"Bon Ton" - Clarence Garlow©2006JCMarion


Clarence Joseph Garlow was born in February of 1911 in Jefferson Davis Parish in Louisiana. His father Compton was a local musician that played in a number of itinerant string bands that toured the area. At a young age the family moved to Beaumont, Texas, As a teenager into his early twenties, Clarence learned the rudiments of a number of stringed instruments and also took up the accordian. From his mid twenties for a number of years, Clarence did not follow up his musical talent but instead worked at a number of factory and service jobs into the late nineteen forties. In 1949 he returned to music and soon had the opportunity to record for local Texas label Macy's Records in Houston.

His backup combo for the session included Hilmer Shakesliner on tenor sax, Mildred Smith on piano, and Johnny Marshall on drums. "She's So Fine" and "Blues As You Like It" were released on Macy's # 5001 in January of 1950, and a follow up in March of the year "In A Boogie Mood" and the tune that would become his signature piece - "Bon Ton Roula" ( sometimes spelled "Roulay" the Creole French for "let the good times roll") on # 5002. The popularity of the second release gave Garlow the chance to tour the Texas / Louisiana area, and in 1951 he made two records for local Louisiana labels. Listed as by Clarence Garlow & His Orchestra, the other musicians on the session were Curtis Babbino and Shelly Lackey on tenors, Emma Dell Lee on piano, and Bill Parker on drums. Recorded for Feature # 1000 was another version of his hit song called "New Bon Ton Roula" and "Let Me Be Your Santa" and for the Lyric label now as Clarence "Bon Ton" Garlow with "Louisiana Blues" and "Watch Your Business" on # 100, and "Trouble With My Woman" and "Wrong Doing Woman" on # 101. During 1952 Clarence owned and operated the Bon Ton Drive-In in his home town of Beaumont, Texas.

By the following year Garlow had decided to move to Los Angeles, as he thought there were further opportunities there and move away from the Louisiana/Texas region. In April of 1953 he once again recorded "New Bon Ton Roula" and coupled with "Dreaming" for Aladdin Records, it was released on # 3179. Aladdin # 3225 which featured "I'm Hurt" and "You Got Me Crying" with vocal by pianist Emma Dell Lee followed. Throughout the summer "New Bon Ton Roula" continues to sell in its third version. In November Garlow moves to the Flair label in L.A. and records with Maxwell Davis on tenor, Will McDaniel on piano, Red Callendar on bass, and Peppy Prince on drums. The tunes are "Crawfishin" and "Route 90". He is once again listed on the label as "Bon Ton".

In late 1954 Clarence Garlow decides that the move to the West Coast did not work out for the best and he returns to Beaumont. He hooks up with zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier for a tour of one nighters through the familiar region of Texas / Louisiana and does some recording for local area labels. "I Keep On Worrying" and "I Called You Up Daddy" from an earlier session are released by Feature on # 3005. In early 1955 Garlow records in a zydeco style fronting a combo on accordian for the Folk Star label in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Also on the session is Lionel Prevo on tenor, Darnell Jackson on piano, Chester Randall on guitar, Garen Joseph on bass, and Matthew Colbert on drums. They record the songs "Za Belle" and "Made Me Cry" on Folk Star # 1130. In early 1955 Garlow embarks in a new phase of his career as he becomes a DJ on radio station KJET in Beaumont. He will be a regular at the station until 1961 with his "Bon Ton Show".

A second release for Folk Star is "I Feel Like I'm Calling You" and "No No Baby" on # 1199. After that he stayed in Lake Charles and recorded for the Goldband label in 1956. The songs "Sundown" and "Pretty Little Doolie" on # 1043, "Mad Dog" / "Clear My Night Of Misery" on # 1045, and (once again) "Bon Ton Roula" with pianist Katie Webster and Little Brother Griffin on drums, with "Sound The Bell" on # 1065. In the early nineteen sixties Garlow had his own local rcord label called Bon-Ran for which he recorded with T. Baby Green, doing a remake of "Sound The Bell" and "Train Fare Home" on # 501 which was an air check from his radio show . By the early sixties Garlow had stopped performing and recording but maintained his voice on radio in Beaumont, Tyler, and Orange, Texas, into 1970. He worked mostly outside of music in tose later years but every so often you would hear the notes of "Bon Ton Roula" once more as in 1982 with a re-release of the song along with "My Honey Bee" on British Bally Hoo # 1019.

Clarence "Bon Ton" Garlow passed away in July of 1986 in Beaumont, Texas, and a most unique R & B stylist was stilled. His music is featured on many compilation CDs of the music of Louisiana and Texas, but his own albums are hard to find. A 12 track CD on British Flyright is one that is out there, but the best one I have seen is a 24 track CD of all the best tunes on LaCienega called "Clarence Garlow : 1949-1957" . It is worth searching for to give a representative audio biography of this American original.

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