DT: Bayou Ruler, your 7th album in the 10 years the Mamou Playboys have been together, is quite a departure from your previous, more traditional, Cajun recordings.
SR: Well, change has always been going on with the band, and I think it started to get pretty obvious around the time that we cut La Toussaint . You can hear the different influences, like on La Toussaint we started playing Zydeco. Our first 3 records were all traditional Cajun music; then we started writing our own music, which was in the tradition – you know, Cajun French. Then, we started doing Zydeco, and writing music that you couldn't classify as either Cajun or Zydeco. And that's what you have on Bayou Ruler, some songs that are traditional Cajun, some Zydeco, some of our originals, and some that are just what we call Swamp Pop, which is Louisiana rock & roll. That's basically what the band sounds like on stage; that's what our show is like – Cajun, Zydeco, Swamp Pop, and our originals.
Your fiddler David Greeley has started playing saxophone lately.
Yes, David started playing saxophone 3 years ago, and he's really into it. He's also probably our most prolific songwriter. He and Peter and I do most of the songwriting.
You got a new guitarist a few years ago, Jimmy Domengeaux.
Yeah, Jimmy joined the band – it's going on 3 years now. When he joined the band it also changed things. It's the first time we had a guitar player who played lead. It's funny, I haven't thought about that in a while, but Jimmy, he's a great guitar player. He's written some really cool parts for new songs, and he's really tasteful, and he's played in Swamp Pop bands and Cajun bands all of his life.
So he brings a different guitar "attitude" to the band.
Your co-producer on Bayou Ruler, C.C. Adcock, is this the first time he's worked with the band?
C.C. Adcock is my age , and he and I are really good friends. We hang out a lot together when we're home, and I'll play in his band. He has a lot of great ideas, and he has a great record collection. He and I spend a lot of time working up new tunes, listening to music, and just gettin' things happening, really.
I hear he really got your ears into lots of old Swamp Pop, Slim Harpo, and all those old Excello singles.
Yeah, he did. You know, Louisiana is one of the birthplaces of rock & roll, and those old blues records that the Rolling Stones got their hands on when they first started. It's just really good music coming from right here in Louisiana – and a lot of it has just been forgotten. I'm really surprised that Swamp Pop is not as big. Back in the 50's it was bigger than it is now. But there's a lot of great old songs, and you can hear the influence on early Stones records, early Beatles records – that song "Oh, Darlin'" by the Beatles is a Swamp Pop ballad, basically. Back in the 50's there were big hits coming out of Louisiana by Rod Bernard, Warren Storm, Cookie and the Cupcakes, numerous artists who had a lot of success back then.
What kind of reactions are you getting from your traditional Cajun audiences with Bayou Ruler? Any difference between the reactions at home in Louisiana, and the reaction up north?
We get pretty good reactions, actually. We get a few people who, all they like is traditional Cajun music, and they don't know what to make of Bayou Ruler. This record's getting more radio play than any record we've put out. A lot of AAA and Americana stations are playing it. It's charted on AAA and Americana, and it's doing some things for us.
What songs are they playing on those stations? Are they playing any of the traditional cuts?
They're mostly playing the single, which is "Let Me Know," the English version of "Laisse-moi Connaître." They're playing "Bayou Ruler," "All for the Better," and "Tough get Going."
So, they're not playing the traditional cuts like "My True Love," ["Voyage d'amour,"by Dewey Balfa], and "J'ai été-z-au Bal." I suppose that's to be expected with commercial radio. But, the good thing is that when people buy the album they get to hear the traditional cuts too, and lots of those people will get to like that stuff too. Is Bayou Ruler an indication of where the band is headed, or is it just a pit stop?
I think it is an indication of where what's going on. On this record we have more original songs, and we're going to continue to write songs. We're influenced by everything that touches our ears, really – even dance music, club music, those kinds of rhythms, everything from jazz to folk music to blues. We all listen to a lot of different things. We spend time writing songs and coming up with ideas. It's hard to do when you're on the road sometimes, but we make time to do that. It's been a natural progression for this band, for the sound to change, and I think that's going to continue. We'll always give audiences something new to listen to, but we love the traditional music. We were raised up playing traditional Cajun music, and we'll always include that in our sets. It's very much a part of who we are, the way we were raised, and where we were raised.
Interview by Dwight Thurston, summer of 1998