Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Lacassine Special" - Iry Lejeune

This artist could easily be considered the most influencial Cajun musician after WWII. Iry Lejeune was a virtually blind accordionist from around Church Point, Louisiana who brought back the same bluesy, soulful playing that Amede Ardoin brought to the culture 20 years before. Many of Iry's songs have the same melodies that Amede used, including being influenced by his cousin's music, Angelus Lejeune.

He was among a handful of recording artists who returned the accordion to prominence in commercially recorded Cajun music and dance hall performances. The return of the accordion contrasted with the popular Cajun recorded output of the late 1930s and 1940s, a time during which fiddles and Western Swing sounds from Texas were influencing Cajun music. At the conclusion of World War II, LeJeune moved west to Lacassine, Louisiana (near Lake Charles) where there were many more venues in which to play music.

Nearly blind, music provided happiness for LeJeune, and as he grew older. Unable to work in the fields because of his poor eyesight, as a youth, LeJeune entertained the local sharecroppers. By the time he reached his teens, LeJeune was making a few dollars on weekends playing dances. Luckily, in 1948 LeJeune met fiddler Floyd LeBlanc. Together they traveled to Houston, Texas where they recorded "Love Bridge Waltz" and "Evangeline Special" on Leblanc's Opera label with Virgil Bozman's Oklahoma Tornadoes supporting.  Bozman's band backed up many artists who had songs to record. 

Upon returning to Lacassine, LeJeune went to radio station KPLC in Lake Charles and asked to perform on the air. The station manager wasn't keen on hearing the primitive, wailing accordion, but disc jockey Eddie Shuler liked what he heard and featured him on several broadcasts. 
Iry Lejeune

"I felt sorry for the kid," admitted Shuler. "He was nearly blind and he had no other way to make money."
 "He said 'Eddie, I want to make records and I want you to make them,'" said Shuler. "I didn't know anything about making French records. Finally I agreed though because there was nobody around here making French records. Nobody was interested in making them because there was no money in French records. But as it turned out, I had the market to myself."
LeJeune knew Shuler was making his own records on Goldband and asked whtat her record him. It costs $200 to press copies at about 9 cents a copy.  Shuler struck a deal.  They would record one record, and if it made any money, they'd continue working together. If not, they would part ways. Bribing the engineer at KAOK with a bottle of Old Crow, in 1950, Shuler had LeJeune record "Lacassine Special" and "Calcasieu Waltz" on a disc cutter at the radio station used to record commercials and jingles. He sent the metal masters to Houston where several hundred 78s were pressed on the Folk Star label.   Backed by Iry's group consisting of Milton Vanicor on fiddle, Ellis Vanicor on fiddle and Ivy Vanicor on rhythm guitar, the record made a profit of $72.
"I was in high cotton", Shuler says. "By that time, I was hung up in this record business, and I didn't want to play anymore.  I just wanted to make records.  That's how I got into the record business."
"Lacassine Special" was based on an older set of tunes.  It's about a husband threatening his wife with an end to their marriage by telling her that "tu peux voir le chemin et t'en aller" (but you can see the road and go"). In 1937, the melody appears in J.B. Fusilier along with Miller's Merrymakers song "Elton Two Step", recorded for Bluebird records.  The same melody appears even earlier in Amede Ardoin's 1929 recording "Two Step de Mama". (In Tisserand's book, he mistakely states it's based on Ardoin's "Tante Aline" however, that song would become Iry's "Viens me Chercher".) 

Hé, comment mais toi tu crois
Que moi mais moi je va's faire
Tout le temps dans les misères
Tout le temps après souffert
Juste rapport à tes paroles
À tes paroles que toi,
Catin tu m'avais dit
Hé, ta chère vilaine manière,
Que toi t’as tout le temps eu
I1 faudra t’oublies tout ça.
Si toi tu veux rester
avec ton cher vieux nèg’
Mais ’garde toi tu peux voir
Le chemin et t’en aller.
Hé, toi, chère,
il faut toi tu t’en reviens
Mon, j’suis tout le temps là
après jongler à toi
Après jongler à toi, catin,
c’est juste rapport
A tous mais ces jonglements
Que toi tu m’as mis dedans.

