Monday, October 13, 2014

"Mon Camon La Case Que Je Suis Cordane" - Douglas Bellard

Ask anyone who the first African Creole musician to record creole french music in Louisiana and you'll most likely get the answer of Amede Ardoin.   However, it would be his friend Douglas Bellard who actually recorded before him.   One of Bellard's tunes, "Mon Camon La Case Que Je Suis Cordane", would become one of the most widely covered songs in the Cajun music repertoire: "Les Flammes d'Enfer".

Cajun and zydeco music developed from two distinct musical traditions drawn respectively from France and West Africa, but as neighboring Cajun and black Creole sharecroppers began to play music together in the early part of the 20th century, each began to borrow tunes and musical styles from the other. 

Oh Mama,

Qui c'est la cause,

J'suis condamné,

Pour les flammes d'enfer 

Oh Maman,

Comment j'va faire?

Qui c'est la cause

J'suis condamné 

Pour ci, pour ça,

C'est mon canon la cause.

J'ai fait le chemin,

T'étais là-bas,

Quo c'est 'tite tante,

Cogner à la porte.

Qui c'est qu'est là ?

C'est ton neveu.

Mais mon neveu, 

Qui c'est tu veux ?

Mon chère 'tite tante,

J'suis v'nu pour t'dire,

J'suis condamné,

Mais pour ma vie.

Priez pour moi,
Mais moi partir,
Pour les flammes d'enfer.

Ma chère 'tite tante,
Priez pour moi.

Author and historian Dr. Barry Ancelet explains:

European song tradition tended to be textually oriented.  Ballads and folksongs were traditionally unaccompanied and sung for their content.  In African tradition, music, singing and dancing were all inextricably related and this may have influenced the combination of singing and instrumental traditions.  The result of this process was the development of new songs which combined the two traditions.  
Douglas Bellard and his wife

Douglas Bellard, a black fiddler from Bellaire Cove, was the playing partner of the great Amédé Ardoin before Ardoin decided to go with fiddler Dennis McGee, a white man who could offer him more protection when playing before crowds in those racially segregated days. In this song, Douglas is accompanied by Kirby Riley on accordion.  On October 2, 1929, the duo became the first rural Afro-Creoles from southwest Louisiana to record and Vocalion released 4 of their songs including "Mon Camon La Case Que Je Suis Cordane" (#15847).  Two months later, Amede Ardoin got his opportunity.   

Moise Robin, who was there recording with Leo Soileau on the same day, recalls:

When I weet 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. I remember all these players.11

Oh Mama, 

This is the reason why, 

I'm doomed, 

To be in the flames of hell

Oh Mom, 

How am I going to do this? 

This is the reason why, 

I'm condemmed 

For this, for that, 

It's because of my gun.

I took this path

You were out there, 

It's my little aunt

I'll knock on the door. 

Who's here?

It's your nephew.

My nephew, 

What do you want? 

My dear little aunt, 

I'm going to tell you the honest truth, 

I'm condemmed, 

For the rest of my life. 

Oh ......... 
Pray for me 
I'm leaving, 
For the flames of hell. 

My dear lil aunt 
Pray for me.

Author Ryan Brasseaux states:
These Afro-Creole recording artists extensive use of blue notes, highly syncopated melodic phrasing, crying vocal, and repertoire diversified the Cajun portfolio by generating a sort of race record subgenre under the auspices of the commercial Cajun umbrella. 

Also known as "The Flames of Hell", the tune has plenty of different spellings. The title is a corrupted form of the phrase "mon canon la cause que je suis condamné" (or "my gun is the reason i am convicted").   In their recordings, you can easily discern the dark, rolling rumble of Riley’s accordion behind Bellard’s lively fiddling.  The accordion seems to be dissonant, almost off key, between the treble and bass sections.  Vocalion did not issue Bellard and Riley's discs in its 5000 hillbilly series but rather assigned them to its 15000 popular series.  Allegedly, only a few copies of this 78 have survived and the two remaining songs from the 1929 session have never been found on any compilation.  Author Tony Russell has determined these recordings, however, do exist.  That same year, Bixy Guidry and Percy Babineaux would rewrite the tune for their recording of "Ella A Plurer Pour Revenir" and Joe Falcon would use it for his "Acadian One Step".   Musician Wade Fruge, influenced by Bellard, discusses the song's origin and a story:

I learned what they call "Les Flammes d'Enfer" from a black fiddle player [Douglas Bellard].  It's a copy of another song called "Adieu, Rosa".  He'd play it in a one step, not a two step like people play it today. Today, it's played faster. He played with Bijoux [Arteman Fruge] a lot and Enos Fontenot and Lloyd Thibodeaux.  We played for Enos once.  He had a store.  Well, Douglas had had too much to drink too early because they had an old sugar mill over there and they'd make whiskey from it.  So he came in the store and he said "Ya'll have some hot ketchup?"  The bottle was real big and it had a cap on it in a a glass and he drank it all!  Talk about sober up.

During this same session, Leo Soileau and Moise Robin walked into the New Orleans makeshift studio and recorded a similarly inspired tune called "Demain C'Est Pas Dimanche", also based on "Adieu Rosa".  Angelas Lejeune and Ernest Fruge would do the same, recording the tune as "Madame Donnez Moi Les".  Leo would rework the song in the 1930s as "Petit Ou Gros", made famous by Joe Bonsall in the 1960s.   By the mid 50s, Marie Solange Falcon and Shuk Richard converted the song into their "Madame Entelle Two Step".  In 1959, Austin Pitre would take the song and add a "turn" which he conjured up while at mass one Sunday, officially giving it the title "Flum De Faire (Les Flammes d'Enfer)" for Swallow Records.  

  1. Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings, Volume 2 By Steve Sullivan
  2. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  3. All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues edited by Vladimir Bogdanov
  4. Creoles of Color in the Bayou Country By Carl A. Brasseaux
  5. The Accordion in the Americas: Klezmer, Polka, Tango, Zydeco, and More! edited by Helena Simonett
  6. Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music edited by Diane Pecknold
  7. Louisiana Cajun and Creole Music: The Newport Field Recordings Recorded 1964-1967.  Interview with Fay Stanford.  Posted by Neal Pomea.
  8. Photo by RS
  9. Lyrics by Marc C
  10. Tony Russell, "The First Recording of Black French Music?", Old Time Music 29 (Summer 1978), p. 20.


  1. Does anyone know anything about Kirby Riley?? I've always wondered whether this pairing of Bellard & Riley was Bellard's choice (did they have a history of performing together?), or was it just something the producers threw together in the studio? Canray used to talk about how Doug Bellard was a brilliant musician, but that psychologically unstable, and that people both feared and like to play practical jokes on him. In fact, I heard Canray suggest once that it was Doug Bellard who put a hex on Amede Ardoin, which was the real cause of Amede's downfall.


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