This is so trivial a matter I'm unsure why I wrote it up . . . but I did. And so here you have it:
A friend of mine sent me a link to one of those "remember-the-days?" websites that feature images of a younger America. This particular collection of photographs focused on gas stations across the country from the 1920s through the 1960s. You can see the site for yourself here.
One of the images captured a California gas station and what I believe to be a 1962 Ford Galaxie at the pump. (Correct me if I'm wrong about the make or model — I originally thought it was a 1960 Chevy Impala.)
|Filling up next to the Escondido Bowl.
Behind the car stands a sign for a bowling alley, restaurant, and coffee shop called the Escondido Bowl. Thus, judging from this sign and the Galaxie — as well as from the other cars in the image — the photograph was taken in Escondido, California (located below Los Angeles near San Diego), in or shortly after 1962.
What really caught my eye, however, was the marquee below the Escondido Bowl signage. It read:
|See? "Johnny Preston" and "The Cajuns."
For those who don't know, Johnny Preston had an international number one hit single in 1959 with the song, "Running Bear," written by J. P. Richardson (aka The Big Bopper, who died in the same plane crash that killed Buddy Holly).
Johnnie Preston singing "Running Bear."
(Source: NRRArchives on YouTube.com)
In 1996 I published my first book, Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues, about the swamp pop musical genre of south Louisiana and east Texas. Swamp pop is a combination of New Orleans-style rhythm-and-blues, country-and-western, and Cajun and black Creole music. It was invented by Cajun and black Creole teenagers in the mid- to late 1950s, and its heyday stretched from 1958 to 1964, ending with the advent of the British Invasion.
|Cover of my book Swamp Pop.
Among the pioneer swamp pop musicians I interviewed for the book was Johnny Preston — real name Johnny Preston Courville. As his tell-tale ethnic surname suggests, he was a Cajun, hailing from the Beaumont-Port Arthur area of east Texas (to which many south Louisiana Cajuns migrated during the early to mid-twentieth century). I assumed "The Cajuns" was the name of Johnny's band — though I'd never heard of him fronting a band by this name.
I told my father, swamp pop musician Rod Bernard, about Johnny’s name appearing on the marquee. He replied, "Well, I toured with Johnny on the West Coast around that time. A bunch of us from around here toured with him out west."
|Newspaper ad for a 1960 tour out west featuring Dad,
Johnny Preston, Jivin' Gene, Benny Barnes, and Skip Stewart.
(Source: Tucson Daily Citizen, 30 January 1960)
Dad and I suddenly had the same thought: What if he had been there, with Johnny, at the Escondido Bowl when the photograph in question had been taken? Perhaps "The Cajuns" referred to the other singers in the tour group, all but one of whom, Benny Barnes, were indeed Cajuns? The other singers were Dad, Jivin’ Gene (real name Gene Bourgeois) and Skip Stewart (Maurice Guillory); Dad’s band, The Twisters — some of whose members were Cajuns — served as the backing band for the tour group.
|Left to right, Benny Barnes, Jivin' Gene,
Dad, and Johnny Preston, ca. 1960.
(Source: Author's Collection)
I checked a few online newspaper archives and found that Johnny Preston toured the West Coast, including the Escondido area, with a band called "The Cajuns" in 1964 and 1965 — a few years after he toured the West Coast with Dad and the other swamp pop artists. In other words, Dad was not with Johnny when the gas station photograph was taken. Not that it matters. Still, it would have been a neat coincidence. In any event, the gas station photograph captures a moment in time when swamp pop music was young and often performed by its pioneers far beyond its homeland. Swamp pop still exists today, but its pioneers are slowly passing away (Johnny himself died in 2011), and the genre is largely confined to the dance halls and honky tonks of south Louisiana and East Texas.
Addendum: In retrospect I think I wrote this as nothing more than an exercise in historical detection (which I enjoy).