New Orleans, Louisiana

Born On The Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Wish I was back on the bayou
Rollin' with some Cajun Queen
Wishin' I were a freight train
Just a-chooglin' on down to New Orleans Read full Lyrics
Riverboat on Bayou Lafourche<br>(thanks Angelika Lindner)Riverboat on Bayou Lafourche
(thanks Angelika Lindner)
The bayou is a sinister place. These back-woods are water-logged, stagnant, and filled with ‘gators. As you cross the green water, still as a mirror, you start humming “Duelling Banjos,” half expecting a blue hand to rise up and break the surface. Slowly, the words of a half-remembered song are recalled: “I can remember the fourth of July, runnin' through the backwood bare. And I can still hear my old hound dog barkin', chasin' down a hoodoo there, chasin' down a hoodoo there”…

These lyrics are from “Born on the Bayou,” the auspiciously placed first track on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s second album, Bayou Country, recorded in 1968 and released the following year. It was also the first song played at CCR‘s Woodstock set in 1969, a fact which gives the song some significance. John Fogerty claimed that he had never been to a bayou at the time of writing, and conceived the entire album Bayou Country purely in his imagination, a feat which has been referred to by Allmusic as “Fogerty’s myth." Reaching number two on the Billboard charts in 1969, this myth was clearly both believable and captivating.

In the song, Fogerty recreates a Cajun-country childhood replete with supernatural forces and a revolutionary undertone (“My Poppa said son don't let the man get you, do what he done to me”). Although these lyrics are in line with the counter-establishment views of the era, Louisiana, the original slave-state in the U.S.A., seems an unlikely place from which to stage a hippie revolution. But if you think of movies like Deliverance or Southern Comfort, it does seem apparent that the people of this region have often been portrayed with a rebellious undertone, even if it is less of the “peace and love” variety, and more of the “you ain’t from aroun’ here, are ya, boy?” kind.

Bayou Country was remastered and rereleased in 2004 along with 5 other CCR albums, two of which contain bonus track versions of “Born on the Bayou." On the rerelease of Bayou Country there is an upbeat rendition of the song performed live, but on the 40th Anniversary edition of Cosmo’s Factory (released in 1970) is a supreme “Born on the Bayou” jam recorded with Booker T and the MG’s, where you can really hear the tremolo guitar effect that gives the song its swampy character. It is interesting that this same effect has been used in surf-rock, ostensibly to depict water. That said, it is dangerous to take parts of the whole out of context, point to them and make assumptions about what creates a musical style, which is a pretty complex cultural construct, to get technical…
Downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana<br>(thanks Formulanone)Downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana
(thanks Formulanone)
Bayous comprise the Louisiana back-waters, where the edge of civilization meets the swamp. Louisiana is a place where ‘gator is always on the menu, and the tradition of hunting and eating the crocodile’s not-so-little brother goes back over three-hundred years, at least in this offshoot of Western culture. Although the word for bayou originates from the Native American word bayuk, which means “little stream," a bayou is more of what could be called “dead river," created when the path of a greater river changes.

The first bayou that Fogerty ever visited was in 1969 after a gig in Louisiana’s second largest city after New Orleans, Baton Rouge, when a friend took him afterwards to the Bayou Lafourche. In true hoodoo tradition, Baton Rouge was named after the bloody branch decorated with decimated animal remains that the Native Americans used to mark the separation between two of their hunting grounds; the Houma (including Bayou Lafourche), and the Bayou Goula. Hoodoo magic is intimately connected with the folk traditions of the deep South, and Fogerty couldn’t have chosen a stronger signifier with which to locate his music in bayou country.

Although hoodoo is generally thought to be either a form of folk-magic, or something traditionally believed to bring bad-luck, Fogerty’s take on it is a little different: “Hoodoo is a magical, mystical, spiritual, non-defined apparition, like a ghost or a shadow, not necessarily evil, but certainly other-worldly. I was getting some of that imagery from Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters.” This is reminiscent of Jim Morrison’s (a.k.a. Mr. Mojo Rising) use of the hoodoo notion of mojo in “L.A. Woman," where the traditional charm bag transforms into a euphemism for Morrison’s… sexual prowess. Ironically, this is how folk-definitions and traditions have probably evolved throughout history, even if you are tempted to check the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Whatever type of hoodoo it was that Fogerty heard in the music of Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf, he heard the sound of a dark and mystical place that captured his creative spirit and imagination. And that can’t have been all bad.
~ Douglas MacCutcheon
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Comments: 2

  • Tim Napier from New OrleansDouglas, I'm scratching my head due to your comment, describing Louisiana as the original slave state in the USA. I believe that slavery was present in original 13 colonies and Louisiana did not become a state until 1812. The first slaves arrived in America in the mid 1600s, over 150 years before Louisiana became a state.
  • Roy from Washington StateBorn on the Bayou was a popular song we would hear in Vietnam. This song still helps me keep my sanity to this day.
    I did not know until recently this music is also know as swamp rock. I was lucky enough to see John play live several years ago and the band was terrific to say the least.
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