There are boxes of all shapes and sizes, old shoeboxes and yellowed envelopes, all holding treasured contents of a life. There’s Warren Storm with Elvis. Look! There’s Warren Storm with Hank Williams, Sr., Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley, Willie Nelson… you get the picture, literally. You’re in the presence of someone who has truly lived a remarkable life.
He is often referred to as the “Godfather of Swamp Pop” – Louisiana’s distinct, rhythmic and infectious answer to the nation’s doo wop and boogie sounds of the 50’s and 60’s (think the iconic ‘Matilda’) – a tapestry of rhythm and blues, country and pop. Born Warren Schexnider in Abbeville, LA in 1937, Storm was the son of a working musician and found himself at age 11 drumming for his father’s band, the Rayne-Bo Ramblers, at area dancehalls, barely visible behind the drumkit. “I was small, lanky and thin then,” – he laughs. This was his introduction to working in music, something he has continued to do for seventy-one years. But something truly special this way comes as Storm celebrates a book and new album soon to be released, both spearheaded by Grammy nominated artist Yvette Landry, and her husband, Luke. But before we delve into what is sure to be a landmark achievement, among the many others, take a look at the life of this extraordinary Louisiana musician.
I think we often forget how many nightclubs dotted the Acadiana landscape with juke joints and honky tonks lighting up the night sky right next to rice beds, shrimping boats and fields of cotton and sugar cane. “There were clubs galore,” states Storm. Work was plenty – pay might not have been much, but these clubs were fertile ground for the young and eager musician. In those early days, it was two guitars, a fiddle and Storm on drums playing mostly “hillbilly music” – country in other words. But once Storm heard Fats Domino in 1953, his world changed. It was at this time he stepped from behind the drums and started to find his voice, though he continued to be a much sought out session drummer. After a few years of performing and drumming in the studio for various Louisiana labels, from R&B to country, an A&R representative in the audience at a club in Kaplan, LA spotted Storm on stage and brought him to Jay Miller’s recording studio in Crowley. The year was 1958 and Storm recorded his first record, “The Prisoner’s Song” with “Mama, Mama, Mama” on the B side. It was also the year he christened himself Storm, after the popular actress of the day, Gale Storm, because the label told himSchexnider was too long to fit on the 45rpm single. The record was a hit, selling over a quarter of a million records and scoring Storm his first Billboard Hot 100 hit.
Years of performing, recording and touring commenced. Storm’s fusion of R&B, country and Cajun formed the blueprint for the swamp pop sound. In 1962, Storm teamed up with fellow regional heavyweights Rod Bernard and Skip Stewart to form the Shondells. The 70’s and 80’s saw Storm release more solo projects that included the singles “Boppin’ Tonight”, “Night after Night” and “She Thinks I Still Care”. In 1980, he collaborated with saxophonist Willie Tee to form Cypress. They still play dates together on occasion. In 1998, he helped form the Louisiana supergroup Lil Band O’ Gold, which featured C.C. Adcock, Tommy McClain and Richard Comeaux, among others. The group toured the United States and achieved a #1 record in Australia, where they toured the country and New Zealand three times before going on to tour England, France and Holland.
Storm was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame not once, but twice – the first being in 1991 and the second being in 2010. He was inducted into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame in 2007 and is also in the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame. He has shared the stage with Robert Plant and his idol, Fats Domino. In 1985, Warner Brothers and HBO teamed up for a fais do do for VH1 with a take on Rockin’ Sidney’s “Toot Toot” performed by John Fogerty and Friends, with none other than Warren Storm on drums. He’s happy to share, “You can check it out on YouTube!”
Enter Yvette Landry
Warren Storm and Yvette Landry met one and a half years ago. Yvette Landry grew up in Breaux Bridge and is a Grammy nominated, award winning vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. She has recorded on twenty-three records and is a noted children’s author. She is also Louisiana’s Music Ambassador for 2019 and serves on the Memphis Chapter of the Recording Academy. Richard Comeaux, Storm’s friend and Lil Band O’ Gold bandmate, invited him to attend one of Landry’s gigs in Breaux Bridge. There was an immediate and undeniable connection when they met. Later, her husband, Luke, suggested she should write a book about Storm. This seemed a monumental task; Landry had just finished recording and touring for her album “Louisiana Lovin’”, but Landry’s path was already lit. She pitched the idea to UL Press (University of Lafayette Press), who replied with not only an emphatic yes, but how soon could she get it to them.
A solid year of weekly interviews and shared meals led to playing shows together, solidifying a deeply creative bond. With the book near completion, the obvious progression was to record an album. And what an album it has come to be – one of those career defining moments with a treasure trove of songs with the crème de la crème of Louisiana players. One of Landry’s bandmates suggested they record John Fogerty’s “Long As I Can See The Light.” Landry contacted Fogerty, who called her within an hour of her e-mailing him. “Warren did a great job on this song,” Fogerty says. “We recorded the entire album exactly as we did in the 50’s, on two tracks and with all the musicians in the studio,” Storm explains. The album’s principal players are The Jukes, Landry’s current band, but there is an impressive list of guests. A few Storm classics have been re-recorded, including “The Prisoner’s Song” and “Mama, Mama, Mama.” In addition to Fogerty collaborating on “Long As I Can See The Light,” there’s a top shelf version of “Matilda” with none other than Carencro’s native son Marc Broussard. Blues powerhouse Sonny Landreth and Grammy nominated Roddie Romero are also on board, making this one of the most highly anticipated releases from a Louisiana artist. The album, “Taking the World, by Storm – A Regional Roots Journey with The Godfather of Swamp Pop,” will be released in conjunction with the book in fall. It will also be available on collectible vinyl.
The book, “Taking the World, by Storm: A Conversation with Warren “Storm” Schexnider, The Godfather of Swamp Pop” by Yvette Landry, will also be released in early fall. There will be book signings and performances, including one in Central Louisiana, dates and times to be announced.
“This project has forever changed my life,” says Landry. “Anyone who has the commitment to do something they love, selflessly, for over 70 years, is special indeed. This past year and a half has given me the opportunity to learn just how much of a Louisiana treasure he is.”
At this point, I should share with the readers that I had contacted Yvette simply to get Warren’s contact information, in hopes of interviewing him. I had no idea that this project was in the making – no knowledge of the book or album. It was one of those “are you sitting down” moments. She went on to tell me how it all came to be…and now you know the rest of the story.
“I have unofficially/officially adopted him!” she laughs. “He tells everyone now that he is “Warren Storm Schexnider Landry!”