Keep in mind, "neg" and "negresse" are corrupted forms of the word "negre" which in Cajun french has an endearing meaning such as "hey, my man" or "hey, honey", completely void of racial tones. Author Stivale covers this topic quite well.  The same can be said for "catin", which loosely translates to "little doll".  At times, the words are not described at all, but are simply blamed for the man's misery, as when the singer says that he has suffered misery because of "tes paroles, que toi, catin, tu m'avais dit" ("Just because of your words, of your words that you, catin, you said to me"). Milton Vanicor remembers playing the song with Iry:
Iry complained that no one could see him because he was sitting too low. Iry said he'd like to be the same height as everyone else but he couldn't play standing up. They came upon the idea of stacking "Coke" flats high enough that he'd appear taller. They stacked them and put his chair in the middle of the two stacks. The legs of the chair were placed in the holes where the cokes fit.
He was now the same height as the others and he was happy. Milton told him, "Now that you're up there, play the 'Lacassine Special'. Man, he got on that thing. Everybody that was dancing stopped, you know, they came to the bandstand to hear." Milton said when Iry's hair flopped down in front of his eyes; it meant he was really getting into the music. He began rocking back and forth and before long the boxes started moving and opening up. All of a sudden on one backward sway he kept going and wound up on the floor. "Ellis always said he didn't stop, but he did. He did stop a little while. He fell on his back, and boy, he got on that 'Lacassine Special' layin' down. We had fun."
After his tragic death, his music carried on.









  1. Angola to Zydeco: Louisiana Lives By R. Reese Fuller
  2. http://www.louisianavibe.com/artists/lejeune-iry/
  3. Iry Lejeune: Wailin The Blues Cajun style by Ron Yule
  4. http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/creole_art_oral_poetry_caj.html
  5. Disenchanting Les Bons Temps: Identity and Authenticity in Cajun Music and Dance By Charles J. Stivale
Find:
Cajun's Greatest: The Definitive Collection (Goldband, 1993)
As Good As It Gets: Cajun (Disky, 2000)
Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)
The Beginner's Guide to Cajun Music (Proper/Primo, 2008)
Musique de La Louisiane (Intense, 2008)
The Best Of Cajun & Zydeco (Not Now, 2010)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"La Valse de Holly Beach" - Nathan Abshire

After WWII, several Louisiana labels began recording Cajun music locally. One of them was George Khoury, a Turkish-American businessman from Lake Charles and record store owner. 

In 1947, as an owner of a record shop, he noticed a lack of Cajun music being recorded in south Louisiana and decided to open a businees to compete with Ed Shuler's Goldband Records and J. D. "Jay" Miller's Fais-Do-Do and Feature labels. His base of operations was just around the corner from Eds on Railroad Ave in Lake Charles.

After financing O.T. Records in 1949, he started two record labels, Lyric and Khoury's. Khoury never had his own studio however, he would rent out other studios and press the records in other places.  Some of Khoury’s masters were destroyed when fire swept the California factory.  He recorded more Cajun songs however, he ventured into swamp pop and other genres as well. 

He would record Cajun artists such as Lawrence Walker, Harry Choates, Jimmy Newman, and Nathan Abshire. Later, Khoury would backup Phil Phillips on the famous song "Sea Of Love" becoming one his greatest hits. 
George Khoury




Les maringouins a tout mangé ma belle

Ils ont quitté que les gros orteils

Pour me faire des bouchons de liège

Pour boucher mes demi-bouteilles,

Ton papa ressemble à un éléphant,

Et ta maman ressemble à une automobile

Ton petit frère ressemble à un ouaouaron

Ta petite soeur ressemble à un coin de banquette.

The song "Pine Grove Blues" would be Nathan Abshire's biggest Cajun hit. Nathan Abshire would later tour with the Balfa Brothers yet never make living off of his music, retiring as the overseer of the town dump. One of his songs, "La Valse de Holly Beach", is about a small beach town in Louisiana known as the "Cajun Riviera".   It was a rendition of the 1929 Segura Brothers song called "A Mosquito Ate Up My Sweetheart".  The song would feature a then unknown fiddle player: Dewey Balfa.   Nathan and Dewey would record many songs for Khoury throughout the 1950s.
Nathan Abshire


The mosquitoes ate up my old lady

They only left the big toes

So I could use them for small bottle-stoppers.

Your papa looks like an elephant,

And your mama looks like a car

Your little brother looks like a bullfrog and

Your little sister looks like a sidewalk bench!

In south Louisiana, mosquitoes are a huge issue in the humid climate.  They can be found everywhere, especially in the summertime.   Nathan tends to make fun of a family's appearance after being bitten so many times by mosquitoes at the Cajun resort town of Holly Beach. ("Coin de banquette" in Cajun french can be a simple phrase to say "someone is ugly").  Lawrence Walker would use the same melody to record his "Tu Le Du Po La Mam" for Khoury as well.






