Outside of Europe, where their music found a serious following, Swampwater remains best remembered as Linda Ronstadt's late-'60s backing group, her first post-Stone Poneys band. Formed by John Beland (guitar, dobro, piano), Gib Gilbeau (fiddle, guitar), Stan Pratt (drums), and Eric White (bass) -- Clarence's brother, and an ex-member of the Kentucky Colonels -- in 1969, Swampwater specialized in a then unique Louisiana-based style of rock & roll. White left the lineup after their first national tour backing Ronstadt and was succeeded by Thad Maxwell, who had previously played with Beland in One Man's Family. Early in 1970, the group cut an album for Starday/King Records that was originally intended as a Gilbeau solo vehicle, but it evolved into a group effort with a unique sound, not as smooth as Poco or Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band or as spaced out as the Flying Burrito Brothers. Their main influences -- Gilbeau's country and Cajun roots and Beland's admiration of harmony-based acts such as the Byrds, the Beach Boys, and the Everly Brothers -- were reflected in the 11 songs that were finished over a two-day period, and then went unreleased for 25 years.
Theirs was a brand of well-sung Cajun rock, straight out of the Louisiana bayou (except for the harmonies, which would've done credit to the Byrds). They had no prior equivalent in rock music, and the group's singing was considered so unusual that they got a fair amount of session work just singing backup to other acts, including Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald, and Odetta. It was Guthrie who finally lured them away from Ronstadt in 1971. Her next backing band was the Eagles. Swampwater did a second self-titled album for RCA with Herb Pedersen added on guitar and vocals, and then went their separate ways. While the Eagles, Firefall, and other country-rock groups made regular runs up the charts and embedded themselves in the popular consciousness, Swampwater was largely forgotten except in Los Angeles and by dedicated early Ronstadt fans. After the breakup, Gilbeau joined the Burrito Brothers, and Beland performed on a number of session dates before going solo. Maxwell played with Guthrie before hooking up with Gilbeau again and Sneaky Pete Kleinow in a group called Sierra; he later played guitar with Mac Davis for some time before becoming a teacher. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi