Warren Storm Was a Legend, The King of Swamp-Pop

Sad news this week, Warren Storm died. The drummer and singer was a legend. In the business for over 60 years, Storm had several careers within music. He was a session drummer for blues and R’n’B stalwarts including Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, Lightnin’ Slim and Charles Sheffield. He was a jukebox singer making weepies for cheap and quick release – and then through his Cajun upbringing and his deep love of Creole music he combined aspects of country, western swing and rhythm and blues to pioneer a genre of music that is known as swamp-pop.

Storm recorded hundreds of sessions as a back-up singer or pick-up drummer and hundreds more as the lead attraction. Sometimes singing and drumming. Sometimes he was just doing one of those skills. Always to his version of perfection – understated, simple.

In the 1980s he was a house musician for various juke-joints and dance-clubs, playing anything and everything that was popular. Stepping up to moonlight at the mic, sitting in behind the kit to drive home all manner of country, pop and rock’n’roll classics.

There’s also the fact that he amassed fans that didn’t even know he played the drums. There were people that just bought the singles where he was the singer. An amazing career really.

Or series of careers.

His recording career dates back to 1956. And he recorded right up to 2019.

And though his passing will not net the same interest as the recent swell of tributes for Charlie Watts (and R.I.PI wrote this for RNZ’s site about Charlie and spoke on air too) there have been a few pieces about Warren. He might not have achieved the same level of household-name recognition, but his playing was important. He was there near the birth of rock’n’roll and his uncomplicated playing style is a huge influence on many drummers.

About 20 years ago, he joined the Lil’ Band o’ Gold. A Louisiana swamp-pop supergroup. They became the custodians for his legacy; just one of the very special things about this band.

A documentary is out there – it’s well worth checking – The Promised Land: A Swamp Pop Journey. And the band toured New Zealand a couple of times in the early 2010s. They were memorable shows. I saw them twice. The 2012 show in support of an album of Fats Domino covers was brilliant but the one that had my jaw on the floor was the September 2010 gig. I remember it so vividly. It was the weekend we moved into our house. I was exhausted and elated. And then I strolled down the road, my new location very handy suddenly for walking on into town to see gigs. I knew what I was getting, in the sense that I’d seen the film, I’d loved the album, I’d even interviewed the band’s “Leader” C.C. Adcock.But I didn’t know that I’d be getting nearly three hours of music. So many hits from so many eras and so much beautiful energy and musicianship all on the one stage. It was easily one of the greatest gigs I’ve ever experienced.

And I did that fanboy-thing and reached for the setlist. Because I had to hold onto something from that show. I had to have something. I’ve still got that setlist. It is right above my desk. I look at it every day and most nights. I think about the energy that band of ego-less heroes offered. And how Warren Storm was one of the stars of the night. But he was just there in service to the songs.

That was nearly 11 years ago.

When Warren sang I Don’t Wanna Know that night I was almost in tears. It was such a beautiful performance. Like a reluctant victory lap.

And when the band played Lazy Lester’s Sugar Coated Love I couldn’t believe my luck! Here was a song I’d adored for years and never expected to hear covered at a gig. But wait, there’s more. Straight after playing it, C.C. Adcock announces that Warren was the drummer on the original session! That set me off. I started trying to find some of the many things he’d played on. Realising of course that I already had some of them – without even knowing it. It’ll be the same for you. You’ll have records in your collection that feature Warren Storm. (I’m still finding some).

You’ll certainly have recordings of songs that feature drummers that took some influence from Warren.

What a legacy that is. In many ways that is the ultimate.

When I interviewed C.C. Adcock – and I included the link up above because there’s a lot of good stories in it – he told me that he was pleased there was a documentary (and the albums and tours) simply for capturing some of Warren’s stories. And having him celebrated. Adcock talked lovingly of many of the members in the band – but Warren was the one he spoke about the most.

"I just thought that now was the time," [Adcock says of the film], "to get this down - to get it on film, it's the story of a bunch of people, of an era, of a style of music and I just thought it had to be caught while these guys are knocking around. You got Warren Storm, the guy is, he's, well, he's a legend to me – and it's just nice to think that people are going to get to see that. I mean he's one of the last few from that time – that's stayed dedicated to the music. With Warren you've got a direct link back to the heart of rock'n'roll."

Warren fell ill last month and was hospitalised. So, the news of his passing was not a shock – in that sense. He was 84. He was unwell. He had been off the road and away for the studio for a time; for the longest time in his long, low-key but brilliant career.

I wanted to not only mark his passing and mention his legacy – and how lucky I feel to have seen him play live not once but twice – I wanted, also, to unpack some of that music to you. So I’ve made a little Warren Storm starter kit playlist. It’s just a few sessions he played on and then a few of the songs he sang – as well as some Lil’ Band recordings. There’s a lot more out there of course.

And if you want something other than Warren Storm today – and over the weekend – I have the 29th iteration of the Something For The Weekend playlist.

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