Sunday, November 30, 2014

"Abbeville" - Jolly Boys of Lafayette

After 1933, Decca began looking to record more southern American music including hillbilly and Cajun music. Their A&R man, David Kapp, made pilgrimages through the south in areas such as Memphis, New Orleans, Dallas, San Antonio and Charlotte. He stated 
"In Dallas we got a lot of Cajuns coming in. I've seen some of those artists drive 500 miles in tumble-down cars to get an audition". 
One of those many Cajun bands was the Jolly Boys of Lafayette. Lafayette is a city in the heart of Cajun country. Composed of Leon "Crip" Credeur on fiddle and vocals, Joseph Fabacher on accordion and Francis "Red" Fabacher on guitar, they would travel to Dallas in 1937 and record 10 songs. Allegedly, Oran Doc Guidry claimed he and the band recorded earlier for Decca in 1934, however, there is no record of this in the Decca archives. 

S'en aller là bas à Abbeville

C'est pour voir ma chère mignonne petite veuve

Quelques jours passés, je lui ai envoyer une lettre

Elle m'a jamais renvoyé de ses nouvelles

Petit coeur tu connais t'auras du regret

D'avoir eu fait tous les misères que t'es après me faire

Mais oh y aïe moi j'connais tu vas pleurer
Tu vas pleurer, c'est pour ça que t'es après faire
Francis Fabacher

The Fabacher brothers descend from a Bavarian family that settled in the region during the 1870s. Joseph's German accordion would have been very familiar to the families older generation. One of the songs recorded included the country influenced entitled "Abbeville" (#17026), named after a town south of Lafayette. The tune is typical of the country-hillbilly sound which influenced Cajun music in the late 1930s. An old country-western tune called "Lonesome Pine", which Cleoma Breaux covered as "Pin Solitaire" in 1936, most likely was the influence.  The first recording of this melody as a Cajun tune was by the Guidry Brothers called "Le Garcon Negligent" in 1929.  The melody was previously recorded by her brothers the year before as "La Valse Du Bayou Plaquemine".  The melody would later influence "Alons Kooche Kooche" and "Grand Texastunes by Papa Cairo.  All of these tunes would lead to Hank Williams' "Jambalaya".

Going away to there Abbeville,
It's for my cute dear little widow,
Past few days, I've been sending letters,
She never sent me anything new.

Small heart, you know you'll regret this,
Having made me miserable after all of this,
But oh yaille, I know you're going to cry,
You're going to cry, it's what will happen.

In the same fashion, the group would also record the song "Jolie Brunette", a different take on the famous "Jole Blon" melody. The group didn't last and disbanded. Francis would later end up playing guitar with Happy Fats and both steel guitar and electric guitar with Harry Choates. Leon would later work with Leroy Broussard of the Happy-Go-Lucky Band.  Joe is believed to have played with Pee Wee Broussard and the Melody Boys.

  1. Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule
  2. Billboard Magazine. Hotel Room Recording Studios. Apr 3, 1971.
  3. Lyrics by 'ericajun'
Cajun: Rare & Authentic (JSP, 2008)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"La Manvais Femme" - Thibodeaux Boys

Bluebird had several Cajun swing musicians come to New Orleans for a marathon recording session on April 1938. Many of the musicians during that session would play along side different groups recording western swing music.  

7 ans avec la mauvaise femme,
C'est plus qu'un homme peut durer 
7 ans avec la mauvaise femme,
C'est assez pour jeuner un an
7 ans avec la mauvaise femme,
C'est assez pour tuer un bon homme
7 ans avec la mauvaise femme,
C'est assez pour jeuner un an

Garcon, si tu penses a t'marier,
Ecoute a quoi j'va t'dire!
Si tu maries la mauvaise femme,
C'est pire que vivre dans l'enfer
Si tu maries la mauvaise femme,
L'a juste une seul chose tu peux faire:
Fouille un trou et lance dedans
Et couvre tout avec la terre!
Joe Werner

One of the impromptu groups that formed was the Thibodeaux Boys. Composed of Erby Thibodeaux on fiddle and vocals, T.C. Thibodeaux on guitar, and Joe Werner on guitar, they recorded 12 songs for Bluebird. One of the songs they recorded would be "La Manvais Femme" (#2043) for Bluebird, which was based on an old time, hillbilly tune known as "Seven Years With The Wrong Woman". The title should have been spelled "la mauvais femme" which means "the wrong woman". Not much is known about this group. Only Joe continues to record afterwards, filling in and forming other bands such as Riverside Ramblers, Hackberry Ramblers, Louisiana Rounders, Joe's Acadians, and Happy Fats.

