There’s something about the swamp—the place and the sound. It’s dark, it’s grimy, it’s sinister. And it’s beautiful. “The sonic, emotional vibe of the swamp is [a feeling of] imminent danger,” says Walter Parks, singer and guitarist for Floridian trio Swamp Cabbage. “There’s this sort of ominous edge … and also a foggy underbelly.”
The hot, muggy swamps of the Southeastern United States harbor all kinds of trouble. There’s bacteria, transplanted pythons grown fat from abundant huge rodents, fugitives, gators, lusty babes in cutoff shorts, voodoo priests and cottonmouths. And, if movies have taught us anything, randy rednecks with designs on the purdy mouths of wayward strangers. You can be killed, robbed, laid, given a sexually transmitted disease, zombified and married at gunpoint. It’s all freaky. Some of it’s sexy. Most of it’s terrifying, which somehow makes it all alluring.
There’s also a less-threatening side to the swamp. It’s breathtaking. Not all the wildlife will eat you. And there’s a relaxed vibe where you can sit on the porch and, despite the humidity and present dangers, appreciate the simple things. And swampy music—like that played by Parks and Swamp Cabbage—soundtracks it all.
Swamp Cabbage covers all of the above themes, plus a few different ones, like Jesus versus Buddha. “[Our swamp music] is really unlike what you’ll hear from other bands,” Parks says. It’s the soundtrack to a region, he says, the area he grew up in around southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida. “A very specific area of the country,” he says, that differs from the rest of Florida, “which is something I’m very proud of.
“We really created a distinct northern Florida swampy style,” he continues. “It’s very different from Tony Joe White and the swampy Louisiana bands. There’s not much zydeco influence at all. Our sound is mostly Southern and bluesy.”
Parks prides himself on creating the sound with just his guitar, amp and voice. He plays guitar with his really long fingers, using unique chord voicings informed by jazz players as well as Andy Summers of The Police. The result merges John Fogerty’s Creedence Clearwater Revival “chooglin’” sound with Mark Knopfler’s sophistication. His voice is gruff, like ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons (more “Mexican Blackbird” and “She’s Just Killing Me” than “Legs”), and it oozes soul. Behind him, drummer Jagoda and bass player/producer Jim DeVito create a formidable porch-pounding rhythm. Their sound is so well-constructed—and invigorating—that you wonder if Swamp Cabbage, like KFC, has a secret formula. But Parks says, “It’s just music that comes naturally to me.”
So naturally, in fact, that it’s tough to suppress it. When Parks left Florida for New York City in the 1980s, he tried. First it was jazz, then it was U2-inspired art rock. “It was the style of the day,” Parks says, “but it taught me to look for unique ways to express a chord.” But his swampy side kept bubbling up to the surface, so he formed Swamp Cabbage in 2001 while also serving as guitarist for the late legendary folk hero Richie Havens.
“I was really kinda running from my roots,” Parks says. “I didn’t wanna have a Southern sound in my music, but people kept noticing it in my songs and style. Eventually, I just went with it. And by concentrating on it, I’m expressing my gratitude for it while I’m sharing it with other people.”
Parks says that in his travels, taking swampy northern Florida blues music to other regions of the country, he’s been inspired by new locales. “Oddly enough, I’ve drawn from Utah and Arizona for much of my inspiration,” he says. “I love the openness of those states. I think you’ll hear a certain open vibe in Swamp Cabbage’s music that’s inspired from my travels out West. I’ve taken that inspiration and put it into our murky, swampy sound.”
w/Candy’s River House
1199 N. Beck St.
Friday, June 21, 8 p.m.
Snowbird Cool Air Concert Series
9600 E. Cottonwood Canyon
Saturday, June 22, 6 p.m.