You might recognize the music played by Shelly Waters even if you can’t put a name to it. As the title of her debut CD Swamp Pop Princess implies, she’s an heiress of swamp pop, a distinctive style from the Acadiana region of Louisiana.
“You may not know what it is, but you’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I have heard that song before,'” Waters says.
The music is a blend of French influences, country, blues, and Cajun sounds that became popular in south Louisiana and southeastern Texas in the 1950s and early ’60s. Waters, a native of Rayne, La., grew up with the soulful sounds. She remembers listening in as her parents got ready to go out on the town, grooving to the upbeat songs of Fats Domino and Joe Barry.
So when Waters was looking for a hobby, her parents signed her up for guitar lessons, but she quickly started craving more. “I got bored with just that so I started singing, and within a year, by the time I was 11, I was playing in a Cajun-French music band,” Waters says. “By the time I was 12, my parents helped me to get some folks together and form my own band.”
But Waters took a long break after her initial foray into the music scene. After many years, a marriage, and a move to Charleston, Waters picked up her guitar and began playing acoustic gigs around town. It wasn’t until a run-in with Gary Erwin, better known as Shrimp City Slim, that Waters decided to “make a serious go at it and seriously pursue music.”
“I met him at a private birthday party for a friend of ours, and his band was playing at the party. I got up and sang a couple of times, and next thing I knew we were working on a CD project of swamp pop music,” Waters says. “And we’ve been working together ever since.”
The CD came out in March, and Waters is already planning a follow-up. “We’re just open to keep working it and keep spreading the word about swamp pop music.”
When asked if she feels like an ambassador for the little-known genre, Waters said she is happy to put a name with a common, though often unlabeled sound. She’s also excited to be one of the first female voices to record swamp pop songs. “It has been primarily a male vocalist genre, and I have no idea why it has been that way,” she says, noting that the rarity of female voices inspired the name of her debut CD.
“There’s a track called ‘Swamp Pop Princess’ about that story. If you really listen to the song you can hear how it’s about a man’s world and we’re trying to change that a little bit.”
For Piccolo attendees, Waters promises the upbeat music will have people tapping their feet even if they’re not 100 percent sure what they’re hearing. Shagging and slow dancing are also encouraged. “It’s heartfelt music and we enjoy playing it, and people will see that and feel it.”