Clarence Garlow (February 27, 1911 – July 24, 1986) was an American R&B, jump blues, Texas blues and cajun guitarist, singer and songwriter. He is best known for his recording of the song "Bon Ton Roula", which was a hit single on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart in 1950. One commentator called it "a rhythm and blues laced-zydeco song that helped introduce the Louisiana music form to a national audience."
He was born Clarence Joseph Garlow in Welsh, Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana, United States, although he relocated to Beaumont, Texas with his family whilst still a child. After learning the rudiments of fiddle playing as a youngster, in his teenage years Garlow learned to play both the guitar and accordion. His guitar playing was influenced by T-Bone Walker. Initially working in several factories, Garlow first recorded for the small record label, Macy's in Houston, Texas, in 1949. His debut release, "She's So Fine" backed with "Blues As You Like It", was issued in January 1950.
For the followup, Garlow recorded his own song "Bon Ton Roula", as a sixteen-bar blues with "an insistent, swirling rhumba rhythm". "The song featured some of the same kind of broken Cajun-isms as Hank Williams's "Jambalaya". It became a hit in 1950, reaching number 7 in the Billboard R&B chart. The success of the single led to Garlow touring Texas and Louisiana. Feature Records then released another version of his hit, entitled "New Bon Ton Roula". Lyric Records issued two further singles in 1951, but neither charted. The following year, Garlow opened the Bon Ton Drive-In in Beaumont. Relocating to Los Angeles, California, he recorded his third version of "Bon Ton Roula", which was issued by Aladdin Records as "New Bon-Ton Roulay" in April 1953.
Flair Records released "Crawfishin'" backed with "Route 90" in November 1953, for which he was credited on the label as "Bon Ton" Garlow.
Garlow returned to Beaumont in late 1954, and toured with Clifton Chenier, billed as the Two Crazy Frenchmen. Garlow also undertook further recordings and had records released by Feature, Folk Star, and Goldband Records over the next few years. None had success outside of his local area, and Garlow was by then working as a DJ for the Beaumont-based radio station KJET, where he hosted his Bon Ton Show until 1961. By this stage Garlow had ceased performing and recording, but he continued working in radio in Beaumont and later in Orange, Texas, until the early 1970s. He supplemented his income by working as a mailman. Garlow infrequently played locally in the early 1980s, and he performed at the 1984 San Francisco Blues Festival.
Garlow died in July 1986 in Beaumont, aged 75.
His recordings have been issued on various compilation albums over the years.
Cover versions Garlow's songs have been recorded by Lonnie Brooks ("Bon Ton Roulet" on Lone Star Shootout) Johnny Winter ("Route 90" on Serious Business), Gary Primich ("Route 90" on Mr. Freeze) and Marcia Ball ("Crawfishin'" on Let Me Play With Your Poodle), among others.
|1982||Clarence Garlow: 1951–1958||Flyright Records (UK)|
|2003||Clarence Garlow||La Cienega Lacga (ESP)|