A minor rock figure in terms of his recording output, but far more impactful based on the influence of that work as he was the true forebearer of the swamp pop sound that made a small but notable mark on the late 1950’s rock scene.

Clarence Garlow was born in Louisiana in 1911 but moved to Texas as a child and the two distinct regions would have a profound effect on his musical upbringing. His exposure to Texas blues guitarist T-Bone Walker led him to take up that instrument but he also picked up the accordion which was an instrument favored by the French Creoles of New Orleans. Upon reaching adulthood he found work in factories while playing music on the side and with the proliferation of small independent record labels springing up across the country, including in non-traditional media meccas such as nearby Houston, Williams found his way to one that had just opened its doors in late 1949 called Macy’s.

Though he didn’t think himself good enough to be a professional his unique sound was instantly captivating, especially around the Gulf Coast region whose inhabitants were familiar with the sounds he drew from and with his second single, “Bon Ton Roula” he scored a national hit. Though that record became his enduring legacy it also hindered any chance to move beyond that since he was the only source for this new quirky sound he was expected to endlessly replicate it, leading to countless new and re-worked versions of the same tune. He even opened a drive-in under that name, showing just how far one identifiable trait can get you.

In spite of its popularity the record didn’t immediately spawn many imitators – and when it did it was a decade later with local white acts, the aforementioned “swamp pop” stars – and so by the mid-1950’s Garlow took a sideways step into Zydeco music, the black version of Cajun music. This was much further outside of rock ‘n’ roll than what he’d made his name on, though Zydeco fans embraced those early rock records he’d made as part of that style as well.

Garlow managed to remain working in music for decades, largely as a radio DJ in Texas, and he performed off and on at festivals thanks to the small but steady interest in Zydeco where he was now firmly aligned. But most of his records – especially the groundbreaking early releases – were rock ‘n’ roll, albeit a highly distinctive and unusual form of rock, which helped broaden the sound of the genre and open up an avenue for others to travel in the future.

In 1986 Clarence Garlow passed away at the age of 75.
CLARENCE GARLOW DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Macy’s 5001; December, 1949)
A simple but remarkably cohesive debut wherein every piece falls together effortlessly, from the deft guitar, sax, piano and drum interplay to Garlow’s relaxed vocals… an engaging and charming minor effort by a unique artist. (6)

(Macy’s 5001; December, 1949)
A hybrid instrumental with Garlow’s electric guitar backed by a horn section, all of whom do their jobs with modest skill but it’s neither bluesy enough to connect in the blues idiom nor spry enough to make headway in rock. (3)

(Macy’s 5002; January, 1950)
His only hit and the song whose shadow he’d never escape from, but it’s a hell of a record, dripping with intoxicating rhythms and hypnotic laid-back vocals describing a mysterious world that seemed an alluring destination to all who heard it. (8)

(Macy’s 5002; January, 1950)
A solid, efficient and atmospheric instrumental where every piece – guitar, piano, saxes and drums – fall seamlessly into place and keeps you moving, showing that Garlow had plenty to offer besides one quirky hit that defined his legacy forever. (6)

(Macy’s 5012; September, 1950)
Though this guitar instrumental shows off Garlow’s versatility to good effect it’s hardly the kind of thing that serves as a worthy follow up to a vocal hit, to say nothing of the fact his momentum was needlessly derailed by the lengthy span between releases. (5)