7 years with the wrong woman
This is more than a man can take
7 years with the wrong woman
That's enough for lunch for a year
7 years with the wrong woman
It is enough to kill a good man
7 years with the wrong woman
That's enough for lunch for a year

Son, if you thinking of marriage
Listen to what I'm going to say,
If you marry the wrong woman,
This is worse than living in hell
If you marry the wrong woman,
There is just one thing you can do:
Dig a hole and throw yourself in
And cover yourself with dirt!

Cajun: Rare & Authentic (JSP, 2008)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Hix Wagon Wheel Special" - Aldus Roger

This tune is one of many dancehall era songs made popular by Aldus Roger.  This would be  J.D. Miller's first recording of Aldus and his band, helping popularize the music being heard throughout the Cajun countryside.   The song is commonly played at the start of the night allowing musicians to warm up and get the patrons on the dance floor.  Sometimes spelled "Hicks", Miller released "Hix Wagon Wheel Special" (#1028) on his Feature label in the early 1950s with Roger on accordion and Roy Morgan on guitar.  The song is named after a popular dancehall near Opelousas, LA, owned by Hillred "Hicks" Sylvester, known as the Hicks' Wagonwheel Dancehall & Racetrack where Roger and other bands played.  The melody derives from a much older tune originally known as "La Queue d'Tortue" which influenced the Segura Brothers in their 1928 recording of "Bury Me In The Corner Of The Yard".
Aldus Roger and Lafayette Playboys
KLFY in Lafayette
Rodney Miller, Fernest "Man" Abshire,
Aldus Roger, Aldus "Popeye" Broussard,
Daemus Comeaux

Aldus Roger's father didn't want him to play accordion, however he would borrow one and play it in the barn.  By the 1950s, national programming dominated the airwaves, but like elsewhere, television stations in south Louisiana provided a few shows aimed solely at local audiences.  Shortly after KLFY began broadcasting in June 1955, it offered viewers a weekly half-hour Cajun music program featuring Roger and his band: the Lafayette Playboys.  Dixie 45 brand beer sponsored the program, and so successfully did Roger market the beverage taht even non-French speakers were known to refer to it offhandeldy as "Dixie quarante-cinq". 

Inside the Hick's Wagon Wheel, ca. 1944
Image courtesy of Johnnie Allan & the
Center for Louisiana Studies,
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Roger led his group for over twenty years and set the standard by which Cajun dance bands are judged even today. He surrounded himself with some of the best backing musicians of his time -- some of whom are still the best today -- and helped bring Cajun music to a wider audience thanks to his weekly television program on Lafayette, Louisiana's KLFY Channel 10.  Roger paid tribute to the show in the mid 1950s with his recordings entitled "KLFY Waltz" and "Channel 10 Two Step".  In 1962, he represented Louisiana at the National Folklore Festival in Washington, D.C. 

Recently, a lost archival footage of the band playing during a KLFY taping of the show in 1968 surfaced from a French film website.

  1. The Cajuns: Americanization of a People By Shane K. Bernard
  2. Historic Lafayette: An Illustrated History of Lafayette & Lafayette Parish By Michael S. Martin
  4. Image by Cary Ginell
  5. Image identification by Michael Dupuy

Friday, November 21, 2014

"La Valse Crowley" - Cleoma Breaux

In 1934, after the depression, record labels began recording Cajun music again. By August, Joe and Cleoma were in San Antonio and in December, they were on their way to New York City. They accompanied Amede Ardoin on a bus for a recording session with Decca. When they reached Hoboken, New Jersey, they boarded a ferry to cross the icy Hudson River. As the ferry crossed, it began to sink, with water filling up the bus. In the darkness, Cleoma's thoughts were on her daughter and began to think she'd never see her daughter again. After they were rescued, both of them arrived at the studio. Cleoma collected her emotions and wrote them into a song for her daughter: "La Valse Crowley" (#17006).  

Oh, ma chère ‘tite fille, 

Moi j’connais, j’suis si loin de toi mon nègre.

Ca me fait faire dans la peine de t’quitter,

Pour venir si loin de toi, malheureuse.

Prends courage, oui ma chère ‘tite fille,

Moi j’après m’en aller pour te r’joindre.

Tu connais, toi t’es bien soignée,

Mais j’peux pas m’empêcher d’m’ennuyer.

