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What Is Swamp Rock Music?


What Is Swamp Rock Music?

Tony Joe White's "Polk Salad Annie" 45

Definition: "Swamp Rock" is a genre that's often misunderstood -- confused by outsiders with the Cajun R&B stroll of "swamp pop" or, worse, merely regulated to describing songs about the swamps of the American South, from Louisiana to Florida. In fact, "swamp rock" is a fairly narrow field of music: the result of the integration of rockabilly artists with the soul explosion of the mid-60s, aided by a heavy infusion of the gritty sub-genre known as "swamp blues," and also with a heavily rhythmic backbone that, at its loosest, could almost be described as funk. It's a style whose primary yardstick is earthiness.

As the country-rock musicians of the "New South" got turned on to the country-soul emanating from places like Memphis and Muscle Shoals, they incorporated it into their music: the typical "swamp rock" song combines deep soul with raw country, gritty blues, and a danceable beat. (The "swamp blues" in question was created by Nashville's Excello label in the late Fifties by musicians like Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, Lightnin' Slim, and Roscoe Shelton.) It led to the principal defining guitar line of swamp rock: low, dirty, and full of reverb (and sometimes, for an extra funky touch, wah-wah). Horns are often present due to the soul influence, although guitar solos are more likely than sax solos. And although the subject matter is often as dark and menacing as the music itself, tales of the swampland aren't necessary in swamp music; that trend only began when, helped along by Elvis' own fascination with the genre, it hit the AM airwaves in the early Seventies.

Like most soul-based or "roots" musics, Swamp Rock seemed to bite the dust when disco arrived, yet rose from the grave in the '90s, as jam bands and Americana acts began discovering it and incorporating it into their own funky style. But remember: it's not swamp pop!

Also Known As: Swamp Pop, Swamp Blues
  1. "Polk Salad Annie," Tony Joe White (purchase/download)
  2. "Born On The Bayou," Creedence Clearwater Revival (purchase/download)
  3. "Amos Moses," Jerry Reed (purchase/download)
  4. "Suzie Q," Dale Hawkins (purchase/download)
  5. "Hush," Joe South (purchase/download)
  6. "Niki Hoeky," Redbone (purchase/download)
  7. "Big Boss Man," Elvis Presley (purchase/download)
  8. "I Walk On Gilded Splinters," Dr. John (purchase/download)
  9. "Spiders And Snakes," Jim Stafford (purchase/download)
  10. "Struttin' My Stuff," Elvin Bishop (purchase/download)
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