Gulf Coast Soul

The Boogie Kings continue to boogie, Port A-style

Gulf Coast Soul

After moving in 1991 from my brief tenure in Hawaii back to Texas, the first place I headed for was Louisiana. Going there, just like a trip to la farmacia at the border, was the affirmation I was back in Texas. Really back.

The Boogie Kings were around then too, playing Antone’s with their tuxedo-clad Gulf Coast soul and brassy swamp pop. Hailing from Lafayette and other places deep in Cajun Country, the Boogie Kings typified popular bands of the pre-Beatles era, a full musical revue that could play anything off the jukebox and then some. They sported upwards of three lead vocalists, who could take off on their own or soar in three-part harmony. A full brass section punched in like a swamp version of the Memphis Horns. And they packed the clubs.

The band toured an endless circuit of dancehalls and beach bars from Texas across the South during the early 1960s. When the Beatles came along and everything changed, the Boogie Kings hesitated only briefly, updated their image, and swung back into action through the late 1960s. We’re talkin’ driving across the Sabine River from Texas into Louisiana on a hot and steamy night, and the drinking age was 14. Possessed by the music like a madman, singer G.G. Shinn would jump down from the stage and do “The Gator” on the dancefloor. Three-hour sets, no stopping. A wall of brass echoing so far into the cypress trees you couldn’t hear the alligators bark. Teenagers like Janis Joplin and Johnny Winter sneaking across the border to stand on the sidelines with mouths agape.

Edgar Winter came along and stole most of the good Boogie Kings and turned them into his White Trash Band - Jerry LaCroix, Jon Smith, etc. That’s why his live Roadwork album from the mid-1970s ripped like a hurricane. It was fueled by speed-fired Cajuns and shotgun Texans led straight outta the swamps by an albino from Beaumont.

Sometime around ’92 or ’93 I was in Louisiana at a Boogie Kings show outside Baton Rouge and witnessed an amazing sight, free of artifice. During the break, the jukebox played Clarence Carter’s “Strokin’,” and the women all got up and did “The Freeze.” It was similar to a line dance but hearkened closer to “The Madison” or “The Hully Gully.” It was powerful to watch, these 40 or 50 countryish women doing the step-clap-shuffle to this dirty classic that boasted, “I stroke it to the east, I stroke it to the west, I stroke it to the woman I love the best.” In the heat of the music, they were all beautiful.

I’m not talking a bunch of cute little hotties on the dancefloor. I’m talkin’ Mrs. Thunderthighs Broussard in stretch polyester pants and her daughter Satchel Ass Robicheaux with the beer gut and plastic Wal-Mart shoes. Yet in the moment, they were fluid and sensual, the dance a feminine mating call. It was real dirty dancing, and glorious to behold.

In a show reminiscent of Antone’s first location on Sixth Street, the Boogie Kings are playing with Percy Sledge at the 18th Annual Gulf Coast Jam in Port Arthur on Saturday, August 9 at the Bowers Civic Center. Louisiana Express and Easy open the show. That’s one bill Clifford would have driven east for.

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