Moi j’après m’en aller de te r’joindre,

Prends courage, chère ‘tite fille, prends courage.
Moi j’après m’en aller, oui te r’joindre,
Ca s’ra pas longtemps, oui ma chère ‘tite fille.

Separately, Amede Ardoin recorded for Decca during the same session.  Twelve songs were recorded the session; location mistakenly listed as New Orleans, however, both the Breaux and the Ardoin family recall the session being in NYC.  Cleoma was from the town of Crowley, Louisiana and it's the town where both her and Joe settled after they got married.  The melody would later become the basis for the "Eunice Waltz" and Elise Deshotel's "La Vase De Temper Tate".   It even influenced Aldus Roger's recording of "Lafayette Playboys Waltz". 

Oh, my dear lil girl

I know I'm so far from you.

It makes me sorry to have left,

I've gone so far away from you, I'm unhappy.

Take care, my dear, please lil girl

After all of this, I will be with you.

I know you are well cared for

But I can not help but be lonely.

After all of this, I will be with you.

Take care, dear lil girl, take care.
After all of this, I will be with you.
It won't be long, yes, my dear lil girl.

  1. Louisiana Women: Their Lives and Times edited by Janet Allured
Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)
Prends Donc Courage - Early Black & White Cajun (Swamp Music Vol. VI) (Trikont, 2005)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"L'Abandoner" - Bartmon Montet & Joswell Dupuis

One of the earliest, fairly obscure, groups to record in New Orleans in the early years was Bartmon Montet & Joswell Dupuis.  In November 1929, this unknown duo recorded for Victor records, one of the first labels specifically looking for Cajun music.  

By the late 1920s, Victor Talking Machine Company was interested in selling more of their record players and realized in order to do this in the south, they were going to need to sell more regional records.  Victor had just traveled to Atlanta and recorded Leo Soileau and Mayeus Lafleur the previous year and enjoyed amazing sales of Cajun music.   During this session lasting from November 6th to the 16th, Victor would record musicians such as Bixy Guidry & Percy Babineaux, Soileau Cousins, Delin Guillory & Lewis Lafleur, Wilfred Fruge & Leo Soileau, Oscar Doucet & Alius Soileau, Joe Credeur & Albert Babineaux, and Joseph Landry.  

Oh quoi faire toi tu me dis,

Je m'ennuis de rester, qu'elle était mais si belle

Oh je connais aussi dur,

tu peux pas oublier ton p'tit neg et la terre!

Oh moi j'm'en va à la maison,

pour mourir moi tout seul,

Quoi faire toi tu viens pas?

The duo would only record 4 songs, one of them entitled "L'Abandoner (The Abandoned Waltz)" (#22211).  The song is jubilant yet doomed account of lost love buoyed by lively accordion and guitar.  Bartmon's name is listed in Victor's roster as "Berthmost" and "Bartmonse".   Montet plays the accordion and sings while Dupuis strums guitar.  Author and collector, Richard Spottwood, asserts that only 810 were sold.   

Oh, what do you say?

I'm bored staying here, but she's so beautiful,

Oh, I know it's just as hard,

You can't forget your little boy and the place of your home!

Oh, I'm going home,

To die by myself

Don't you want to come with me?

Their tune would be resurrected by Iry Lejeune with is recording of "Convict Waltz". The duo would also record another song, "L'Eau Haute (High Water Waltz)" which was probably about the famous 1927 flood that hit Louisiana and the Mississippi River.

  1. Lyrics by 'Ericajun'
Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)
The Best Of Cajun & Zydeco (Not Now, 2010)
Aimer Et Perdre: To Love & To Lose Songs, 1917-1934 (Tompkins Square, 2012)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Early Cajun Music - Volume 1 on PDF

If you like this information, there's no book that you can buy that contains it all. Instead of publishing this, I decided to create a volume of articles.

I decided to move 10 songs into the first volume on PDF.   Feel free to share, store, email, and print the material as you wish.  Over time, as information is added or corrected, I will update the version and keep the most current version located on this site.

Download Early Cajun Music, Volume 1

Monday, November 17, 2014

"Jole Blon" - Harry Choates

Jole Blon is a traditional cajun waltz, often called "the cajun national anthem" because of the popularity it had in cajun culture. The song was then later popularized on a nationwide scale by a series of renditions and references in late '40s country songs. It has been the subject of occasional cover later in the 20th century by cajun and classic country revival bands. Becoming a part of the band's repertoire in 1951, "Jole Blon" became the official fight song of McNeese State University in 1970, and it is played by the "Pride of McNeese" band upon scoring at athletic events. It's a swing and dance tune that and became the first and only Cajun record to reach the Billboard Top Five.

