Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rod Bernard: Still Going on Forever (1999)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

The title on his KLFY business card reads "Sales Representative," but to Acadiana residents Rod Bernard will always be the local boy who made good in 1959 when his slow-dance classic "This Should Go On Forever" reached the top twenty and made him the first local musician of the American Bandstand era to enjoy national acclaim.

For the past twenty-five years, Bernard has relegated his performing and recording career to hobby status, preferring the roles of sales rep and family man to that of rock 'n' roller. And, despite the release of the career-spanning Rod Bernard: The Essential Collection (Jin) in 1997, he doubted he'd ever record again.

"I hadn't really been in great demand or anything," Bernard admits. "No one had been calling."

No one, that is, until Jimmy Rogers. The head of the Mesquite, Texas-based CSP Records called last year with an offer to oversee what would become A Louisiana Tradition, the first new solo Rod Bernard album in almost two decades. It was an offer Bernard couldn't resist.

"He's always liked this kind of music," says Bernard. "He said to my son Shane, 'I'd like to come over there and record some singers.' Shane said, 'Well, what about my dad?' That same night Jimmy called me at home."

Soon Rogers and Bernard had a deal: Rogers would put up the money, and Bernard would choose the studio, the musicians, the songs. The studio turned out to be Lafayette's La Louisianne Recording Studio, the musicians the cream of Acadiana's considerable crop, and the songs a fetching mixture of oldies ("See You Later, Alligator," "Maybellene"), not-quite-so oldies ("I Can Help"), and nine Bernard originals, the most ever to appear in one place.

"When The Essential Collection came out," Bernard recalls, "some of the DJs around here had mentioned to me, 'It's a shame we don't have any new swamp-pop songs.' So I wrote some."

Local DJs should drop hints Bernard's way more often. From the rollicking "Backwater Bayou" that kicks the disc off to the country weeper "The Fantasy Is Over" that winds the disc down, Bernard, fifty-nine, is at the top of his songwriting form. Even the obvious grandstand plays "Hurricane Watch," "Happy Anniversary," and "Ga De Don, Ga De Don (Gardez Donc)" bear the marks of craftsmanship.

"I'd been working on some of them for about ten years," says Bernard, who found his retirement from music conducive to composition. "I'd write two or three verses and put them in a briefcase in the trunk of my car. Then I'd be driving along, think of something else, and I'd write two or three verses of another one. When Jimmy called, I started putting together all these pieces of paper, lyrics and all. I got serious on finishing the songs."

His seriousness didn’t preclude humor: "Family Secrets" is a shaggy-dog story that starts out like swamp-pop's first-ever extended incest joke before veering back to the terra firma of run-of-the-mill infidelity. And it isn't the album's only joke. Bernard sings the title line in David Houston's "Pain in My Past" as if the pain were in his guess-what instead.

Originally scheduled for February, then pushed back month after month until August, A Louisiana Tradition nearly fell victim to Bernard's sinusitis, a condition that made it hard for him to sing.

In the meantime Bernard and his co-producer David Rachou oversaw the laying down of tracks. Not that multi-genre veterans like Warren Storm, Rufus Thibodeaux, BeauSoleil's Jimmy Breaux, and River Road's Richard Comeaux needed much overseeing. And one gets the feeling from "When I Hold You in My Dreams" that Glenn Himel can play classic piano triplets and Gene Romero arrange classic New Orleans horns in their sleep. Eventually, Bernard's sinuses cleared up. His singing on the new album bespeaks nothing if not good health.

What if A Louisiana Tradition should result in more demands on his time than Bernard would prefer to meet?

"I've already had a good taste of being on the road and all that," says Bernard of his initial go-'round forty years ago. "I talked to a lot of people who do that for a living, and I found that a lot of them weren't really happy. They had no home life, no wife or children, or, if they had them, they lost them or left them along the way. I heard all that, and I said, 'That's not living.'"

Not that Bernard doesn't sometimes catch himself holding a golden statuette in his dreams. "Sometimes, when I watch those country-music-awards shows, I've got to tell you, I have this little tingle inside, and I say, 'What if I'd done that? Would I be there?'

"I don't know," he laughs. "I'd rather leave it a mystery."

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