American Routes Shortcuts: Warren Storm
Warren Storm, Cajun elder from Abbeville, Louisiana, is a drummer, singer, and pioneer of swamp pop, the style that combines R&B, country, Cajun, and Creole music. Storm’s family name is Warren Schexnider. He learned drums and guitar from his father at twelve, and then filled in at a gig with the Rayne-Bo Ramblers. Warren joined fellow Abbeville swamp pop musician Bobby Charles Guidry in seeking out rhythm and blues artists. Warren has played with many groups, but his enduring association is with saxophonist and vocalist Willie Tee Trahan and the Cypress Band. At the 2019 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Warren–with his rising black pompadour and mischievous smile from behind the drum kit–was ready to roll. Let’s go to the stage.
Nick Spitzer: Warren Storm here, you met Fats Domino.
Warren Storm: Yes indeed, he was my good friend. We became very good friends. He’s my idol by the way. In ’53 when I heard Fats Domino, his 45 records I said, “That’s what I want to play right there.”
NS: But you had grown up hearing French music, country, old time hillbilly.
WS: You’re right, played Cajun music, country music. Back then they called it hillbilly music in the ‘50s.
NS: So why did you move from the French music and old time hillbilly to what you do: swamp pop?
WS: That’s what I said, when I heard Fats Domino, I said, “I want to play that kind of music.”
NS: Fats is the key.
WS: Yes. Without Fats Domino we wouldn’t have Swamp Pop because it started with rhythm and blues, you know. I want to tell a little story about Fats Domino. When I met him, I said, “Fats, I’m a big fan of yours.” He said, “Ain’t that a shame.”
NS: Well it looks like life has treated you well; you’ve got that dark hair. How old are you?
NS: That’s what I was thinking. Well life’s treated you even better than I thought. Well I think most people around the country probably know you from the “Prisoner’s Song.” How did you get the “Prisoner’s Song”?
WS: Well, I was living in Abbeville, and a friend of mine that owned a club in Kaplan took me to J. D. Miller’s studio in Crowley for an audition. I sang different songs; I sang some songs of Fats and all the rhythm and blues and rock and roll songs back then. And J. D. had this old song, “Prisoner’s Song,” he rewrote the words, and he said we needed a flip side so he wrote “Mama, Mama.”
NS: Introduce the guys here with you in the band because I didn’t get their names, and I’m sure you do that occasionally.
WS: Karl Bordelon on keyboard from Ville Platte, Tommy Richard from Ville Platte.
NS: Alright, Ville Platte, Abbeville, and Judice.
WS: And New Iberia.
NS: And New Iberia too, yeah. So I have only one other question before maybe you could play some music. Is that a jaguar’s tooth around your neck? What is that?
WS: No that’s an alligator tooth, given to my by Mr. Benny Welch out of Grand Chenier.
NS: Oh yeah.
WS: Guess what I’ve got on the walking stick?
NS: Let’s see what we got.
WS: An alligator head.
NS: Oh right yeah. Now in French Louisiana, there are a lot of nicknames. You grew up with a German name.
WS: Yeah but you see “Schexnider” wouldn’t fit on the 45. So back in 1956, they had this movie star singer, you remember Gale Storm?
NS: Yeah My Little Margie.
WS: Yeah, My Little Margie.
NS: Boy, you know all that stuff don’t ya?
WS: That’s where I got the name Storm.
NS: All right well give him a round of applause here. Warren Storm, Willie Tee, “Prisoner’s Song.”
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