  1. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/george-khoury-mn0000651998/biography
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_Abshire
  3. Larkin, Colin (2006). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th ed.). Oxford University Press
  4. Broven, John (1983). South To Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous. Pelican Publishing
  5. Brasseaux, Ryan Andre (2009). Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music. Oxford University Press
Find:
French Blues (Arhoolie, 1993)

Monday, August 25, 2014

"Ma Blonde Est Partie (My Blonde Went Away And Left Me)" - Breaux Brothers

The original "Jole Blon".  This Cajun melody is over 100 years old and originates as 3 different tunes almost all at the same time. 

The first instance is recorded by Amade Breaux, written by his sister Cleoma, entitled "Ma Blonde Est Partie" in 1929 for Columbia (40510-F) and Okeh (90010). It was almost a year after "Lafayette" was recorded.  Joe and Cleoma were invited by Columbia (most likely Okeh's A&R man, Polk C. Brockman) to travel there and record more songs.  This time, they brought along Cleoma's brothers, Amedie and Ophy. 

According to Cleoma's daughter, while Amede Breaux is credited with writing the song, it was his sister Cleoma Breaux who actually wrote the lyrics while Amede sang the song. The family claims Cleoma wrote the tune about Amede's first wife.  Later that year, the Guidry Brothers would lay down their version, calling it "Homme Abandonné" for Vocalion.

However, Dennis McGee claims the melody was much older, written by Angelas Lejeune during WWI.  (The label misspells Breaux as "Breauz" and Cleoma as "Clemo").  According to Wade Fruge', "We'd play 'Jole Blon' and my grandpa learned them from people before him. That makes the song about 200 years old".6 In those days, "Jolie Blonde" was known to musicians as the "Fruge Two Step", "The Courville Waltz" or "The Savoy Waltz".  Cajun music was passed down from father to son.7 
Cleoma Breaux and Joe Falcon


Jolie blonde, regardez donc quoi t'as fait,
Tu m'as quitte pour t'en aller,
Pour T'en aller avec un autre, oui, que moi,
Quel espoir et quel avenir, mais, moi, je vais avoir?
Jolie blonde, tu m'as laisse, moi tout seul,
Pour t'en aller chez ta famille.
Si t'aurais pas ecoute tos les conseils de les autres
tu serait ici-t-avec moi aujourd 'hui
Jolie blonde, tu croyais il y avait just toi,
Il y a pas just toi dans le pays pour moi aimer.
Je peux trouver just une autre jolie blonde,
Bon Dieu sait, moi, j'ai un tas.
Amede Breaux

Separately, Angelas Lejeune would record the same melody and call it "La Fille De La Veuve" in 1929 and both Amadie Ardoin and John Bertrand would record the melody calling it "La Valse de Gueydan" in 1929 for Paramount and Brunswick. It wouldn't be until 1936 when the tune is recorded with the title "Jolie Blonde" by the Hackberry Ramblers and then again by JB Fuselier for Bluebird.

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. 



Pretty blond, look at what you've done,

You left me to go away,

to go away with another, yes, than me,

What hope and what future am I going to have?

Pretty blond, you've left me all alone

To go back to your family.

If you had not listened to all the advice of the others

You would be here with me today.

Pretty blond, you thought there as just you,

There is not just you in the land to love me.

I can find another pretty blond,

Good God knows, I have a lot.

Yet, the song doesn't become famous until Harry Choates records it in 1946 for Goldstar giving it the title "Jole Blon".  Afterwards, the song ends up getting recorded by many musicians including Bruce Springsteen. Jole Blonde is often referred to as the Cajun national athem due to widespread popularity and due to the historical nature of the song.











