When the subject of Mardi Gras comes up, certain people immediately come to mind. Gene Bourgeois is without a doubt one of those people.
Bourgeois, better known to his fans as “Jivin Gene,” has been named the Grand Marshal of the 2014 Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas celebration. He will sit atop the Lamar State College-Port Arthur float on Saturday, March 1, and lead the Total Krewe of Aurora Grand Parade. The procession will start at the Seawall near the Rose Hill Manor, eventually traveling down Procter Str. to Houston Ave. in downtown Port Arthur. The parade starts at 6 p.m.
Bourgeois was born in Port Arthur and attended school there. When he was 15, he taught himself to play the guitar and eventually, Gene and his friends John Piggot, Jimmy Fowler and Butch Landry would get together to play tunes by Chuck Berry and other artists they admired at the time.
At 17, Gene was playing with a group called “The Saints” when Huey Meaux became his manager. It was Meaux who began calling him “Jivin’ Gene” and the group became “Jivin’ Gene and the Jokers.”
Gene recorded from the radio station KPAC for the Jin label and both “Going Out With the Tide” and “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” were hits. He toured and was on various radio shows, including the Alan Freed Show, but the “Payola” scandal of the early 60s changed everything. Agents and music “sharks” were giving special favors to disc jockeys for playing particular songs. When this was revealed, the scandal especially hurt up-and-coming stars like Gene.
This “Child of Rhythm and Blues,” who is considered a pioneer in the field of “swamp rock,” stopped playing until the 1980s. He worked on the Alaska pineline during 1970s and now works construction through Insulars Local No. 22, along with Piggot, who had also become a famous figure in Gulf Coast music history.
Gene was inducted in 1993 into the Louisiana Hall of Fame (Lou Gabus’ precursor to the current hall), the Museum of the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame in 1995, and he received the Louisiana Hall of Fame Living Legend Award in June 2003.
Bourgeois sometimes wonders what life would be like had he never picked up a guitar and gone to college instead. Instead, he says, the desire to continue playing is always there for him.