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Swamp Blues, sometimes the Excello sound, is a sub-genre of blues music and a variation of Louisiana blues that developed around Baton Rouge in the 1950s and which reached a peak of popularity in the 1960s. It generally has a slow tempo and incorporates influences from other genres of music, particularly the regional styles of zydeco and Cajun music. Its most successful proponents included Slim Harpo and Lightnin' Slim, who enjoyed a number of rhythm and blues and national hits and whose work was frequently covered by bands of the British Invasion.

Characteristics

Swamp blues is a laid-back, slow tempo, and generally more rhythmic variation of Louisiana blues, that incorporates influences from New Orleans blues, zydeco, soul music and Cajun music. It is characterised by simple but effective guitar work and is heavily influenced by the boogie patterns used on Jimmy Reed records and the work of Lightnin' Hopkins and Muddy Waters. The sound of swamp blues was characterised by 'eerie echo, shuffle beats, tremolo guitars, searing harmonica and sparse percussion'.

History

The origins of swamp blues were based around the Louisiana state capital of Baton Rouge and particularly associated with the record producer J. D. 'Jay' Miller. In the 1950s Miller realised that many blues artists around the city had not been recorded and rectified this, distributing the results through Excello Records in Nashville, Tennessee. The most successful and influential artist with who he worked was guitarist and harmonica player Slim Harpo. His tracks included 'I'm a King Bee' (1957), 'I Got Love If You Want It' (1957) and 'Rainin' In My Heart' (1961), which were all hits on the R&B Chart. His biggest hit was a version of 'Baby Scratch My Back' which reached the Billboard Top 20 in 1966. Other major artists included Lightnin' Slim, Lazy Lester, Silas Hogan, Lonesome Sundown and piano player Katie Webster. A number of their tracks, particularly those of Slim Harpo, were covered by British Invasion bands, including the Rolling Stones, The Kinks and the Yardbirds. The popularity of the genre faded in the 1970s, with many swamp bluesmen turning to zydeco which remained popular with black audiences.

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