The original Cajun version is a brief address to a "pretty blonde" who had left the singer and moved back in with her family, and is also now in the arms of another man. The singer concludes that there are plenty other women, and pretty blonde women out there that he can find. The fiddle-based, instrumental melody of this song dates back before the 1900s.  It's influence can be found in the Guidry Brother's "Homme Abandonne" introduction, Angelas Lejeune's "La Valse De La Veuve", and the Segura Brother's "La Fille De La Veuve". 

As discussed in a previous article, the earliest recording of the song is believed to be a 1929 version by the family trio Breaux Brothers entitled "Ma blonde est partie", recorded in Atlanta.  The title "Jolie Blonde" was first given to the melody by two bands separately: the Hackberry Ramblers version of "Jolie Blonde" and J. B. Fuselier and his Merrymakers' version of "Ta Ma Lessa Jolie Blonde", both during a New Orleans recording session in 1936.  The melody also appears in "La Valse de La Lafayette" by the Jolly Boys of Lafayette  and Happy Fats' "Nouveau Grand Gueydan" in 1937.

Harry Choates
Bill Quinn had a background in electronics and experience working as a sound man for a carnival show. In Houston, he started repairing radios, and as another twist of fate would have it, everything changed one day when a customer brought in a disc-recording machine that needed repair. Quinn became fascinated with the concept, and purchased one for himself.   By 1941, he started the Quinn Recording Company and did custom recordings and commercial jingles for radio stations, but soon ventured into the record business, with the short-lived Gulf label. 

É ha ha!

Jolie blonde, jolie fille

Chère petite, jolie cœur

Tu m'as laissé pour t'en aller

Avec un autre, mais chère petite fille

Dans l'pays de la Louisiane

Mais malheureuse

Oh, mais jolie cœur

Ca t'as fait à ton pauvre papa

Tu m'as laissé, mais, chère petite

Mais moi tout seul

Mais malheureux

Quelle espoir, mais quel avenir

Mais moi j'peux avoir?

É hé hé!

Oh ha ha!

Chère petite, jolie blonde

Mais ca t'as dit, ma malheureuse

Quoi t'as fait? Tu vas avoir

Tu serais pitié

The popularization began in 1946 with Harry Choates and his French version of "Jole Blon" for Gold Star records (#1314). Harry Choates had his first stint playing with Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc and the Rayne-Bo Ramblers in 1939 in which Happy's band performed the song as "Nouveau Grand Gueydan".  Eventually, Choates made his recording debut as fiddler with the band at a 1940 session in Dallas.  Afterwards, Choates next started playing electric mandolin with Shelly Lee Alley and the Alley Cats. Later in 1941, he was playing guitar with Pancho and the Farmhands over in Beaumont.  Around this time, Choates also played guitar and second fiddle for Leo Soileau’s Aces with Joe and Abe Manuel, and Francis “Red” Fabacher. Harry had been playing with Leo Soileau when he was exposed to their song "La Valse De Gueydan".  According to Happy:
Harry had first performed the tune in Soileau's band but on his Gold Star recording he stepped up the key from G to A.4  
It was about this time when Happy Fats began toying around with the idea of recording "Jole Blon" with his group the Rayne-Bo Ramblers.  According author to Andrew Brown, with the onset of WWII, Steve Sholes of RCA Victor records told a disappointed Leblanc that the session had to be cancelled because of wartime shellac rationing.13 

In January of 1944, Choates was drafted into the army and shipped to California for basic training.  After being discharged, back home, he played off and on with Leo Soileau’s Rhythm Boys, Toby Kelley’s Kings of Swing, Dean Rasberry’s Streamliners and as a solo performer. One night Choates passed out with a lit cigarette in his mouth and his bed caught on fire. Soileau and another bandmate pulled him, still unconscious, to safety. By late 1945, he quit the Rhythm Boys for good.  Choates began playing jazz guitar with guitarist Esmond “Eddie” Pursely at The Club Irving, one of East Orange’s many nightclubs. His first wife, Helen Daenen Cundiff, drove their ‘38 Ford station wagon with “Harry Choates” painted on the side to performances where she sold tickets.10
Bill Quinn

Pursely, now in Jimmy Foster & His Swingsters, tracked Choates down and convinced him to join that group. They consisted of James "Jimmie" Foster on bass, Eddie Pursley on acoustic lead guitar, B.D. Williams on rhythm guitar, Charlie Slagle on banjo and Bill Slay on piano. Before long, Choates took over the group’s direction. One night, whilst playing a honky-tonk on Beaumont Highway in Houston, a local record producer, Bill Quinn, caught a performance and, impressed with Choates’s playing, convinced the band to record for his pioneering independent label, Gold Star. 

