Movies: Rhythm 'n' Bayous: A Road Map to Louisiana Music (2001)

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by Nick DeRiso

This two-hour documentary explores music from both southern and northern Louisiana, a rare tip of the hat to both traditions.

So you have the expected segments on Acadiana- and New Orleans-based standouts Rosie Ledet, the Hackberry Ramblers, Henry Butler, Nathan Williams and the Jambalaya Cajun Band, among others. But respected filmmaker Robert Mugge (“Deep Blues,” 1991) also includes performances by Rayville’s Po’ Henry and Tookie, West Monroe’s Kenny Bill Stinson (pictured above), Shreveport’s Buddy Flett and Ever Ready Gospel Singers, Swartz’s Rev. Gerald Lewis, Keithville’s Claude King and Monroe’s Sister Pearlee Toliver, among others.

“We’re hitting more of the state than most people do,” Mugge told me. “It’s great to get this stuff.”

Lewis — cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis, himself a north Louisiana music legend — is featured during a similarly pounding (but gospel) piano performance in Monroe. “I guess it runs in the blood,” he said during the session.

“It used to aggravate him that he had to sit down,” Lewis said of his famous flame-haired relative. “For awhile, he even switched to guitar.”

Stinson (subsequently featured in “Rhythm ‘n’ Bayous” playing at Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium, mythical home of the old Louisiana Hayride) and local musician Flip Blainey were on hand to provide musical accompaniment for Lewis.

Later in the afternoon, Mugge’s crew captured Po’ Henry and Tookie, an acoustic blues duo, on the banks of the Ouachita River.

“My home is a prison,” Henry sang as a locomotive’s lonesome wail traveled through downtown Monroe. “And I’m living in a world of sin.”

Just then, right in the middle of Tookie’s harp solo, a man in a bass boat floated into the right-hand side of the frame. The fisher stood up and started casting his line for fish.

The setting was as local to Louisiana as it was evocative.

Mugge’s group next filmed the late Monroe gospel radio announcer Toliver as she taped her program then traveled to Winnsboro to catch the African-American Easter Rockers performing their unique ring shout-like rituals.

The whirlwind tour for “Rhythm ‘n’ Bayous” is typical of Mugge’s film schedule, of which he said “drive-by shooting is not too strong a term.”

Mugge’s career began in the early 1980s with documentaries on Gil Scott-Heron and “Cool Runnings,” a concert film featuring reggae’s biggest stars. Since then, he’s gone on to become one of the country’s most consistent chroniclers of American music.

“Deep Blues,” perhaps Mugge’s best-known work, actually mades a great companion piece to “Rhythm ‘n’ Bayous.” Subtitled “A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads,” the 1991 movie is crammed to the gills with then-new names in neighboring Mississippi’s roots music — including performances by R.L. Burnside, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Big Jack Johnson, Lonnie Pitchford and Junior Kimbrough, among others.

Other notable Mugge documentaries have included 1992’s “Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records,” 1994’s “True Believers: The Musical Family of Rounder Records,” 1996’s “Iguanas in the House,” 1999’s “Hellhounds on My Trail: The Afterlife of Robert Johnson,” 2003’s “Last of the Mississippi Jukes,” 2005’s “Lookin’ for Trouble: The 25th Anniversary W. C. Handy Blues Awards” and 2006’s “New Orleans Music in Exile,” among others.

Purchase DVD – Rhythm ‘n’ Bayous: A Road Map to Louisiana Music

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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