  1. http://www.knowla.org/entry/1395/
  2. Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings, Volume 2 By Steve Sullivan
  3. Louisiana Women: Their Lives and Times edited by Janet Allured, Judith F. Gentry
  4. Cajun Country By Barry Jean Ancelet, Jay Edwards
  5. Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Volume 8: Genres: North ... edited by John Shepherd, David Horn
  6. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  7. Poor Hobo: The Tragic Life of Harry Choates, a Cajun Legend by Tim Knight
Find:
Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 5: The Early Years 1928-1938 (Old Timey, 1973)
Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)
Cajun Dance Party: Fais Do-Do (Legacy/Columbia, 1994)
Cajun Origins (Catfish, 2001)
Jole Blon (Bear, 2002)
The Perfect Roots & Blues Collection (Sony, 2015)
Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)
The Beginner's Guide to Cajun Music (Proper/Primo, 2008)
The Perfect Roots & Blues Collection (Sony, 2015)

"La Blues de Port Arthur" - Leo Soileau

In 1928, Leo Soileau formed a duo with Mayeus Lafleur and recorded the popular Cajun tune, "Mama, Where You At? (Chere Mom)" for Victor in Atlanta. It becomes the second Cajun record released after Joe Falcon's "Lafayette" and becomes the first Cajun song recorded with a fiddle. Nine days after the recording, Lafleur was killed in a quarrel over moonshine, gunned down by a stray bullet at a honky-tonk bar. 

Soileau would try to record again but it wouldn't be until 1934, he would have success with his group called the Three Aces playing western swing music. The following year, he recorded the song as "Si Vous Moi Voudrez Ame".  Later, his band would be renamed to the Rhythm Boys and on Feb 1937 in Dallas at the Adolphus Hotel, they would re-record the song "La Blues de Port Arthur" (sometimes entitled "Les Blues de la Port Arthur"). The song is named after a small town on the Texas/Louisiana border. It's about a girl in which he can't dance or meet with anymore and it hurts his heart.  This song was only one of a few truly Cajun tunes during this recording session. 

Hé j’peux voir dans ton visage(?) ton vieux neg, jolie fille,

Oh toi jolie tit monde, cherie



Te voulais plus l’aimer ton veux neg, malheurse,

Oh mais ça sa fait pas rien, chere.



Hé j'peux voir dans que ti l’as dit,

Te voulais plus (la vie?),
Oh, ça c’a fait pitié, chere.


Leo recorded Cajun music, usually under the band name Leo Soileau and the Rhythm Boys, until the start of World War II in which Decca decided to stop recording Cajun artists. He continued to perform with his group The Rhythm Boys at places such as the Silver Star in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Showboat in Orange, Texas and Lighthouse in Port Arthur, Texas, until the end of the decade when in 1953 he retired playing music. Soileau made frequent broadcasts over KVOL in Lafayette, Louisiana, KPLC in Lake Charles, Louisiana and KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana. They consisted of Tony Gonzales or Sam Baker on drums, Bill Landry and Floyd Shreve on guitar, Jerry Baker on guitar, and Leo on fiddle.

Hey I can see in your face your old man, pretty girl,

Oh, you pretty little everything, dear.



You wanted to love your old man more, oh my,

Oh, well, it's nothing dear.



Hey, I can see that you said,

You wanted more from life,
Oh, that is pitiful, dear.
Happy Fats reworked the tune in his "Te Kaplan" in 1941 and Chuck Guillory used it in his "Teiyut Two Step" in 1949.  The melody would be turned into the "Cajun Hop" by Harry Choates in the 1950s and later recorded as "Le Two-Step à Frère Devilliers" by Dennis McGee for Folkways Recordings.  Wallace "Cheese" Reed would re-title the tune "Tu Vas M'Faire Mourir". 




Listen: http://www.knowla.org/audio-file/120/&view=summary
  1. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  2. Russell, Tony (2010). Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost. Oxford University Press
  3. Louisiana Cajun Music, Vol. 3: The String Bands of the 1930's. Liner notes.
  4. Lyrics by Jerry M, Smith S, 
Find:
Louisiana Cajun Music, Vol. 3: The String Bands of the 1930's (Old Timey, 1971)
Cajun String Bands 1930's: Cajun Breakdown (Arhoolie, 1997)
Raw Fiddle (Rounder, 2004)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"My Sweetheart Run Away" - Segura Brothers

In 1928, after Columbia's success with the first Cajun recording,"Allons a Lafayette", the company decided to start producing Cajun records on their new "Arcadian French" series starting with #40500-F (#90000 for Okeh copies). The re-issued records on Okeh are somewhat a mystery to me.  It also seems that the Columbia labels were prominent in the south while the Okeh label was extremely scarce.  The first one they issued was by two brothers, Dewey and Edier (or "Eddie") Segura, known as the Segura Brothers

J'ai rouler, j'ai tracé toute la nuit , chère

J'ai pleuré, j'ai prié oui pour toi.

Tu connais tous les jours tu t'éloignes, chère,
Tu t'éloignes, oui de moi, malheureuse.

