Thursday, December 14, 2017

"New Iberia Polka" - Segura Brothers

As 1928 wrapped up, Columbia planned to record one last time in New Orleans in late December.   As Dewey and Eddie Segura were on a moonshine trip, they discovered the recording opportunity and arrived in time, with Dewey on accordion and Eddie on triangle, to record the "New Iberia Polka" (#40507).   His uncle's son-in-law, a photographer, had some connection with these record manufacturers--Columbia--who at the time, visited New Orleans every six months or so for recording sessions.2  While polkas in south Louisiana weren't common, they were clearly still part of the Cajun music repertoire during the turn of the century; something clearly evident given Nathan Abshire's "Old Folks Polka" and Happy Fats' "La Polka a Gilbert".  According to record producer Christopher King:

This is essential since mazurkas, polkas, gallopades, varsoviannas,  and cotillions held a strong place in the early Cajun fiddle and dance repertoire but became less popular with the introduction of the diatonic accordion.1
Dewey and Eddie Segura

By 1929, Dewey made two or three trips to New Orleans to try and make further recordings, deciding on hunches when the record company might be in town.  On the first trip, he hobo-ed to New Orleans by rail with his brother Eddie.  They missed the record people, but their uncle was successful in arranging a broadcast for them.  The radio station, very probably WWL, ran an anyone-can-play show on which the Seguras played two numbers.  The reception to their act was so great (telephone calls and telegrams being received by the station) that the other acts were postponed while he and his bother played "all night".2  

  2. Old Time Music. No.40. Winter 1984.  John H Cowley

Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 1: First Recordings - The 1920's (Old Timey, 1970)
Cajun Louisiane 1928-1939 (Fremeaux, 2003)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

"Jolie (Brunette)" - Jolly Boys of Lafayette

Attesting to the endurance of Jolie Blonde as a true Cajun song, it's melody can be found in numerous recordings, both before the war and afterwards.  As the Hackberry Ramblers were reveling in their recent release of "Jolie Blonde" for Bluebird records in late 1936, Decca had the Jolly Boys of Lafayette covered the same tune in early 1937 at a session in Dallas, Texas, but with a different title called "Jolie Brunette" (#17032).   The melody came from the first recording of "Ma Blonde Est Partie" by the Breaux family. 

Jolie brune, ouais, tu connais,
J’ai mérité pas, ça t’après m'faire,
Et moi, je connais tu vas pleurer,
Avant longtemps d’avoir fait ça tu m’as fait.

Joli cœur, moi je connais,
T'auras du regret de pas bienfait, 
Mais, ça t’as fait il y pas longtemps,
Fais pas ça à ton pauvre vieux negre, malheureuse.

The Jolly Boys of Lafayette consisted of the Fabacher brothers, Francis "Red" on guitar and Joseph accompanying, along with Leon "Crip" Credeur on vocals and fiddle.   As shown in an early test pressing, Decca had originally attempted to call it "Jole Le Blon" however, for unknown reasons, the title was changed.   It was most likely an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the melody and Decca made sure the name wouldn't cause any issues.   

Pretty brunette, yeah you know,

I do not deserve this you've done to me,
And me, I know you have cried,
Before long, what's been done to me.

Pretty sweetheart, I know,
You will regret when you're not doing so well,
Well, you did that not long ago,
Do not do this to your poor old man, oh my.

While the group wasn't well known, their short recording session added to the Cajun music repertoire of the late 1930s.  By 1946, Harry Choates would propel the song into the American culture. 

  1. Lyrics by Jordy A


Cajun: Rare & Authentic (JSP, 2008)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"Cajun Boogie" - Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc

Having worked on a radio station show, Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc was intimately keen on the changes of the music in the region.  During the mid 1940s, after the war, blues-influenced rockabilly became more prominent and he would have been on of the first to be exposed to it.   Here, this is one of the earliest bluesy rock tunes to come from the south Louisiana prairies.  It's clearly influenced by the sounds coming out of neighboring New Orleans and radio stations throughout the country.  

Listening carefully, one can enjoy the smooth rockabilly playing by Francis "Red Fabacher on lead guitar and a upbeat fiddle ride by Andrus "Uncle Ambrose" Thibodeaux.  The band rounded out with Jimmy Gardiner on rhythm guitar, Giles ‘Candy Man” Castillo on steel guitar and Buel Hoffpauir on drums. 
Happy Fats, Bradley Stutes, Papa Cairo,
Andrus "Uncle Ambrose" Thibodeaux, 

Joseph "Pee Wee" Broussard

1946 seemed to be the end of an era and beginning of a new one.  "Cajun Boogie" (#20-2200) on Victor was one of the last Cajun string band recordings by a major record label.  Not long afterwards, RCA Victor would abandon all things related to Cajun music, probably due to lack of sales nation wide.    Independent labels were taking off.  Happy would have to look at other outlets, which he did, with J.D. Miller's new independent label called "Fais Do Do" records.
Rayne Tribune
Mar 7, 1947

By December of 1947, King records released Moon Mullican's "Jole Blon Is Gone, Amen", closing an end to the era.  The only exceptions were 2 moderately sized labels. DeLuxe Records of New Jersey arrived in Sulphur around 1949 and briefly recorded a slew of songs by Happy Fats, the Hackberry Ramblers, Joe Manuel and Johnny Billiot.  Modern Records of California had latched onto Chuck Guillory and Papa Cairo around the same time.  Cajun music releases were firmly in the hands of the indie labels. 

It didn't seemed that any major national label gave any attention to the resurgence of Cajun-inspired music until suddenly, in 1952, Columbia Records released Vin Bruce's "Dans La Louisianne".  That year, a wave of Cajun-country influenced songs flooded the airwaves including Okeh's release of Link Davis' "Big Mamou" and MGM's release of Hank Williams' "Jambalaya".

HAPPY FATS & His Rayne-Bo Ramblers (BACM, 2009)
Leroy Happy Fats LeBlanc: & His Rayne-Bo Ramblers (Master Classics, 2013)

Friday, December 1, 2017

"Happy One Step" - Sady Courville & Dennis McGee

The Louisiana twin fiddling of Dennis McGee with Sady Courville, and later, Ernest Fruge is one of the great treasures of southern fiddling, past and present.  Dennis had a long musical career, with a repertoire extending back into the nineteenth century.  His local fame led him to start playing with accordionist Amede Ardoin, at a time when crossing racial lines was unusual.  Eventually, he would be invited to record for several labels, including this 1929 session for Vocalion in New Orleans which produced "Happy One Step" (#5315).

Author Blair Kilpatrick states:
The Happy One Step is beautiful--so spare and haunting--played simply on the fiddle.  There are no words to the Happy One Step, although the title suggests it is a cheerful song.1  
McGee played with such Cajun artists as Amede Ardoin, Joe Falcon and Amede Breaux when the music was first being recorded in the late 1920s. He performed on the radio show "Prairie Home Companion" and often played at festivals.2  A National Heritage Award winner, Dennis McGee continued to be a favorite at
festivals and house parties until his death in 1989 at ninety-six.3   

Dennis McGee & Sady Courville
Image courtesy of Johnnie Allan & the 
Center for Louisiana Studies, 
University of Louisiana at Lafayette

  1. Accordion Dreams: A Journey Into Cajun and Creole Music By Blair Kilpatrick
  2. The New Amberola Graphic, Volumes 67-82
  3. J'ai Ete Au Bal Vol. 1.  ARhoolie CD 331.  Liner notes.