In 1946, Choates recorded his song "Jole Blon".  It struck a nerve with the record-buying public and reached #4 on the Billboard charts in 1947, twice!  Later, he would record an English version and several different versions, playing off of the name name Jole Blon, such as "Jole Blon's Gone" and "Mari Jole Blon". None of these garnered the success he had with the first recording.   

At the time Quinn, a transplanted New Englander, entered the record business, however, the manufacture of phonograph records was a closely guarded secret by the major companies. It was something he had to largely figure out for himself, which took a lot of trial and error. He even tried melting down other people's records for his need of shellac materials.  Quinn admits that many of the fragile acetate masters never materialized out of his homemade processing tank — and with no backup of any kind (audio tape was not in widespread use at the time) — the recording was simply lost forever.  
Harry Choates '&&" His Fiddle

Bill Quinn, "required at least a dozen takes" before he was satisfied with Choates’ rendition of “Jole Blon.” Choate's version took the traditional waltz and accelerated the tempo, adding a prominent piano accompaniment.  Bill was not prepared by the response he got from that record. After a Houston DJ began playing the “Jole Blon,” the song exploded in popularity and Gold Star was unable to meet the public’s demand.  A Galveston-based jukebox operator, Lester Bihari , convinced Quinn to license the track to his Modern Records, managed by Bihari's family.  Harry's recording shows up on multiple labels and even multiple releases on the same label, such as Modern Music (#20-511), Starday (#187) in both English and French, D Records (#1024) and the Deluxe label (#6000).  

The song appears in at least 3 different "Gold Star" labels, #1313, Quinn's address number on Dumble Street.  The originals with the red/yellow label with gold print were on non-flexible acetate.  A few have the mistaken double-ampersand "& &" printed on the label.  Later, the ones on the red/yellow label with black print were pressed on vinyl.  D-issues are recent and were pressed by the H.W. ‘Pappy” Daily distribution concern in Houston.  The Modern Records version, outsourced to the Bihari Brother's label in California, was released listed as Harry Coates & his fiddle.

E ha ha!

Pretty blonde, pretty girl,

Dear little pretty heart,

You left me, went away,

With another, my dear,

Into the countryside of Louisiana,

Oh my! I'm miserable.

Oh, my pretty heart,

You did this to your poor papa,

You left me, but, my dear,

Oh my! I am all alone,

Oh my! I'm miserable,

What hope, what future can I have?

E heh heh!

Oh ha ha!

Dear pretty blonde

Oh my! I told you I'm unhappy

What did you do? Have mercy, would you?

Lake Charles American Press
Oct 24, 1947

Jimmie Foster sued and was subsequently awarded a half cent for the first 50,000 recording sold, amounting to $250.  An acute alcoholic, Choates sold the rights to "Jole Blon" for $100 and a bottle of whiskey. His habit of missing concerts led him to be blacklisted by the musicians union in San Antonio and resulted in his band breaking up. Quinn would go on to record other artists, including the famous Lightnin’ Hopkins, however, by 1952, Bill Quinn had simply had enough. With Lightnin’ recording for anyone who had the cash, the government breathing down his neck seeking to collect excise taxes on his record pressings, plus the untimely deaths of his big star, Harry Choates, and his first wife, Lona, to cancer — he folded up Gold Star and called it a day.  His studio, however, stayed open for business.   

By 1955, Harold "Pappy" Daily of Starday Records purchased the masters from Quinn and released them on his label in both French and a "new" version in English, even having Moon Mullican record it.   The English version seems to be an unissued Quinn recording, which Daily decided to press.  However, it's success was over.   The last release was on Daily's "D" Records in 1959 on a 45. Billboard magazine listed it as:

A familiar country and Creole subject gets new treatment, although the voice is weakly recorded.  Limited sectional appeal.

The song comes in at #99 out of Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time".

NOTE: Don Pierce claimed that Buddy Dee (whose name appears on several Mercury-Starday 45s as writer) was actually a pseudonym for D. Kilpatrick and used to give monetary thanks to the man who created Mercury-Starday, though Kilpatrick (the former head of Mercury’s country division, who left to become the manager of the Grand Ole Opry in 1957) remembers nothing of the alter-ego. It very likely could have been used as a pseudonym for Pappy Daily instead.