Dis bye bye à ton papa, ta maman, chère
Pour t'en venir dans mes bras, dans ma chambre.
Dans ma chambre, dans mon lit pour la vie, chère,
Tu connais tous les jours tu t'éloignes.

Oh beau-frère(?), oh beau-frère(?), viens donc ma voir, cher, 
Dans mourir au Bayou Teche, oh beau-frère(?).
Tout ma famille est tout contre moi, mais malheureuse, cher,
Tous les jours je m'en va pour toujours.

Dewey Segura and Eddie Segura

Dewey read in a newspaper on his way to Port Arthur, Texas, during a whiskey run, that recording companies were recording Cajun music in New Orleans. A relative that had connections at Columbia helped get Dewey on the end-of-year schedule.1 On December 16, 1928, Dewey, with his accordion and his brother Eddie on vocals and fiddle, recorded two records for Columbia in New Orleans. The record "Bury Me in a Corner of the Yard" was Columbia's first in their series of "Acadian French" music. The B-side song "My Sweetheart Run Away" was mislabeled (due to confusion between Dewey and the recording engineers) and would later become the song "La Valse de Bayou Teche" recorded Nathan Abshire and others.  It was an old melody that also loosely influenced Bixy Guidry's "La Valse Du Bayou" and the Breaux Brother's "La Valse des Pins" the following year. The song has a simple rhythm lead by an accordion and triangle.  

I rode, I drove all night, dear

I cried, I prayed for you, yeh,

You know, every day you were away, my dear,
You were far away, yeh, ya hear.

Say bye bye to your dad, your mom, dear
Come into my arms, in my room.
In my room, in my bed, forever, dear,
You know, every day you were far away.

Oh brother-in law(?), oh brother-in-law(?), come and see, my dear,
To die in the Bayou Teche, oh brother-in-law(?).
All my family is against me, oh, ya hear, dear,
Every day, so I'm leaving forever.

Deciphering corrupted French phrases and vernacular can be very challenging. In the 3rd verse, he could be calling out his brother-in-law, exuding a sense of exasperation, or referring to someone's name.  "J'ai tracé" refers to "making tracks" or "driving".  The phrase "mais malheureuse" directly translates to "but i'm unhappy" however, in Cajun vernacular, it is more jargon along the lines of "ya know what I'm sayin" or "ya hear that";  something that would be called out after a line to make the verse more "bluesy".  The brothers would record one more time in New Orleans the following year.  Since many of the engineers didn't know the Cajun lyrics, they told the duo:
"We don't know what you're singing. We ask you just one thing: Don't sing anything dirty".  


  1. Brasseaux, Ryan Andre (2009). "Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music". Oxford University Press.
  2. WHERE DEAD VOICES GATHER TUESDAY, MAY 18, 2010
  3. Lyrics by Marc C and Eric D
Find:
Cajun: Rare & Authentic (JSP, 2008)
Cajun Music, The Pretty Girls Don't Want Me (Firefly, 2012)

Cajun Swamp Stomp, Vol 1 (Lumi, 2012)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Les Blues de la Prison" - Amede Ardoin

Everyone in the Cajun music scene owes some gratitude to one of the greatest to ever create the music, Amede Ardoin. Just about anyone playing the music today has some influence from his songs. Finding a 78 can be quite a challenge, one that Christopher King writes about for NPR and Oxford American. What's known (and rumored) of his life and death has been blogged quite a bit online.  However, what is important is his extreme influence on any traditional and contemporary Cajun artists that came after him.  You can hear his style prominently in Iry Lejeune's recordings.

The great-grandson of a slave, Ardoin moved, as a child, with his family to work on the Rougeau farm in L'Anse des Rougeau near Basile. While there, he frequented the homes of his friends Adam Fontenot, who played accordion and was later the father of fiddler Canray Fontenot, and Alphonse LaFleur, who played fiddle. Together with LaFleur or Douglas Bellard, a black fiddler from Bellaire Cove, Ardoin became a frequent performer at dances, playing mostly for white audiences who paid him $2.50 per night.