The Early Recordings Of Dennis McGee: Featuring Sady Courville & Ernest Fruge (Morning Star, 1977)
The Complete Early Recordings of Dennis McGee (Yazoo, 1994)
Les Cajuns Best Of 2002 Les Triomphes De La Country Volume 12 (Habana, 2002)

Monday, November 27, 2017

"Valse De Beaumont" - Singing Frenchman

With the success of licensing the re-release of Harry Choates' Jole Blon, the New Jersey label DeLuxe found themselves curious about future of Cajun music and the possibilities it had for it's struggling label.   On a tour of the area, company A&R scout Joe Lieberwitz discovered the Hackberry Ramblers, Happy Fats and a relatively unknown Texan billed as the "Singing Frenchman".1   

Named Johnny William “J. W.” Billiot, he and his wife Bessie "Grace" lived in the Beaumont area.  Born in Hamshire, Texas, he and his father moved to Louisiana for about a year where Johnny attended school.  He had a “larger than life” personality, and is described by relatives as a showman who loved the music and had a lot of rhythm in his music. He played the fiddle and piano in addition to the accordion. His nephew Joseph recalls, 
“He bought an accordion at a hock shop on Pearl (Street) in downtown Beaumont. He and my father (Antone) added another leaf (bellow) where he could pull it out real far. They did this to all his accordions.”1 

Hé, petite, moi j'connais, chère,
J’ai parti de la belle pour m’en (aller) à grand Texas.

Hé, chère, j’ai pleuré, petite,
(Qui) t’as fait à ton vieux nègre, c’est pas longtemps.

Hé, petite, j'ai parti, chère,
Parti de la belle pour m’en (aller) à grand Texas.
The Singing Frenchman
Johnny Billiot, George Jones (behind),
Billy Rayon, Bill Guillory

After the oil economy boomed in the 1930s, Beaumont was a hotbed of Cajun influence and activity.  So many of the Cajuns have settled in the southeastern corner of Texas known as the "Golden Triangle" of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange that the area has been referred to as the "Lapland", where Cajun culture overlaps into Texas.2  As lead accordionist and vocalist, Johnny assembled a group with his wife Grace on backup vocals, Bill Guillory on fiddle, Billy Rayon on guitar, Nick Guidry on fiddle, Lloyd Gilbert on guitar and Bill Guidry on guitar.  By 1949, the group occasionally found themselves playing gigs further east in Sulphur.  Once, a radio show announcer, Joe Trum of KTRM, discovered his talents. It's believed he contacted DeLuxe records executive Joe Lieberwitz for this recording session.1  There, his band recorded "Valse de Beaumont" (#6045) as an ode to the town he was living in.

Hey, little girl, I know, dear,
I have left the beautiful one to go to big Texas.

Hey, dear, I've cried, little one,
Who, you've done this to your old man, it wasn't long ago.

Hey, little one, I've left, dear,
Left the beautiful one to go to big Texas.

  1. Cajun Dancehall Heyday by Ron Yule
  3. Lyrics by Jordy A

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"Choupique Two Step" - Nathan Abshire

Nathan Abshire was the first in the family of six children.  His parents, also musicians, played accordion, and two of his brothers, known to have been top-notch accordion players, gave it up when still young.3  Abshire was especially taken with the spirited playing and singing of Creole accordionist and singer Amede Ardoin, and Ardoin often invited Abshire to play with him.2  
“Every Saturday we used to go to John Foreman’s saloon. I’d see Amédé Ardoin coming down the way. He’d say, ‘Abshire, you’ve got to help me tonight.’ I’d say. ‘Amédé, I can’t help you.’ ‘Oh yeah,’ he’d say, ‘We’re both going to play. I’ll play for awhile, you play for awhile.’ I’d say, ‘I don’t feel much like going Amédé.’ But I’d go and we’d sure make some music. As far as that goes, we made some great music.”2

Oh, jolie parti, c'es partie à Choupique,

C'es parti, jolie catin, 

Pour voir des belles 'tit blondes.

Aye! C'es Choupique!

Oh, jolie catin, jolie sa m'fais du mal.

Oui, ces drole qui tu m’a dit,

Jolie, sa m'fais du mal.

Oh, jolie catin, jolie tu m'fais du mal,

M'fais du mal, catin du mal,
J'vas pleurer pour toi.

Nathan Abshire
by Todd Kruse

The choupique (pronounced "shoe pick") is a trash fish, known outside Louisiana as the bowfin, which isn't eaten much but can be found plentiful around Evangeline Parish, Louisiana. Choupique is also the name of a rural community north of Eunice, Louisiana, not far from a small stream called "La Coulée Choupique".

George Khoury, the owner of Lyric label, recorded Nathan's "Choupique Two Step" (#610) in 1951 but chose not to co-release it on his Khoury's label.  The band consisted of his typical lineup of Nathan on accordion and vocals, Will Kegley on fiddle, Atlas Fruge on steel guitar, Ernest Thibodeaux on guitar, Jim Baker on bass, Ozide Kegley on drums. It could very well be a version of Happy Fats' "Les Fille De St. Martin" that Nathan had remembered from their first session together 16 years earlier.   All of these are based on Amede Ardoin's "Amede Two Step".
Church Point News
Dec 12, 1961

Oh, my pretty went away, went away to Choupique,

She left me, my pretty doll,

Going to go see the pretty little blondes.

Aye! Choupique!

Oh, my pretty doll, pretty, you hurt me,

Yes, it's odd what you said,

Pretty, you hurt me.

Oh, my pretty doll, pretty, you hurt me,

You hurt me, my doll, it hurts,
I'm going to cry over you.

  1. Louisiana Music, Vol. 1 by Lyle Ferbache
  3. Pine Grove Blues: Swallow LP 6014. Liner notes.
  4. Lyrics by Jerry M
Nathan Abshire & the Pine Grove Boys - French Blues (Arhoolie, 1993)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

"Valse De La Louisianne" - Angelas Lejeune

Angelas Lejeune became one of the unsung heros of Cajun music who helped propel Dennis McGee into the fiddle-playing limelight.   Growing up around Pointe Noire, Louisiana, he, Dennis and Ernest Fruge teamed up to play as a trio around south Louisiana.  During one of his sessions in New Orleans for Brunswick records, he recorded the tune "Valse De La Louisianne".

According to Neal Pomea: 

One listening to the Vieille Valse de la Louisiane, especially the bridge or "turn," will show what a powerful player he was. Brilliant! 1

Ohh, p’tit bébé, viens-toi-z-avec ton pop, ouais, dans la Louisiane.

Ohh, quittes ta mom pour t’en venir avec ton pop pour finir tous nos jours.

Ohh, gardez-donc comment ton pauvre papan est tout le temps dans les douleurs.

Ohh, quittes ton pop et ta mom pour t’en venir avec ton neg dans la Louisiane.

Ohh, jongle bien, tu vas avoir les misères que je passe pour, malheureuse.
Angelas Lejeune

Like many musicians living in south Louisiana, he was a fan of playing music for family. His music was remembered and enjoyed by those that remembered him.  According to neighbor and friend Debi Morain:
How well I remember him playing...he always joined us on Christmas Eve and played for our gatherings.  When I'd visit, he'd always play and sing for us, sitting outside on his porch.  His wife was a 'traiteuse' and treated us for sun and heat strokes.  What wonderful memories I have of them and, of course, his music!
According to his niece Candance McIntyre:

How I loved his music and his singing and the "get-togethers" we all had as a family. His wife aunt Doris was such a sweet lady and she and my grandmother were the greatest of friends.  We would have old time home dancers and that is where I learned to dance and how I love to dance. Listening to this music brings back such warm memories.

Oh, little baby, come with your pop, yeh, to Louisiana.

Oh, leave your mom to come with your pop forever.

Oh, so look at that, how your poor papas always in great sorrow.

Oh, leave your pop and your mom, you come with your man to Louisiana.

Oh, remember well, you'll have the same misery which I passed (lived through), oh my.
According to Cajun musician and accordion builder, Bryan Lafleur, he states:

It's an early version of "Cajun Waltz". I especially love the way he does the turn, which I haven't heard anyone do like him except Michael Doucet in his recording called "Angelas' Waltz", which seemed to be a fiddle copy of Angelas' song.2 

  2. Discussions with Bryan L
  3. Lyrics by Jordy A and Stephane F
Let Me Play This For You: Rare Cajun Recordings (Tompkins, 2013)