived the Bopper’s ballad “The Clock” the same year with a revival of J.D. Miller’s Cajun classic “Diggy Liggy Lo,” out in ‘61 by Rusty and Doug Kershaw, adorning the other side. “Loneliness,” Bernard’s next Hall offering, retained the swamp-pop vibe, while the New Orleans-sounding rocker “Boss Man’s Son” on the flip was spiced by rolling 88s. Rod wrote half of his last Hall single in 1964, the rollicking “My Mother-In-Law,” which came attached to “I Might As Well.”
SIX NIGHTS A WEEK WITH THE SHONDELLS
The big news in Bernard’s musical life had taken shape the previous year, when he and two equally high-profile pals formed the first swamp-pop supergroup, the Shondells. “That’s after I got back from the Marine Corps,” he says. “I stayed there for six months, and then I went into the reserves. And when I got back, I went back to work at the radio station, and Skip Stewart was a deejay there too. So we started talking about forming us a band. Warren Storm was a really good friend of ours, so Warren played drums, Skip played bass, I played rhythm guitar, and we got a couple of saxophone players to come with us.
“We started playing one night a week at the Southern Club. Then after that, it branched out to every Friday and Saturday somewhere, then every Sunday somewhere else. So eventually it got to where we were playing six nights a week in nightclubs, honky tonks, and lounges all over south Louisiana.” In addition to three 45s for Carol Rachou’s Lafayette-based La Louisianne label, the group waxed a highly collectable LP, “The Shondells at the Saturday Hop.”
“ALL THE ENGLAND SONGS WERE COMING OVER HERE”
“We were playing around at the La Louisianne studios one day. We were taping some songs, because when I would come on, the show would start and the announcer would say, ‘Now here he is, Rod Bernard!’ And I’d come on and pantomime to a fast song. And we’d go into playing a slow song. And the kids would dance,” he says. “So we decided, ‘Let’s cut an album of just the Shondells!’ So we did, and we each took turns singing a song on it.”
Rachou and Bernard went into business together in 1965. “There wasn’t anything going on. So Carol and I got together and said, ‘Let’s start a label!’” says Bernard. “So I got the ‘Ar’ from Rachou and the ‘bee’ from my name. We put it together and made it Arbee.” The logo’s debut offering was the blistering rocker “Recorded In England,” sporting sardonic lyrics (Rod co-wrote it) and younger brother Oscar “Ric” Bernard’s slashing lead guitar.
“He played bass guitar and lead guitar on a lot of my records,” says Rod. “This was when the Beatles hit real big and all the England songs were coming over here and taking over and killing everything else. And my boss at KVOL walked in, and he said, ‘Man, if they don’t have “Recorded in England” on the label, it’s not gonna hit!’ And when he said that, I said, ‘Man, that’s the name of a song!’ So I wrote ‘Recorded In England.’ It did pretty well around this area and other areas, but it was never a national hit.”
“KING KARL AND I WROTE THAT”
Arbee issued two more stinging Bernard rockers in 1966, “Give Me Love Love Love,” which he penned with Billy Babineaux, and then “Gimme Back My Cadillac.” “King Karl and I wrote that,” says Rod of the latter. “He had the basic element down when he sang it to me. I said, ‘Well, let’s finish it.’ So we sat down and we finished the words to it. We have co-writer’s royalty on there, but it was really his idea and I just helped him finish it, because it was far from finished when he played it for me.”
Then Bernard surprisingly paid tribute to East Coast doo-wop on “Those Were Our Songs …,” a medley of vocal-group ballads from the previous decade (a revival of the Roy Perkins-penned “Just Another Lie” was the flip). Florence Greenberg’s New York-based Scepter Records picked the ‘66 single up from Arbee for national consumption, replacing the B-side with “Recorded In England.” “That’s pretty good for unknown singers on an unknown label in Lafayette, La., to get a song on Scepter, which was a big company,” Rod says. “All of those that were popular songs when I was in high school. We put it together and we made a song out of it.”
