Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Bon Whiskey" - Louisiana Rounders

The Hackberry Ramblers, a string band which formed in 1933, began their recording career in 1935 for Bluebird records.  Since most of their material was in French, Montgomery Ward asked them to sing English tunes for KVOL in Lafayette and rename the band after their tire brand: "Riverside".   A vocalist nicknamed "Rang Tang Bully", Joe Werner would travel and sing with the group.   The Riverside Ramblers' most popularized song, "Wondering", recorded in 1937, would be re-recorded by Elvis Costello and Webb Pierce.

By 1937, Joe, who was becoming recognized for his vocal and guitar skills, caused Bluebird to request him to record a record in New Orleans.  That same year, Decca invited him to Dallas to do the same.  This time, he would travel with several musicians including a Cajun-hillbilly fiddler named Wayne Perry and lap steel guitarist named Julius "Papa Cairo" Lamperez.  Together, they formed the group the Louisiana Rounders in which they recorded "Bon Whiskey" (#17039).  It was an older fiddle tune, usually referred to as "Rye Whiskey" or "Drunken Hiccups".  It was based on the same melody as the Appalachian tune "My Horses Ain't Hungry".
Joe Werner, Luderin Darbonne, Lennis Sonnier

Bon whisky, bon whisky, t'es pas mon ami,

T'as tué mon grand père et tracassé mon idée.

Je mange quand j'ai faim et je bois quand j'ai soif,

Si l'whisky me tue pas, je va vivre jusqu'à de mort.

Il n'ya rein triste que whiskey, et moi je connais,

Je plonger au fond je rester dans bas,

Jolie femme quand j'ennuie, bon whisky quand j'ai soif,

Et un bon temps passé, moi j'va vivre jusqu'à de mort.

Wayne was a fiddle player from Indian Bayou had gained enough reputation to have Alan Lomax record him in 1935 during a field session.  However, he left Louisiana and fought in WWII and when he returned, he was a changed man.  According to fiddler Mitch Reed, he never played again due to mental trauma from battle, sometimes wandering in the woods.   Lomax stated he was the most accomplished fiddler he recorded that didn't go on to record commercially.
Wayne Perry

Good whiskey, good whiskey, you're not my friend 

You killed my grandfather and this troubles my mind.

I eat when I'm hungry and I drink when I'm thirsty 

If the whiskey doesn't kill me, I'll live until I die

There's nothing sadder than whiskey, and I know it,

I fall to the bottom and remain there,

Pretty woman when I get bored, there's good whiskey when I'm thirsty 

And I'll "pass a good time", I'll live until I die

The high pitched voice would not be Joe, but his wife, Annie Thibodeaux, who traveled with the band and would sing this tune while Joe plays the harmonica.  He recorded with several Cajun groups between 1937 and 1938 and some of the groups include his name or part of it.   Later, Joe would record for Deluxe, Arhoolie and Old Gold labels. The Balfa's used the melody in their song "Une Livre De Tabac", recorded in the documentary "Dedans le Sud de la Louisiane" in 1972 and the song would be resurrected years later by the band Jambalaya.

  1. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  2. Broven, John (1983). South To Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous.
  3. All Music Guide to Country: The Experts' Guide to the Best Recordings in ... edited by Michael Erlewine
  4. Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordings By Joshua Clegg Caffery
  6. Lyrics by Herman M
Cajun: Rare & Authentic (JSP, 2008)

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