This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of the state's leading Mardi Gras anthems -  Al Johnson's "Carnival Time," which is being showcased to promote another Louisiana tradition, Mardi Gras scratch-offs from the Louisiana Lottery.

Written in 1959, "Carnival Time" can still be heard blaring from speakers at parades and played by brass bands celebrating Mardi Gras. The trumpets and soulful voice of Al "Carnival Time" Johnson make it impossible not to bob your head and sing along.

"At the time it was released, I hoped the song meant having a great time," said Johnson. "Looks like it turned out like that. Everyone has fun with it."

And that's exactly what the Lottery is doing, too. Johnson and "Carnival Time" will ring in the Mardi Gras season by being featured in advertising for the Lottery's Mardi Gras scratch-off, Here Comes the Parade.

"For over 15 years, the Louisiana Lottery has celebrated the season with Mardi Gras-themed scratch-offs," said Lottery President Rose Hudson. "This year we're proud to recognize Al Johnson and 'Carnival Time,' as part of our ongoing support of local artists.

Just like Louisiana's own colorful history, Johnson recalled the unique story of the song's beginnings, inspired by the excitement of preparing for his own carnival festivities.

Featured Image
Al Johnson hits the studio to record his radio
spot featuring "Carnival Time" to promote the Lottery's Mardi Gras scratch-off, "Here Comes
the Parade."
"I knew everyone was talking about Mardi Gras," remembered Johnson. "Back then, we said it was 'carnival time,' so I figured I would do something surrounding carnival."

And "Carnival Time" was born, but not without some delays. Recording it was a lengthy process, since the musicians had their own opinions about how the song should be played.

"I added an extra verse and measure. The band thought the timing was off, but I was trying to do something different and creative," explained Johnson. "If I wanted to make a hit, the song had to be different."

Johnson's musical vision was difficult for band members to adjust to, and it took several sessions to record successfully. Some even insisted the extra measure didn't fit, but Johnson was persistent. After all, it was his song.

"It was a different lick, but I liked it," he said. "I love that part of the song."

Johnson's instincts and musical talent were right on. Fifty years later, the song is still an integral part of carnival celebrations.

"Al 'Carnival Time' Johnson is a cultural icon in the state of Louisiana and an important part of the Mardi Gras tradition," said Hudson. "We're excited to incorporate his song into our media mix."

"It's great to work with the Lottery," said Johnson. "I've been bragging about it. I don't know that anything better could have happened!"

Sales of the Lottery $2 scratch-off game Here Comes the Parade began Dec. 1. The game features a top prize of $10,000 and up to 10 chances to win on each ticket. As part of its Mardi Gras promotions, the Lottery will give away a chance to ride on a superfloat in the 2009 Krewe of Thor in Metairie through free registration on the Web site.

Players must be at least 21 years old to purchase a Lottery ticket. The Lottery encourages anyone who has a gambling problem or friends and family of anyone with a gambling problem to call toll-free 1-877-770-7867. For security purposes, players are also encouraged to sign the back of their tickets immediately after purchasing.