“MY JOLIE BLON,” HERE I COME
Huey Meaux came back into Rod’s life when the singer jumped to the Crazy Cajun’s Copyright label and cut “Papa Thibodeaux,” which Bernard penned with Eddie Futch. “Either I contacted Huey or Huey contacted me, because he had helped us promote ‘This Should Go On Forever,’” he remembers. “I had played a lot dance jobs for him and shows in Port Arthur and Beaumont. We got together and we went to Houston and did a bunch of things in Houston. But nothing, absolutely nothing happened. We never got any hit records at all. But we tried.”
Meaux produced the bubbly R&B-slanted “(Come On Over) Let’s Start A Commotion,” Rod’s Copyright encore, the work of Bob McRee and brothers Cliff and Ed Thomas, who operated the Grits ‘n’ Gravy Studio outside of Jackson, Miss. (Warren Storm also recorded there under Huey’s supervision). McRee and Tim Whitsett brainstormed the flip, “In This Small Town.” Meaux also issued a couple of Bernard 45s on his Tear Drop imprint, “Our Teenage Love,” which co-writer Jerry Raines had cut for Mercury in 1960 (Bernard did a version for Mercury that went unreleased), paired with Tony Montalbano’s intriguingly titled “Doing The Oo-Wa-Woo.” It was followed by “You’re The Reason I’m In Love,” backed with “My Jolie Blon” (Rod finally got around to cutting the ‘Louisiana national anthem’).
“NOBODY KNEW WHAT ZYDECO WAS THEN”
Bernard gravitated back to Soileau’s Jin Records in 1968 for “Congratulations To You Darling” and then Meaux’s “Cajun Honey.” “Floyd and I have been close friends since 1958. I really admire him, look up to him, treasure his friendship. He was always good to me, and always paid me the money I had coming to me. He was one of the few producers or record-company owners around here that did that,” Rod says. “He always pays all the singers, writers, recording artists. Whatever money that we have coming to us, he always sends us a check every December.” Meaux was temporarily back in a production role for “Cajun Interstate,” Rod’s 1970 single on Shelby Singleton’s SSS International logo (Bernard penned it with Futch).
In 1976, Jin released “Boogie in Black & White,” Rod’s groundbreaking 1976 album in partnership with zydeco legend Clifton Chenier. “That was my idea. I wanted to take some rhythm-and-blues songs and put that piano and scrubboard behind it. It’s something that we came out with way too early,” says Bernard.
“I think what happened is white people didn’t really like zydeco. Nobody knew what zydeco was then. They didn’t like that kind of music. And the black folks didn’t like it because it was me singing. They would rather buy something with just Clifton on it, which I don’t blame ‘em. Anyway, we recorded that album, and I thought it was a really good album.”
RADIO IS “JUST SOMETHING I’VE ALWAYS LOVED”
The allure of performing was fading fast for Rod by 1980, so he took a break. “I’d been having a lot of throat trouble, and got married, had kids,” he says. “I didn’t like being gone every night from home, and work all day at the radio station. So I just kind of eased out of it.” He continued to work as an ad salesman at KLFY-TV in Lafayette. “Radio and television and broadcasting, it was always my thing. That’s what I liked best. And that’s what I’ve done all my life,” he says. “I learned how to write, sell, and produce TV commercials. And I still write, sell, and produce radio commercials today. It’s just something I’ve always loved.”
Don’t miss this rare chance to see one of swamp pop’s architects perform his classics, including “Recorded In England.” “C.C. really likes it because he gets to really play lead guitar and a lot of it on that song, so I know that’s one we’re going to do,” says Bernard. “That’s going to be our opening song.
“I’m going to do ‘Colinda,’” he promises. “I’m going to do ‘This Should Go On Forever,’ of course. And there are one or two others I talked to C.C. about that he’d like for me to do. Maybe ‘New Orleans Jail.’ I’m not sure about that one yet.”
We can’t wait!