  1. Poor Hobo: The Tragic Life of Harry Choates a Cajun Legend by Tim Knight 
  2. House of Hits The Story of Houston's Gold Star/SugarHill Recording Studios By Andy Bradley and Roger Wood
  3. Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues By Alan B. Govenar
  4. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  5. “Jole Blon”—Harry Choates (1946) Added to the National Registry: 2005 Essay by Ryan Brasseaux
  11. Billboard Magazine, Apr 23, 1955
  12. "Harry Choates: Devil in the Bayou".  Liner notes.
  13. Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  14. Lyrics by Neal P and Bryan L
Jole Blon (D, 1959)
Fiddle King of Cajun Swing (Arhoolie, 1982)
Cajun Fiddle King (AIM, 1999)
Jole Blon - 23 Artists One Theme (Bear, 2002)
Harry Choates: Devil In The Bayou - The Gold Star Recordings (Bear, 2002)

The Beginner's Guide to Cajun Music (Proper/Primo, 2008)
J'ai Ete Au Bal - Vol. 1 (I Went To The Dance) (Arhoolie, 2011)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Acadian All-Star Special" - Lee Sonnier

Livaudais "Lee" Sonnier of Crowley was the first Cajun to record with the accordion following World War II and the first to record with his son-in-law, Jay Miller, at his studio in Crowley including the "Acadian All Star Special" (#1041).   Jay Miller's Feature Records, which released plenty of Cajun music between 1947 and 1964, recorded 8 songs with Lee, sometimes spelling his last name Snownier and Sonier. 

The song is a standard accordion-driven instrumental.  Miller tapped a lucrative market that also enabled him to wax father-in-law Lee Sonnier in addition to his ever-growing stable of artists. The success of Harry Choates’s “Jole Blon” convinced Miller that there was still a commercial audience for what was then known as “French music.” Some of the many gems that Miller produced include early recordings by Happy, Doc & The Boys (his first and most successful signing); Lionel Cormier & The Sundown Playboys (who released a 45 on Apple records in 1972); Aldus Roger & The Lafayette Playboys; Austin Pitre (also listed as Austin Pete) and Chuck Guillory & His Rhythm Boys. 

  3. Discussions with Neal P

Fais Do Do Breakdown - Volume One - The Late 1940's (Flyright, 1986)
Acadian All Star Special - The Pioneering Cajun Recordings Of J.D. Miller (Bear, 2011)

Friday, November 14, 2014

"High Point Two Step" - Austin Pitre

After WWII, other small Cajun labels popped up around south Louisiana. One of these was Fais Do Do records started by Jay Miller in 1946. A year later, he changed it to Feature Records that recorded many people such as Austin Pitre and Aldus Roger. In 1948, Austin would record his first record with Feature called "Evangeline Playboy Special" after the name of his band. 

Hey, mais malheureuse, toi 'tit monde, 
Quoi t'as fait, 'tit monde, avec ton nèg', 
Moi j'connais, c'est toi j'aime tant, tu vas aller,
Avec un autre, malheureuse, que t'aimes pas mieux. 
Hey gardé donc , quoi ta pres faire, 
Avec ton neg  t-monde toi te cannialle, 
Je tout l’temps ici, une jour avenir bébé,
Avant longtemp tu vas venir c’est cera  trops tard. 

Hey mais tout les soir ton vieux neg, 
Garde voir, t-monde tu ma fait mal,
Je tout l’temps dit, tu vas voir pour ton meme,
Tu vas payée pour tout  ça oui mon cher monde.

Pitre would kick off his career on this label with their best known song "Evangeline Playboys Special". On their second record in 1948, they recorded a song called "High Point Two Step" (#1019), named after a community in Evangeline Parish. It was the Cajun version of an old fiddle melody called "Rubber Dolly".  It would become well known after many musicians covered the tune including Mississippi John Hurt, Ray Price, Bill Parsons, and Woody Guthrie.   Other musicians around Louisiana would also cover the tune including a western swing version by Harry Choates in 1947 and a swamp pop version by Johnnie Allan in 1959.

Hey, oh my, my little everything, 

What did you do, my little everything, with your old man.

I know it's you that I love, you went away,

With another, oh my, who doesn't love you more. 

Hey, look at what you've done,

With your old man, little everything, you are mischievous,
I am always here, one day, (you'll) return to me, baby,
Before long, you are going to return, it'll be too late.

