If any one Cajun musician could called a rock & roll star, it's Doug Kershaw. Along with his brother Rusty, he began playing an invigorating hybrid of Cajun and rockabilly, cutting a series of singles in the late '50s that culminated with "Louisiana Man," a Top Ten hit in 1961. The brothers parted ways not long afterward, and Doug Kershaw became a Louisiana music legend by sitting in with rockers and country artists alike, while recording a series of albums for Warner Bros. Records in the 1970s. Kershaw eventually retreated from the crossover spotlight but he remained a fixture in Louisiana music into the 21st century, performing regularly and recording on occasion.
Born in Tiel Ridge, an unincorporated community in Louisiana's Cameron Parish, Doug Kershaw was raised in a Cajun household headed by an alligator hunter. At home, the family spoke French, so Kershaw didn't learn English until he was eight, three years after he taught himself how to play fiddle. He took to the instrument quickly — he'd take to all musical instruments quickly, learning how to play an astonishing 28 instruments in his lifetime — and began performing in public quickly too, playing at a local bar called the Bucket of Blood (his mother accompanied him on guitar). Not long afterward, he convinced his younger brother Rusty to play guitar, and he and their older sibling Peewee formed the Continental Playboys in 1948.
Once the Continental Playboys gained the attention of J.D. Miller — the impresario behind the Louisiana label Feature — the recordman convinced the group to start singing songs in English, setting the stage for the eventual crossover success of Rusty and Doug. That's the name the brothers adopted after Peewee left the Continental Playboys in the early '50s, and the duo soon built a following through their synthesis of country and Cajun music. Hickory released "So Lovely, Baby," Rusty and Doug's first single, in 1955, and it climbed up to number 14 on Billboard's country charts. Its rise coincided with Rusty and Doug signing onto the Louisiana Hayride, the syndicated radio show broadcast from Shreveport. "Love Me to Pieces" also went to number 14 in 1957, leading to an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1958. This honor was counterbalanced by the Kershaw brothers' decision to enlist in the United States Army.
Doug and Rusty remained in the army for three years - during their absence, "Hey Sheriff" went to number 22 in 1958 — and after they returned to the U.S., they cut Doug's new composition, "Louisiana Man." The song was Rusty and Doug's biggest single, reaching number ten on the Billboard country chart in 1961, on its way to becoming an American roots music standard (it also peaked at number four on its Bubbling Under chart). "Diggy Liggy Lo" followed "Louisiana Man" to number 14 on Billboard's country charts. Hickory rushed out their debut album, Sing Louisiana Man and Other Favorites, in 1961. The duo moved to RCA in 1963, inaugurating their stint at the label with "My Uncle Abel." Two other singles — "Cajun Stripper" and "St. Louis Blues" — appeared before the pair parted ways in 1964.
Kershaw stayed with Warner through 1978, releasing a grand total of 11 albums in his decade there. His biggest album arrived in 1974, when Mama Kershaw's Boy peaked at number 14 on the Billboard country chart. Its trio of sequels — 1975's Alive & Pickin', 1976's Ragin' Cajun, and 1977's Flip, Flop & Fly — were his three other albums to reach the charts. In 1979, Kershaw recorded Louisiana Cajun Country for the Starfire label, then moved to Scotti Bros for 1981's Instant Hero. (The album featured "Hello Woman," a single that peaked at 29, making it his biggest solo hit.) By the time he put out Hot Diggidy Doug on Voodoo Records in 1989 — an album that featured his last two charting singles, the Hank Williams, Jr. duet "Cajun Baby" and "Boogie Queen" — it was clear that Kershaw's career didn't concentrate on recordings. He would continue to release records on occasion — notably, he put out the all-French album Two Step Affair in 1999, Easy on spinART in 2002 and the Face to Face duet album with Steve Riley in 2014 — but he split his time with performing and running a restaurant called The Bayou House in Lucerne, Colorado (he retired from the business in 2007). In 2009, Doug Kershaw was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine