Thursday, August 17, 2017

"Gra Mamou" - Harry Choates

Harry Choates was the total and complete musician and entertainer. All of this life he ate, drank and slept music. It is sometimes very difficult to unravel the facts and myths surrounding the life and times of the man who wrote what has been called the Cajun national anthem, “Jolie Blon.” What Jimmy Rogers was to country music, Harry Choates was to French music.2

Originally recorded in 1928 by Leo Soileau and Mayuse Lafleur, the Victor recording "Basile Waltz" is a staple of Cajun music, with a variety of names given to the melody.  Leo had renamed the tune "Le Gran Mamou" in the 1930s, re-recording it as a string band song and played the tune for years across the Louisiana dancehalls.   Harry, an avid fan of Leo's music had joined his band in the early 40s, covering all their tunes.  Harry used this opportunity to cover Leo's signature song. 

Hé ha ha, hé hé hé

Oh mais ça t’as fait ton bon vieux chien.

S’en aller dans Grand Mamou, mais jolie fille,

C’est pour voir ma jolie mignonne, petite fille, joli petit cœur,

Hé petite fille, hé ha ha, oh mais quoi t’as fait à ton papan.

Oh toi, quoi, tit monde, chérie,
Quoi t’as fait à ton pauvre vieux nègre,
Ça me fait de la peine, je ne mérite pas ça,
Hé petite, villaines manières,
Oh mais moi, je connais ça sera pas longtemps.

Hé villaines manières, quoi t’as fait ton pauvre vieux nègre,
Ça sera pas longtemps, ha ha.

Helen and Harry Choates

Between 1946 and 1949, Harry had a successful career pushing his swinging style of Cajun music with his group called the Melody Boys.  But after internal issues broke the band apart, Choates continued searching for any recording opportunities he could find.  He found an upstart recording label run by Charles and Macy Henry in Houston, Texas.

By 1950, Harry entered the ACA Studios of Bill Holford with a new set of musicians and re-record the tune as "Gra Mamou" on the Macy's label.  Copying the same tactic Leo Soileau and Bluebird Records did by changing the name to "Le Grand Mamou", it's possible he could avoid any conflicts with song copyrights on a separate recording label.  The song featured Frank Juricek or Earl Rebert on steel guitar and possibly Louis Oltremari on piano, but by this time, most of Harry's second band were unknown.  It's most likely these were studio musicians that Henry used to back Harry up on the session.

Hey, ha ha, hey heh hey,

Oh well, what you did to your old dog.

Going to Grand Mamou, well, pretty girl,

It's to see my pretty cutie, little girl, pretty sweetheart,

Hey little girl, hey ha ha, oh well, what you've done to your dad.

Oh why, my little everything, dear?
What have you done to your poor old man?
It hurts me, I don't deserve that,
Hey little one, your naughty ways,
Oh well, I know it will not be long.

Hey, your naughty ways, what did you do to your poor old man,
It will not be long, ha ha.

It must have sold well since Harry was back in the studio later that year recording "Answer to Gran Mamou" however, for unknown reasons, the follow-up was never released.  Either done previously at Goldstar and later sold to Hummingbird or done at a Houston studio in 1951 for Hummingbird, Harry re-recorded the tune as "Big Mamou" (#1012).   
Oh mais, moi, je connais, mais malheureuse,
Quoi t’as fait mais avec moi, je mérite pas ça, chérie,
Hé petite, mais, joli cœur,
Oh mais, moi, je connais ça sera pas longtemps.

Oh, mais chère petite,
Moi, je connais mais ça t’as fait il y a pas longtemps, malheureuse,
Hé ha ha, hé hé hé, oh pour ça t’as fait ton pauvre vieux chien.

Oh yeah.

Tenor banjoist and Port Arthur resident Ivy Gaspard, who toured with Choates, recalled the Cajun music of southeast Texas:
This area was a hotbed of good musicians. You had as many good musicians here as you had anywhere. Some of the dancers who would come to our dances were amazed; they’d never heard French music played the way I played it on tenor guitar but (really) I was playing western swing. I didn’t care to play French, ’cause the musicians weren’t that good. They’ve got some good French musicians now but Harry’s the one who put the idea in their heads how to play that kind of music. Before that, French music, I hated to play it ’cause it was just the same thing over and over and over. But I didn’t mind playing French music with Harry ‘cause he had that beat.1

Oh well, I know, oh my,
What you've done, well, with me, I don't deserve that, dear,
Hey, little one, well, pretty sweetheart,
Oh well, I know it won't be long.

Oh, well, dear little one,
I know , well, that was done not long ago, oh my,
Hey ha hah, hey heh hey, oh, that you've done to your poor old dog.

Oh yeah.

Gra Mamou - 1950 - Macy's

Big Mamou - 1951 - Hummingbird

  3. Lyrics by Jordy A and Carol B
Harry Choates: Five-Time Loser 1940-1951 (Krazy Kat, 1990)
Cajun Fiddle King (AIM, 1999)
Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"Pin Solitaire" - Cleoma Breaux

Singer and guitarist Cleoma Breaux Falcon is remembered today for two major contributions to Cajun music. First, she and future spouse Joe Falcon were responsible for the first recording ever made of Cajun music. In New Orleans in 1928, the couple recorded the song "Allons à Lafayette" for Columbia. Second, she was one of very few women of her day to perform Cajun music on-stage. The setting of a dancehall was considered improper, and a strong chance existed that a woman who sang there would be seen as immoral. Breaux overcame the stigma, possibly due to the fact that she mounted the stage with a man -- her husband -- at her side.2 Now married to Joe Falcon, they traveled and sang one of many influential country & western tunes of the day called "Pin Solitaire" (#17024) for Decca in 1936.   

Moi, je m'en vas de la maison,

Moi, je vois p'us quoi je vas faire, p'tite fille,
Tu connais, mais, pour toi-meme, 
Ça me fait pitié comme un pauvre orphelin,
Comme un pauvre orphelin, 
Ni père, ni mère, p'us personne pour m'aimer,

Moi, je m’en vas pour toi, p’tite fille,
Ouais, pour toi, ma petite, ça t’après me faire,
Moi, je connais que je mérite pas donc, 
Tout ça t’après m’faire, malheureuse
Dit "bye bye" à ton papa et ta maman, 
Malheureuse, p’tite fille,
Moi, j’après mais m’en aller,
Pour t’amener avec moi, malheureuse.

Oh malheureuse, (ma) p’tite, ouais. 

With Moise Morgan on fiddle, the trio covers a traditional country and western tune called "Lonesome Pine".   It would be similar to the same melody used by her brothers a year earlier on the song "La Valse Du Bayou Plaquemine".

I'm going away from home,

I see what Im going to do, little girl,
You know, well, yourself,
It makes me pitiful like a poor orphan,
Like a poor orphan, 
No father, no mother, no one to love me.

I'm leaving you, little girl,
Yeah, for you, my little one, that you've done,
I know that I do not deserve this,
All that's been done, oh my,
Say "bye bye" to your dad and your mom,
Oh my, little girl,
I have, oh my, left,
To bring you with me, oh my.

Oh my, little girl, yeh.

If the melody seems oddly familiar, have no doubt it is.  The first recording of this melody as a Cajun tune was by the Guidry Brothers called "Le Garcon Negligent" in 1929.  It's quite possible this old tune is the foundation for Jolly Boys' song "Abbeville" and Louisiana Rounder's "Allons Kooche Kooche" which later became Papa Cairo's "Big Texas" and Hank Williams' "Jambalaya". 

  1. Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  2. Linda Seida, Rovi.
  3. Lyrics by Jordy A
  4. Image by Malcolm V

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"Two Step De Mama" - Amede Ardoin

"Two Step De Mama" (#40514), recorded for Columbia records, was amongst the first recordings in the career of musician Amede Ardoin.   During his very first session, he laid down six tunes in New Orleans.   It isn't clear, however, just how Amede came to make a record.   Dennis McGee recalls that it was after he had won an accordion contest.  In September of 1929, three months before the pair went to New Orleans, there was indeed a contest in the town of Opelousas.  The sheriff and local doctor, both Cajuns, built a platform in the center of town and the weekend-long event attracted an estimated crowd of two thousand, including representatives from at least four record companies.3  

The subject matter of many of his songs revolve around his "sweet Joline", a woman he longed to court but who's mother always seemed to send him away from their home.  Much of his music dealt with lost of this loved one or his own mortality. In the song, Ardoin seems to be acknowledging the reality of his own death. In translation, one representative passage goes: "I'm going away from you, Joline, so far away / I did say, oh yes, I'm so lonesome for you / There is so much sadness in me — How will I go on, little heart? / I don't know if I'll ever find you again."1  
Pardonne-moi, donc chère, ma Joline,
J’vas m’en aller, ouais, à la maison,
Mais, comment ça se fait, oh ouais ils vont me retourner,
Mais, ça m’fait trop d’la peine, mais ouais, te r’voir,
Oh ouais, revoir quand toi tu m’as mal fait, 
J’connais ça me fait du mal pour moi pleurer.

Ma Joline, bonsoir jolie Joline,
Bonsoir catin, bonsoir, mais ouais, je m’en vas,
Tu connais (y a) personne jamais qui va me rejoindre,
Jamais encore après ça que tu m’as fait,
Ça me fait si dur de quitter de ta maman,
Je veux pas de voir des autrements que toi.

Comment je vas faire, bye bye, oh ouais, catin,
Donc c’est mignonne, c’est toi, ouais ‘tite tête noire,
**Mais garde-donc toi**? je te voulais, jolie mignonne,
Mais ouais pas de te r’voir, ta chère maman m’a fait,
La cause à toi, catin, je pourrais pleurer,
Ouais, donc ouais, pleurer, je crois pas ça me fait du bien.
Amede Ardoin

As for what occurred in Opelousas, it's a bit of a mystery.  The reported winner of the grand prize was a Cajun accordionist named Angelas Lejeune, with McGee accompanying, yet the local papers also noted that fifteen winners were chosen in all.  It is likely that Ardoin attracted some attention that weekend.3

So, forgive me, dear, my Joline,

I'm going to leave, yeh, to the house,
Well, that's how it feels, oh yeh, to return,
Well, it hurts me too much, well yeh, to see you again.
Oh yeh, seeing you again when you've done me wrong,
I know it hurts for me to cry.

My Joline, good night sweet Joline,
Goodnight pretty doll, goodnight, well yeh, I'm going,
You know there's nobody who will join me ever,
Never again after what you've done,
It's so hard to leave your mom's place,
I do not want to see anything other than you.

How will I handle this? Bye, bye, oh yeh, little doll,
So, it's my cutie, it's you, yeh, little dark headed girl,
Well, look at you, I wanted you, pretty cutie,
Well yeh, I'm not able to see you again, your dear mother did this to me,
All because of you, little doll, I could cry,
Yeh, so yeh, this crying, I do not think this is doing any good.

Thankfully, his sessions proved powerful enough to have him record for Bluebird, Brunswick and Decca records between 1930 and 1934.  Without this his career in Cajun music, we wouldn't have a slew of songs inspired by his artistic creations.  According to musician Mike Doucet:

Without him we would not have the dozen or so songs Iry Lejeune interpreted and recorded in the 1950s that helped to bring about a resurgence of Cajun French pride. We would not have Austin Pitre’s soulful interpretation of “Opelousas 2-Step” nor his version of Amédé’s emotional “Le blues de la prison.” How can we dismiss Dewey Balfa’s version of “Je suis orphelin” or his brother Will’s haunting “Les blues du cadien”?2
And with Ardoin's "Mama", Iry Lejeune took this song and made it into his "Lacassine Special" in the late 1940s.

  3. The Kingdom of Zydeco By Michael Tisserand
  4. Lyrics by Marc C, Stephane F and Jordy A
  5. Photo by Jeremy S
Amadé Ardoin – Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 6 : Amadé Ardoin – The First Black Zydeco Recording Artist (1928–1938) (Old Timey)
Cajun Dance Party: Fais Do-Do (Legacy/Columbia, 1994)
Aimer Et Perdre: To Love & To Lose Songs, 1917-1934 (Tompkins Square, 2012)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

"Bayou Pom Pom One Step" - Angelas Lejeune

A mostly obscure artist, many of modern Cajun tunes can be traced back to some of the earliest recordings of musician named Angelas Lejeune.  Angelas Lejeune was a fantastic, skilled accordion player that played for friends and family.   Here, he sings about a mythical place called Bayou Pom Pom, made popular by the comedian Walter Coquille in the 1920s and 30s.   Also spelled Pon Pon, he named the tune after this location "Bayou Pom Pom One Step" (#370).   The song has become one of the most popular recorded Cajun songs since the 1950s. 
Oh, c’est malheureux, chère,
C’est malheureux de t'voir,

Oh, rappelle-toi bien la fois,
J’étais avec toi su l'pont,
Du Bayou Pon Pon, chere.

Oh, c'est malheureux de m'voir,
Comment j'suis là, aujourd'hui,
Tout l'temps dans la misère.

Oh, tout partout ou je peux aller,
Mais, où ça s'rassemble il faudrait,
Que je t'voye avec ton neg.

Oh, moi j'connais ca tout a l'heure,
Tu vas regretter tes accroires,
T’es après faire avec moi.

In 1929, Angelas recorded during a Brunswick/Vocolian session that lasted from Septempber 30th to October 2nd in New Orleans.  It was sponsored by an Opelousas newspaper that chose the trio to wax a few records.  Angelas Lejeune, Dennis Mcgee and Ernest Fruge borrowed an old fiddle folk tune called "Rubber Dolly" and converted it to "Bayou Pom Pom".  It was the same melody Adam Trahan had previously used on his song "The Waltz of Our Little Town".  The phrase "pon pon" is most likely a play on the French word for "bridge", or "pont".   Therefore, the waterway is more or less named "Bridge Bayou". Attending the session on that day was commedian Walter Coquille, where he was slated to record part 3 of his "Mayor of Bayou Pom Pom" monologues.  It's most likely here where Angelas met Walter and decided to name the song after his fictional character.  The session also featured Cajun musicians Douglas Bellard and Leo Soileau with Moise Robin.  Moise recalls seeing Angelas and Douglas during his recordings:

 When I went over there, the last time I made a record in New Orleans with Leo Soileau, Angelas Lejeune, he made Bayou Pon Pon and I was there when he made Bayou Pon Pon. And there was a black [man], he made a record, Les Flammes D'enfer.
Oh, it's sad, dear,
It's unfortunate to see you,
After you went away.

Oh, remember the good times,
I was with you by the bridge,
Of Bayou Pon Pon, dear.

Oh, it's sad to see me,
How am I even here today?
I'm miserable all the time.

Oh, wherever I go, 
Wherever I run into you, 
I must see you with your man.

Oh, I know at this moment,
You're going to regret your lies,
Now that you're done with me.
Bayou PomPom Grocery
New Orleans, 1937

While the location of Bayou Pom Pom is not known, some have speculated it's located somewhere in Lafourche parish.  Legend has it that it lies north of Thibodaux, Louisiana near a community called Choupique.  

Also spelled "Pon Pon", Joe Falcon borrowed the general melody for his "Osson One Step" that year.  Amede Ardoin also used it for his "Tortope d'Osrun" in 1934.   Angelas had become a mentor for Iry Lejeune.  Because Iry's parents had no money to buy an accordion, he used to visit Angelas' house almost every day to practice on his uncle's accordion while Angelas worked in the fields.   And so in 1953, Iry re-recorded the tune as "Bayou Ponpon Special".  

In 1951, Jimmie Davis along with Hank Williams recorded an English version of the tune.  Later, Austin Pitre would use some of the melody for his "High Point Two Step" and his "Janot Special". 

  2. Lyrics by Raymond Francois
Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 5: The Early Years 1928-1938 (Old Timey, 1973)
Cajun Louisiane 1928-1939 (Fremeaux, 2003)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)
Let Me Play This For You: Rare Cajun Recordings (Tompkins, 2013)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

"Ma Chere Basett" - J.B. Fuselier

My Dear Little Woman! From the mid-1930's, J.B. Fuselier was a leading fiddle pioneer of Cajun music.  The height of his success was in the Cajun stringband era, from 1935 to 1942.  During that time period, he and Preston Manuel recorded "Ma Cher Bassett" for Bluebird records.  Initially, Fuselier was the fiddler in Miller's Merrymakers, let by Beethoven Miller. But Fuselier's talent quickly had him leading the band, and when Miller left the group, the act's name changed to J.B. Fuselier and His Merrymakers.

Yeah man.

Chere catin, tu m'as dit tu m'aimais,

Aujourd'hui, moi, je peux voir c'est pas crai,

C'etat tous des accroires tu me faisais.

Yeah man.

Et, c'est la maniere, j'ai jamais pu te t'arreter.

Moi, je croyais dans mon coeur,
Que je t'avais avec moi,
Aujourd'houi moi je vois c'est une erreur.
Et, chere, j'ai jamais pu t'empecher.

Tu voudrais t'en revenir,
A ma maison, chere bassette,
Moi, je fais tout qu'est a faire pour toi-meme.
Desbra Fontenot, J.B. Fuselier, 
Norris Courville, Preston Manuel
Image courtesy of Johnnie Allan & the 
Center for Louisiana Studies, 
University of Louisiana at Lafayette

"My Dear Short Girl" is probably the most well known songs by Jean Baptiste Fuselier.   It was written for one of his wives, Regina Fontenot, and by far his greatest Cajun hit.1,2  Fellow musician Tonice Lafleur played with J.B. and recalled the song:
He named it after her.  I drove the car to Cottonport and he practiced it in the back seat of the car.3
Many numbers by Fuselier contained the words "Ma Chére" in the title such as "Ma Chére Catain", "Ma Chére Jolite", "Ma Chére Vieux Maison Suet", and "Ma Chére Bouclett" and "Ma Chér Joui Rouge".  "Chére" and "chér" itself is a corrupted form of the French word "chérie" which means "dear", commonly used as a term of endearment.   The vocalist is not quite identified however, J.B played the fiddle and Preston Manuel played guitar. Preston recalled the song:
We made "Chere Bassette, Ou Toi T'es" for his wife who was given this nickname because she was very short.3  
Dear doll, you told me you loved me,
Today, I can see it's not true,
It is all believed you did this to me.

And, it's always been this way, I never could stop you.

I thought in my heart,
That I had you with me,
Today, I see it's a mistake,
And, dear, I could never make you stop.

You wanted to come back,
To my house, dear short girl,
I'd do all that's necessary for you.

  1. The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Ann Savoy.
  2. Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux  
  3. Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule, Bill Burge
Louisiana Cajun Music, Vol. 3: The String Bands of the 1930's (Old Timey, 1971)
Cajun String Bands: The 1930s: "Cajun Breakdown" (Arhoolie, 1997)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Lanse Des Belaire" - Dennis McGee & Ernest Fruge

Much of Cajun before 1928 has been lost to time.  Until the first recordings, most of the old tunes were passed down orally and musicians would train each other on the old ballads they could remember.  Dennis Mcgee and Ernest Fruge' used their memories of these songs and recorded them during a session in New Orleans.  In late 1930, Brunswick became one of the last major labels to record Cajun music before the Depression took hold of record sales; releasing the song "Lanse Des Belaire" (#557).  It's as close as we are ever likely to get to the fiddle music heard before the accordion became prominent.

Bye bye cher tit monde pour toujours de mes jours,

J’m’en irai a la maison mon tout seul mon, jolie coeur.

Gardez donc mais ca t’as fait avec moi, joli coeur,
Malheureuse rappelle toi ca t’as fait avec moi, chere.

Rappelle toi ma cherie j’m’assisais mais dans le fenetre,
D’ma cuisine pour te voir passer, aussi bien.

J’ai coupe de la branche de mon murier, chere,
Pour te voir passer, chere, quand toi t’es parti.

Malheureuse chaque fois chere tu m’as fait rever a toi,
Déjà, j’le prends dur de t’voir, jolie coeur.

Tu connais le bon Dieu va t’punir pour tou ca,
Tu m’as fait faire, cherie malheureuse, chere tit black*.

Malheureuse, tu devrais pas faire mais tout ca,
Jolie tit blacko*, tu m’as tourne l’dos.

Dennis McGee
The Cajun french word l'anse can mean cove or a "bend in the river" or "bend in the tree line".  Belaire is a small Cajun village outside of Ville Platte, Louisiana. It consisted of a few small farms on either side of a winding dirt road that snaked across a wide prairie. Belaire Cove was a place where families and friends relied upon each other for survival; a place where everyone knew everything there was to know about one another. 

Bye bye, dear little everything, forever,

I'm going to my home all alone, my pretty sweetheart,

Listen up, well, what you've done to me, pretty sweetheart,
Oh my, remember what that you've done to me, dear.

Remember, my dear, I used to sit, well, by the window,
From my kitchen, I would see you pass by, as well.

I cut the branch of my mulberry tree, dear,
To see you pass by, dear, when you, yourself, left.

Oh my, everytime, dear, you make me dream of you,
I'm already taking this hard, seeing you, pretty sweetheart.

You know the good Lord will punish you for that,
You made me that way, dear, unfortunately, dear little dark girl.

Oh my, you should not have done all that,
Pretty little dark girl, you turned your back on me.

Dennis' use of the word "black" could either be mistaken for a different word or it could be another common example of Dennis mixing English with French.  "Chere 'tit noir" rarely refers to a black girl but more along the lines of a dark-haired beauty, similar to the same context as "jolie blonde".   Brunswick mistakenly lists the song containing an "accordion", however, Fruge', neighbor and friend, accompanies Dennis' vocals and fiddle playing creating a unique blend.  It would later influence Iry Lejeune's "Waltz Of The Mulberry Limb". 

  1. Eunice By Alma Brunson Reed
  2. Country Music Originals : The Legends and the Lost: The Legends and the Lost By Tony Russell
  5. Photo by James P
  6. Lyrics by 'meloderon'
Dennis McGee ‎– The Complete Early Recordings (Yazoo, 2006)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Les Blues De La Louisiane (Louisiana Blues)" - Leo Soileau

Recorded in Chicago, IL, "Les Blues De La Louisiane" (#17009) has to be the bluesiest song Leo Soileau had during his decade of recording.   The instrumental allowed Leo to sit back and let his fiddle shine only accompanied by a simple guitar rhythm. 

For unknown reasons, Decca chose to market this for the French speaking market as well as the English speakers as well.   On their original 1935 release, the song is listed as "Les Blues De La Louisiane" and on the re-issue, they gave it a new catalog number, renaming it to "Louisiana Blues".  The same was done with the records flip-side recording: "Pario Acadia Breakdown" or "Arcadia County Breakdown" respectively.  While Leo played the fiddle, his backup guitarist could have been either Bill "Dewey" Landry, Floyd Shreve, O.P. Shreve or Johnny Roberts, all who have played guitar with Leo at some point during this time.

Rayne Tribune
Sep 17, 1937

By the late 1930s, Leo had quite recording his group and took work playing in bars along the silver strip of Highway 90 playing in several dancehalls.  He even joined a group called the Daylight Creepers lead by Papa Cairo and backed by Bill Redlich, Erby Thibodeaux, and featured a guitar-playing new-comer to the Cajun music scene: J.D. Miller.   Miller would go onto be a key figure in the resurgence of Cajun music recordings after the war. 

Leo Soileau: Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 7 (Old Timey, 1982)
Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)