Rod Bernard, Swamp Pop musician and broadcaster, dies at 79
Swamp pop musician and broadcaster Rod Bernard died Sunday. He was 79 years old.
Born to French-speaking Cajun parents, Bernard learned to play guitar, sing and yodel from a young age. By age 10, Opelousas-born Bernard joined the Cajun country-western group The Blue Room Gang.
With the band, he toured outside of Louisiana, visiting the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, and it was during this tour he recorded his first song — Hank Williams Sr.’s “Jambalaya.”
In high school, Bernard switched to the new rock ’n’ roll sound. He created a band called Rod Bernard and the Twisters. In 1958, the ground covered King Karl & Guitar Gable’s song “This Should Go On Forever” with a swamp pop twist, quickly becoming popular along the Gulf Coast.
The record soon propelled Bernard to national recognition. The Louisiana teen was featured on Alan Freed’s rock ‘n’ roll show and Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.” Bernard also had concerts and tours with Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, B. B. King, Duane Eddy, Roy Orbison and Frankie Avalon, among others.
Shane Bernard, Rod’s son, said it was interesting to see his father play because his whole demeanor would change on stage.
“At home he was quiet, didn’t talk much, very introverted, didn’t want to be center of attention,” Shane said. “But he became a different person on stage.”
Bernard’s grandchildren were able to see him perform “in his natural habitat,” both deriving musical talent from their grandfather. As little as two weeks ago, Bernard and his grandson would lock themselves in a room and jam out to swamp pop and old blues. He taught his grandson Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk Part One and Two.”
In the 60s, Bernard released many regional hits that today remain swamp pop classics, including “Congratulations to you Darling,” “Fais Do-Do,” and his own bilingual version of the Cajun classic “Colinda.”
From 1962 to 1968, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, attaining the rank of sergeant.
In 1976, he teamed up with fellow Opelousas native, zydeco legend Clifton Chenier, to record the album “Boogie In Black & White” — a groundbreaking collaboration between Black and white musicians. He performed at various times with other swamp pop musicians, including Warren Storm and Skip Stewart.
Shane Bernard remembers watching Storm, Stewart and his dad practice in the living room of their home. Growing up, Shane quickly got used to his dad being recognized in the grocery store or at his Cub Scout meetings.
In addition to his music career, Bernard worked in radio and television. He landed his first radio program on KSLO around age 10, and for many years in the 1960s he deejayed, sold airtime, and served as a program director at KVOL radio in Lafayette.
Bernard was instrumental in hiring Lafayette’s first Black deejay, Paul Thibeaux, who joined KVOL in 1965. Around 1970, Bernard switched to a career in television and for nearly 30 years worked as an advertising executive and on-air talent for Lafayette’s KLFY-TV 10, where he previously hosted his Saturday Hop live dance program.
In the early 2000s, Shane joined his father in the studio for the first time. Bernard was recording his last LP and this is when Shane realized his father is a perfectionist when recording, insisting on redoing songs until they met his standard.
Although 2016 was Bernard’s last performance, he would frequent local nursing homes to play live music but he “didn’t make a big deal of it” Shane said.
The Bernard family asks that donations be made to the U.S. Marines’ Toys for Tots campaign at www.toysfortots.org. At Bernard’s request, no funeral will be observed.
Contact Victoria Dodge at email@example.com or on Twitter @Victoria_Dodge
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