Three Robert Mugge Films Celebrate Louisiana Music

Music has been used throughout the centuries to mourn, celebrate, protest, and communicate. Music also brings communities together, and can raise awareness of those in need. Due to the recent flooding in Louisiana, which once again has left thousands homeless, we’re drawing attention to the state through three Robert Mugge documentaries that highlight and celebrate the diverse communities, unique musical traditions, and vibrant culture present in Louisiana. All were released on DVD or Blu-ray earlier this year.

Zydeco Crossroads
Title: Zydeco Crossroads: A Tale of Two Cities

Director: Robert Mugge

Label: MVD

Formats: Blu-ray, streaming video

Release date: March 25, 2016

 

Zydeco Crossroads: A Tale of Two Cities is a new documentary about Philadelphia radio station WXPN’s sixteen-month project, supported by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, which explored, preserved, promoted and celebrated the Creole culture of Southwest Louisiana. The film features Zydeco music and musicians both past and present, connecting them to the blues and the social, political, and cultural history of Southwestern Louisiana. In 2016 it received the Best Blues & Roots Film Award at the Clarksdale Film Festival.

Rhythm N Bayous
Title: Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous: A Road Map to Louisiana Music

Director: Robert Mugge

Label: MVD

Format: DVD

Release date: March 25, 2016

 

Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous: A Road Map to Louisiana Music (2000) is a three part film that the New York Times’ Stephen Holden called “part musical travelogue, part anthology, part archival document.” The film chronicles Mugge’s journey throughout Louisiana as he compiles a singing dictionary of the state’s roots music styles and assorted hybrids, from the blues and gospel to swamp pop to the fusion of Cajun, Creole and rock ‘n’ roll known as zydeco.

Kingdom of Zydeco
Title: The Kingdom of Zydeco

Director: Robert Mugge

Label: MVD

Formats: Blu-ray, streaming video

Release date: April 8, 2016

 

Mugge’s third film released this year, The Kingdom of Zydeco (1994), delves into the Black Creole music scene of Southwest Louisana and attempts name a new “King of Zydeco” in the 1990s. Throughout the film, Mugge discusses musicians such as Clifton Chenier, Boozoo Chavis, Rockin’ Dopsie, and Beau Jocque. Also featured are concerts, including a joint appearance by Boozoo Chavis and Beau Jocque, as well as stories from nightclub owners and zydeco deejays. This is a fantastic record of the many musicians and characters who made up the time period many call zydeco’s “Golden Era.”

Whether a beginner or a life-long scholar of music in Louisiana, these films are sure to help anyone gain new insights about the state’s unique music and cultural traditions.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Louisiana, Little Richard, and the History of Rock

Title:  Louisiana Rocks: The True Genesis of Rock & Roll

Author:  Tom Aswell

Publisher: Pelican

Format:  Hardcover book (500 p.)

ISBN:  978-1-58980-677-1

Publication date:  January 2010
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“Let us not forget the role that Louisiana—literally every corner of the state— played in shaping the new sounds that came roaring out of the swamps, the prairies, the red clay country, and the “colored” night clubs of New Orleans where no white man could legally go.” — Tom Aswell

Tom Aswell’s opus is a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining ride through the history of rock using the state of Louisiana as the nexis.  Kicking off with a chapter on the “Birth of Rock and Roll,” he uses Cosimo Matassa and the J&M Studio as ground zero, which makes perfect sense for anyone familiar with New Orleans recording history.  Between 1947-1956, J&M Studio literally gave birth to the New Orleans sound. It was here that Matassa recorded many of the legendary figures in rock and R&B—Roy Brown, Professor Longhair, Dave Bartholomew, Fats Domino, Guitar Slim, Shirley & Lee, Lloyd Price, Big Joe Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles —even  Little Richard  was brought in to record “Tutti Frutti.” Obviously, Aswell did not have a particularly difficult time proving his thesis.

Though the book is divided into chapters—The Birth of R&B, The Baton Rouge Connection, Blues Artists, Cajun and Zydeco, Swamp Pop, The Louisiana Hayride—each consists of relatively short vignettes (in alphabetical order) of the individual musicians and groups that contributed to the various styles.  While much of the biographical information could be gleaned elsewhere, Aswell does an admirable job of presenting a regional musical history, weaving the stories in and around the clubs, studios, radio stations, record labels, and record stores of Louisiana. The volume concludes with an alphabetical appendix of the artists and their top songs.  Sadly, the complete discography that Aswell compiled was cut by the publisher, but if we’re lucky it will surface in the future as a separate volume or perhaps a website.

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Title: Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Author:  David Kirby

Publisher:  Continuum

Format:  Hardcover book (218 p.)

ISBN: 978 0 82642 965 0

Publication date:  November 2009

“Tutti Frutti occupies a finite space smack in the middle of our huge-ass Crab Nebula of a culture. It’s like the skinniest part of an hourglass; everything that came before flows into this narrow pass, and the world we live in today flows out the other side.” —David Kirby
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David Kirby, a Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University as well as a noted poet and music writer, has written a passionate treatise on Little Richard—or more precisely, why “Tutti Frutti” is the single most important song in rock (and pop) history.  As evidenced by the above quote, the book is a highly amusing read, and short enough that you can devour it in an evening. But you’ll definitely want to keep a copy on your bookshelf, if for no other reason than the numerous examples of truly inspired prose and the overabundance of quotable passages.

Kirby’s book makes an excellent companion volume to Aswell’s history, since scarcely a page goes by without some mention of Cosimo Matassa or Louisiana. For example, this quote from Laura Dankner and Grace Lichtenstein, featured in the introduction, demonstrates the common thread between the two books: “Much has been written about the transition of rhythm and blues into rock ‘n’ roll . . . But the transition was summed up best during a session at the J & M studio, when a flamboyant gay black pianist from Georgia sang ten syllables that shook the world.”

Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll will most certainly appeal to a very broad market, including fans of Little Richard, R&B music, and music lovers in general, as well as teachers of popular music and creative writing.

To hear Kirby discuss his book and Little Richard on Bob Edwards Weekend Hour, go to (http://www.wcpn.org/index.php/WCPN/an/25826/)

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss