Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

Swampwater: Cajun-Flavored Country Rock on Starday-King

Here’s a tuneful country rocker from 1970 that sure sounds like a radio hit:

“Louisiana Woman”    

Swampwater (1970)

John Beland:  Guitar, Resonator Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Gib Guilbeau:  Fiddle, Guitar, Vocals
Thad Maxwell:  Bass, Vocals
Stan Pratt:  Drums
Roger Jannotta:  Strings
John Wagner:   Producer

And yet this rather obscure debut album* from Linda Ronstadt’s backing band was released by none other than King Records — with notable rock artist, Cal Schenkel, responsible for the distinctive (for King) cover photography [*reissued in South Korea & Japan in 2019].  Even more incredible, this was just one of two self-titled debut albums released by Swampwater in the same year!

The King album was recorded in two days at John Wagner’s four-track studio in Albuquerque.  Starday-King would issue two singles from Swampwater‘s debut album, with one of them reaching #72 on the country chart (according to this 45Cat contributer).

These guys are real good, but I hope nobody buys their album ’cause if they get to be famous, I won’t have a backup group.” — Linda Maria Ronstadt [album jacket]

Swampwater 45a

The other Swampwater LP on RCA Victor, by comparison, was recorded at RCA’s studios in both Nashville and Hollywood and included musical sweetening from a few notable session players, such as Curly Chalker, Jimmy Day, Herb Pedersen & Glen D. Hardin, plus sleeve notes by Arlo Guthrie.

Album Review

Record WorldJan. 2, 1971

The following month, Billboard posted a small news item in its February 27, 1971 edition about Swampwater that characterizes the band as being part of the “Country Underground”:

Country Underground Date

NASHVILLE — A session described as “bordering on country underground” has been produced here for Starday-King.

Hal Neely, label president, said the session involves Whitey Shafer, with backing by Swampwater, a group which flew in from the West Coast for backing purposes.  Buddy Mize is the producer.

The session includes material written by Shafer, who recently won a songwriters’ award for “Lord, Is That Me?”

The artists in the Swampwater group, Gil Guilbeau, John Beland, Stan Pratt and Thad Maxwell, also backed Linda Ronstadt for the Johnny Cash Show.  The group has done extensive work in college concerts, and will appear with Arlo Guthrie in March.

Nancy Erlich‘s review of Arlo Guthrie‘s performance at New York City’s Carnegie Hall was published in Billboard‘s April 10, 1971 edition:

Arlo Guthrie and Swampwater are a natural team.  Arlo’s wit and honesty and Swampwater’s loose, easy-going rapport complement each other perfectly.  At Carnegie Hall Wednesday night, they sounded as if they had been spending many days together playing music for the love of it, which they had.  It was an easy evening.

Swampwater (King recording artists) opened the show playing cajun-flavored rock music and rock-flavored cajun music and other styles less definable but just as real.  There some outstanding fiddle playing by Gib Guilbeau, though not nearly enough.  Between the bluegrass and the blues and the fiddle-playing and guitar-picking, Swampwater changed their pace with “Heading for the Country,” their next single, and John Beland’s “Kathleen,” a simple, honest love song.

Arlo and guitarist John Pilla joined the group for the second half, and the tone changed to country and western and Guthrie.  The force of Arlo’s personality is tremendous; it makes him as unique a song interpreter as he is a writer.  Opening with the underground national anthem, “Okie From Muskogee,” he took his show at a quiet pace, no pressure, no showmanship.  He and Swampwater don’t have an act; they just play music.  For Arlo, who records for Reprise, it couldn’t be any other way.

John Beland (a.k.a., Bill Murphy) posted the following piece on Amazon.com:

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