The Alligator Man has returned to the swamp.
Swamp pop, to be precise.
Cajun Grand Ole Opry country star Jimmy C. Newman, who picked up the “Alligator Man” moniker after scoring a country hit with the title in 1962, has a new album out, Jimmy C. Newman Sings Swamp Country.
“It’s swamp pop,” he says. “I don’t know if it helps, but I call it ‘swamp country.’ But it’s very good, with horns and all—like they use in swamp pop.”
Hailing from the Cajun prairie hamlet of Big Mamou, Newman, who turns 85 in August, is well-versed in the Cajun/R&B/country music amalgamation called swamp pop—though the term is recognized mainly by South Louisiana residents and fans of the region’s music.
He notes that the new album is heavy on the ballads that marked his initial country recording career in the 1950s—including a remake of his 1954 No. 4 hit "Cry, Cry Darling."
“Before I go out, I want to show the world I can still sing a ballad!” says the soft-spoken singer, whose “bread-and-butter” style since the late 1970s—when Cajun accordion great Bessyl Duhon joined his band—has been the more traditional “Cajun thing.”
“A lot of younger people don’t know I was a ballad singer before the Cajun thing,” he continues. “So I redid ‘Cry, Cry Darling” and made it in 2/4 [time] instead of a waltz, and it really came out [good].”
Newman also recorded a swamp country version of his biggest hit “A Fallen Star,” which reached No. 2 in 1957. Included, too, are a pair of Eddy Arnold hits (“It’s A Sin,” from 1947, and the 1965 chart-topper “Make The World Go Away”) and a cover of “Careless Hands,” a No. 1 pop hit in 1949 for Mel Torme that was also a hit for Sammy Kaye, Bing Crosby and Bob & Jeanne.
“I picked songs that go well with that style of music,” notes Newman of swamp pop, which originated in South Louisiana in the 1950s and early ‘60s and is exemplified by classic songs like Cookie and The Cupcakes’ “Mathilda,” Jimmy Clanton’s “Just A Dream” and Dale & Grace’s “I’m Leaving It Up to You.”
“I didn’t think to call it 'swamp pop' in the album title because the term was given to the Louisiana sound by some guy from England,” he adds. Swamp pop, in fact, retains a strong following in the U.K.
Newman also singles out his new recording of “Back Pocket Money,” a Tom T. Hall song that Newman originally recorded for a 1966 single.
“We did a heck of a record on it, and it really came off,” he says of the new version. He also likes a new song, “Let The Meatball Roll,” which he released last year as a digital single.
“It’s a Cajun expression a cousin of my wife used,” says Newman. “He was a good-time fellow, and had a drink in his hand. Kind of like ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler,’ or ‘Let the good times roll.’”
Meanwhile, Newman still plays the Opry every weekend, not too far from his ranch in Murfreesboro, where legendary singer-songwriter John D. Loudermilk is a neighbor.
“I love the country life--it’s in the blood,” says Newman. “But I still have a little music left to do. It’s just so hard to get anything done at this stage in the game: [Renowned Cajun music record man] Floyd Soileau down in Ville Platte knew he could sell me some records, but now jukeboxes use computerized systems, so it’s not the same business.”
So Newman has put Swamp Country out himself, on his own Gator Man Records.
“It’s like the old expression: I recorded it—and it sort of escaped!” he says of the disc, which can be found at his Web site and online outlets like Amazon.com. “I did my tracks here at the ranch, and then brought them to Louisiana for the other parts.”
And while he’s been out at the ranch for 41 years, the Cajun Music and Louisiana Music Halls of Famer proudly says he remains “a swampbilly” at heart.
[The Examiner wrote the liner notes for Jimmy C. Newman and Cajun Country's 1991 album Alligator Man.]
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