Industry: Bridging the Way to Prosperity
West Baton Rouge includes 203 square miles and is the smallest parish in the state. The parish’s rich agricultural heritage stands alongside the power of industry and international commerce. Powerful marine vessels dock where steamboats and flatboats once landed. Industrial giants such as Exxon Mobil, Shintech, and The Dow Chemical Company are integrated into the lives and landscape of our region. The people of West Baton Rouge Parish produce millions of dollars of valuable goods from the sweetest sugar to versatile petroleum products.
In West Baton Rouge, new farming machines improved efficiency on the farms and sugar plantations eliminating many field jobs. Many laborers looked to other employers in the area, especially the growing petrol and chemical industries in the region, including Standard Oil (later Esso and Exxon Mobil) and The Dow Chemical Company. Many laborers migrated north for jobs in Illinois, California, and other states.
Sugar has been a major engine fueling the West Baton Rouge Parish economy for over two centuries, and as we move further into the 21st century, sugar is giving way to new industries. West Baton Rouge raw sugar is processed, shipped, and consumed around the globe. The sugarcane cultivated in our parish is refined in nearby Pointe Coupee Parish and then is shipped to commercial refineries that produce a variety of sugar products sold around the world.
Louisiana Hayride was a radio show broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana from 1948 to 1958. Listeners across the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia enjoyed the music and comedy unique to Louisiana. Today in West Baton Rouge, KDDK/KGLA 1540FM broadcasts from Addis on the Tropical Radio station.
The West Side Journal newspaper has been in business since 1852, first as the Capitolian Vis-a’-vis then as the Sugar Planter (which did not print from 1861-1865). In 1936, new owner, L.D. Young renamed the paper the West Side Journal. Today, the parish also enjoys the weekly Riverside Reader, which was established in 1994 and is published in Port Allen. The paper is a free community weekly paper delivered to residences in West Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, and St. Landry Parishes.
Silas Hogan (September 15th, 1911 - January 9th, 1994) – Silas Hogan was born in the community of Westover in West Baton Rouge parish. Silas learned to play the guitar as a teenager, and was an important figure in the Baton Rouge blues scene throughout the 1950’s, particularly through his band, the “Rhythm Ramblers.”
Slim Harpo (January 11th, 1924 - January 31st, 1970) James Moore, known as Slim Harpo, was West Baton Rouge parish’s most famous musician and one of the most famous blues men of 1950’s and 1960’s. He was born near Lobdell and is buried in the Mulatto Bend Cemetery. There is now a State Historic Marker honoring him on US highway 190 near the cemetery. As a teenager, Slim dropped out of school for a job as a dockworker and played the harmonica in local Juke Joints to support his orphaned siblings. He played the guitar and harmonica in a highly original style. Slim earned a string of hit records in the 1950’s and 60’s and gained national popularity. Despite this, he never worked as a full-time musician, instead starting his own trucking business in the 1960’s. He was remembered as a decent, “clean-living” man, in contrast to many bluesmen of the time who were often associated with drunkenness, gambling, and womanizing. Slim Harpo gained unexpected recognition with a new generation when white rock bands like the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Van Morrison, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds covered his songs.
Lazy Lester (June 20th, 1933 - August 22nd, 2018) Leslie Johnson, known as “Lazy Lester,” was born in the community of Torras in nearby Pointe Coupée parish. He played guitar, harmonica, bass, percussion, and sang. Lazy Lester began playing music as a teenager with Raful Neal, Sr., and earned a string of regional hits in the 1950’s. He became a regular of Juke Joints in the area, and played with Slim Harpo, Silas Hogan, Lightnin Slim, Henry Gray, Lonesome Sundown, and others. After becoming disillusioned with the music industry, Lester made a “comeback” in the 1980’s.
Raful Neal, Sr. (June 6th, 1936 - September 1st, 2004) was born in Baton Rouge but raised in the community of Chamberlin in West Baton Rouge Parish. He worked in the fields and learned the harmonica as a teenager. He regularly played shows with Pointe Coupée native Buddy Guy, making a name for himself in area Juke Joints as the “Godfather of Baton Rouge Blues.” Buddy Guy eventually left for Chicago and became a world-renowned musician, but Raful decided to stay in the area because he had just married his childhood sweetheart, Shirley Brooks. The two of them had 10 children, nine of whom became musicians themselves.
Kenny Neal (October 14th, 1957) Raful’s son, got his start playing guitar and harmonica in his father’s band. He toured with Buddy Guy as a bassist, and also played with Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, Junior Wells, Tabby Thomas, Big Mama Thorton, John Lee Hooker, and Lightnin Hopkins. He later formed the Neal Brothers Band with four of his brothers. Kenny has won awards as a Broadway actor and TV show host. Known as the “American Blues Man,” Kenny has produced more than a dozen albums and continues to play nationally and internationally.
Lil Ray Neal – Raful Neal, Jr. (known as Lil Ray Neal) played guitar and sang in the Neal Family Band from the age of 12. He also played with Bobby Blue Bland, Little Milton, Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thorton, B.B. King, and Buddy Guy. Lil Ray currently leads his own band and is a staple at festivals and venues such as Teddy’s Juke Joint and Phil Brady’s.
Amie Comeaux (December 4th, 1976 - December 21st, 1997) was born and raised in Brusly. When she was only 9 years old, she sang the national anthem at a Saints football game in New Orleans Superdome. Amie was signed to the major record label, Polydor, when she was 16. At age 17, she released her first album Moving Out, which was produced by Polygram Records. After, she performed on tour in Europe and was in the process of recording her next country music album when she died in a car accident close to home.