Hey, every night, old friend, 
Look here, my everything, you made me hurt,
I always told you, you will see for yourself,
You will pay for that, my dear everything.
Its a lively tune with a sad undercurrent. According to author Blair Kilpatrick, 

"The rhythm makes you want to dance however, the words if you let yourself feel them make you want to cry. A paradox you can't escape." 

Its about someone asking to see his love one more time before he dies.  The melody has a vague similarity to the an older tune by Joe Falcon called "Osson Two Step" recorded in 1929 and Amede Ardoin's "Tortope d'Osrun".   He would use the melody again in his "Janot Special".

  1. Accordion Dreams: A Journey Into Cajun and Creole Music By Blair Kilpatrick
  2. Lyrics by Marc C and Jerry M
Acadian All Star Special - The Pioneering Cajun Recordings Of J.D. Miller (Bear, 2011)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Pine Grove Blues" - Nathan Abshire

Nathan Abshire had a brief recording stint with Happy Fats before he entered WWII training. However, he would make a much stronger impression on the Cajun music scene after the war, creating his signature song in the process.

In 1948, Clobule and Ernest Thibodeaux asked him to join the Pine Grove Boys, house-band of the Pine Grove Club, in Jennings, Louisiana.  One day, the club owner, Telesfar Eshte, asked Thibodeaux to find an accordion player for the group. Partly due to Iry LeJeune’s success, the accordion was again popular in Louisiana. Eshte felt the addition of an accordion would be good for business. Upon Thibodeaux’s father’s recommendation—who played fiddle with Amédé Ardoin briefly—he approached Abshire. Abshire said he’d love to start playing music again, but unfortunately he didn’t have an accordion, and he couldn’t afford to buy one. The Pine Grove Boys went into their own pockets and bought a broken single row Sterling accordion for $75. No one locally could repair it, so they drove to Houston (possibly to Mrnustik's shop), where the repairs cost them another $150.7

The group already included Dewey and Will Balfa on fiddle, and, under the influence of Will Kegley and Nathan, quickly became the New Pine Grove Boys.  The group played six out of seven days, alternating between both Quincy Davis’ clubs in Lake Charles, the Crystal Grill and the Broken Mirror in the evening, and on KPLC radio for a daily broadcast in the daytime.  

Eddie Shuler, who worked for the station, but was too busy with the promotion of Iry LeJeune, put them in touch with businessman Virgil Bozman.  Virgil, based in Westlake, Louisiana, signed them on his rising O.T. label, partially funded by George Khoury. Oklahoma Tornadoes was the name of the group formed by Virgil as the studio band for the Opera label run by James Bryant and Bennie Hess, based in Houston, Texas. Their fiddler being Floyd LeBlanc, of Mermentau with whom Nathan had played earlier on, probably put Nathan in touch with Bozman.  

Earl DeMary, Wilson Granger,
Eldrige Guidry, unknown on drums,
Nathan Abshire, and Ernest Thibodeaux
The Pine Grove Boys were playing constantly at the Avalon Club. However, due to disputes between club owner, Quincy Davis, and some of the band members, the band was fired and Davis had replaced them with Earl DeMary's Musical Aces.  Wilson Granger, who was already playing with Earl, recalled:
Quincy Davis fired the whole bunch that was playing with Nathan.  He hired us, because they'd get drunk and want to fight.  So, Quincy Davis, on Saturday nights, he'd give us a quart of whiskey. It was on the house. But then, they'd start wanting to fight.  He said, "From now on, you pay for your whiskey if you want to drink some."8  

It would be DeMary's band in which Nathan would record his signature tune. In May of 1949, Virgel gathered them in KPLC studio, located inside the Majestic Hotel in Lake Charles, to cut 8 tracks; the first of which was the legendary "Pine Grove Blues" for the O.T. label (#102).  His Pine Grove Boys band included Roy Broussard and Ernest Thibodeaux on vocals, Earl DeMary or Ernest Thibodeaux on guitar, Atlas Fruge on lap steel, Jim Baker on bass guitar, Oziet Kegley on drums, and either Will Kegley or Wilson Granger on fiddle.  Based on It would be Nathan's defining song in which he would re-record for several different labels and documentaries throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s. 

Hé, négresse!

ayoù toi t'as été hier au soir, ma négresse?

("J'ai été au bal, neg")

Hé, négresse!

ayoù toi t'as été hier au soir, ma négresse?

("J'ai été au bal, neg")

T'arriva à c'matin.

