The Language of the Blues: BAYOU

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Indian Bayou in Indianola
Indian Bayou in Indianola (Photo by Ken Redeker)

Another installment in our new weekly series entitled, The Language of the Blues, where author and rocker Debra Devi focuses on the meaning and significance of a unique word used in blues song. Come back every Wednesday for the latest!

The word “bayou” comes from the Choctaw bayuk, which French settlers in Louisiana appropriated as bayouque. It describes the brackish inlets and outlets from the Gulf of Mexico that meander sluggishly through the cypress swamps of the lowlands.

People living in the rural wetlands communities of Louisiana have been known to use the bayous like roads. “The road in front of my house ends at the swamp,” says blues guitarist Tab Benoit, who grew up in the boggy bayou of Houma, Louisiana, “and you go some more in a boat and reach the Gulf.”

Growing up, Benoit traveled north to Baton Rouge, where he heard the “swamp blues” of Slim Harpo, Lightnin’ Slim, and Lazy Lester. Their songs reflect the easygoing, lost-in-time quality of bayou life.

“Bayou Boogie”- Tab Benoit
“Bayou Drive”- Clifton Chenier

Pick up a copy of The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu at Bluescentric


Rare Video of Clifton Chenier – “Bon Ton Roulet” (“Let The Good Times Roll”)


Lazy Lester and Kenny Neal – “Bayou Blues”


Tab Benoit – “One Foot in the Bayou”