Soleil étais après s'lever, ma négresse.

Hé, négresse!
ayoù toi t'as passé hier au soir, ma négresse?
("par la barrière, neg")

Hé, négresse!
ayoù toi t'as passé hier au soir, ma négresse?
("passé la barrière")

T'arriva à c'matin.
Ta robe était toute déchiré. 
("J'ai passé la barrière")
KPLC, located inside the Majestic Hotel

The singer is taking his girlfriend to task for being out all night... inferring that it's with someone else!   The melody was inspired by Amédée Breaux's "Blues du 'Tit Chien" recorded for Vocalion Records in 1934.  (Author John Broven mistakenly states the song was inspired by Columbus Frugé’s "Tite négresse"; a song Fruge never recorded.)  Nathan's 1935 recording "One Step de Lacassine" clearly anticipates the melody. Author Shane Bernard notices lyrical similarities with a much older Creole tune called "Anons au bal Colinda".  There are some similarities with Bob Wills' "Milk Cow Blues" recorded in 1946 and even a loose similarity with "In The Pines", which some have credited as Nathan's source.  The phrases were shouted more than sung by Nathan, cheered by the interjections Ernest Thibodeaux, the same type of calls to his musicians used by Bob Wills in western swing. The accordion is hypnotic – not that it puts you to sleep, of course – and bewitching, relieved by a weft of fiddle and rhythmic guitar, the whole propelled by a powerful double bass.  According to Eddie Shuler, Bozman’ recording methods were very strange.  He recalls:

He kept the pot boiling by selling cowhorns (the famous Longhorns) and it is how he landed in Lake Charles one day. He discovered fast how I managed to get artists recorded by a third person and he decided to follow my steps. He arrived at the station studio, gave a bottle of booze to the sound engineer, asked him to cut an acetate, left with it and got it pressed somewhere else.

Virgel Bozman
Since most Cajun 78s usually reached a pressing figure of 500, it was a big hit, pressing around 3,200 copies of the single on several labels.  Nathan and his Pine Grove Boys were called everywhere to entertain at dances with their two-steps and waltzes. A happy period of his life, which is reflected in his recordings, exuberant voice, tonic accordion and lively band.

Hey, honey!
Where did you go last night, my honey? 
(I went to the dance, my honey)

Hey, honey!
Where did you go last night, my honey?
(I went to the dance, my honey)

When you came back this morning.
The sun was coming up.

Hey, honey!
Where did pass by last night, my honey?
(I passed by the fence, honey)

Hey, honey!
Where did pass by last night, my honey?
(I passed by the fence)

You came back this morning.
Your robe was all torn. 

George noticing Nathan's popularity, persuaded him to move from O.T. to his new label, Lyric, in which he recorded his songs throughout the 1950s.  In 1951, he tried to recreate his success with the recording "Pine Grove Blues #2" on Khoury's label (#611) to no avail.  Abshire never financially benefited from his song's success.  Floyd Soileau recalls: 

Khoury never registered the song but Nathan had recorded it as "Pine Grove Blues" for J.D. Miller. He registered it at BMI, but wasn’t paying Nathan royalties. I told Nathan that if he signed a publishing contract with me, I get him his writer’s royalties. I took him to a notary and he put his X on a contract. I cleared the song with BMI. J. D. contested it, but I had a contract. J.D. claimed his got burned in fire. But Dewey Balfa, who played on the Miller sessions, said nobody signed anything with J. D.”7

The song appears in 1967 for Swallow, in 1970 for a field recording in New York, in 1972 and in 1978 for LaLouisiane.  In 1979, Swallow released an album with the name "Pine Grove Blues". 

  1. South to Louisiana by John Broven
  2. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  3. All Music Guide to Country: The Definitive Guide to Country Music edited by Vladimir Bogdanov
  4. Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues By Shane K. Bernard
  5. Encyclopedia of Music in the 20th Century edited by Lol Henderson
  8. Wilson Granger interview.  Andrew Brown.  2005.
  9. Lyrics by 'Ericajun'
Boppin' Hillbilly 26 (White Label/Collector Records)
Nathan Abshire & the Pine Grove Boys - French Blues (Arhoolie, 1993)
Les Cajuns Best Of 2002 Les Triomphes De La Country Volume 12 (Habana, 2002)
The Beginner's Guide to Cajun Music (Proper/Primo, 2008)
Bayou Two-Step - Cajun Hits From Louisiana 1929-1962 (Jasmine, 2015)