In his teens, Ardoin moved frequently, working for room and board. For a while, he worked as a sharecropper on Oscar Comeaux's farm near Chataignier. While there, he met Dennis McGee, a white fiddler from Eunice. One of the first biracial Cajun duos, Ardoin and McGee began to play at house parties, often attended by Ardoin's cousin, Bois-Sec Ardoin. When Comeaux sold the farm, the two musicians moved to Eunice, where they worked at Celestin Marcantel's farm. A lover of music, Marcantel often transported Ardoin and McGee to performances in his horse-drawn buggy


On December 22, 1934, Amade was invited by Decca's A&R man to travel to New York City.   (Strange enough, Tony Russell's discography book mistakenly lists this session as occurring in "New Orleans".  We're not sure if this is a mistake on Decca's archival listing or not since the mistake carries through on Joe and Cleoma Falcon's Decca listing as well.)  Amede didn't want to travel alone.  He had asked fiddle player Adam Fontenot to travel with him and provide accompaniment however, Adam's mother felt he was too young to go to New York City.   Adam was supposed to accompany him on a song called "Les Portes de la Prison" however, since Decca never released this song, it is assumed either it didn't get recorded or the name was changed to "Les Blues de la Prison".



Oh, la prison, je suis parti à la prison.

Moi tout seul, je suis parti à la prison

Je vas m’ennuyer.

Quand moi je vas arriver

A la porte , je voudras pas rentrer.



Oh, parti à la prison pour un condamné,

La balance de mes jours, oh, la balance de mes jours.

Ma pauvre maman s’ennuie autant et elle peut pas me rejoindre.



Oh, jusqu’à, yaille, Oh la porte de la prison fermée sur moi.
Ils ont oublié la clé. Je crois, ils l’ont jetée.
Ils vont jamais la trouver encore.

Oh, la porte de la prison a fermé vendredi au soir à 10 heures.
Ils l’ont pas rouvert avant lundi matin, la première fois.
Quand ils l’ont rouvert, c’était trop tard, j’étais déjà condamné au forçat.


In the end, he wouldn't travel alone.  Joe and Cleoma Falcon also got invited to travel with him and together they got on a Greyhound bus to New York. 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.  However scary this must have been, they all made it to the studio.

Amede would record the tune "Les Blues de la Prison (Jailhouse Blues)" during this session. Amédé lived the blues and injected his spirit into our music. 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.  Ardoin himself was a sought-after dance musician who played both white Cajun gatherings and black La-la dances, and was known for his ability to improvise Iyrics about those in attendance, a practice which sometimes got him in trouble. "Les Blues de Prison" was based on medieval French songs, or snippets of them, that had variously come to Louisiana from France, Canada, and the Caribbean, and were then still prevalent in oral tradition.


Oh, the prison, I went to prison. 
By myself, I went to prison 
I'm going to get bored. 
When I'm going to arrive
At the door, I will not want to go.

Oh, gone to prison condemned
For the rest of my days, oh, the rest of my life. 
My poor mom misses me alot and she can not join me. 

Oh, until then, yaille, Oh, the prison door closed on me. 
They forgot the key. I think they threw it away.
They'll never find it again. 

Oh, the prison door was closed Friday night at 10:00. 
They will not reopen until Monday morning, for the first time. 
When it is reopened, it will be too late, for I am already condemned as a convict.
"Yaille" is a word that doesn't translate well or at all.  It's possible origin is from the Spanish phrase "ah ya yaille" loosely meaning "Oh! Wow!"  Sometimes it comes out as an exuberant yell.  Other times, it conveyed a mixture of surprise, reproach, and resignation.   According to AllMusic's Thom Jurek:
The tune attempts to be a Cajun folk song, but it slips away because of Ardoin's vocal into an ether inspired by a terrifying vision. He no longer cares about the melody or the time signature that is all cut time anyway; it's all the band can do, as Ardoin howls his anguish and fear into the microphone.





  1. Louisiana Women: Their Lives and Times edited by Janet Allured
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Am%C3%A9d%C3%A9_Ardoin
  3. Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule
  4. Interview with Lulu Langlanais
  5. Amede Ardoin - I'm Never Comin' Back - introduction by Michael Doucet
  6. http://musicrising.tulane.edu/discover/people/208/Amede
  7. Accordion Dreams: A Journey Into Cajun and Creole Music By Blair Kilpatrick
  8. Cajun and Creole Music Makers
Find:
Amadé Ardoin – Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 6 : Amadé Ardoin – The First Black Zydeco Recording Artist (1928–1938) (Old Timey)
Prends Donc Courage - Early Black & White Cajun (Swamp Music Vol. VI) (Trikont, 2005)
Let Me Tell You About the Blues: New Orleans (Fantastic Voyage, 2011)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Riviere Rouge (Red River)" - Delma Lachney and Blind Uncle Gaspard

In Louisiana, north of the Cajun country region, existed people with a distinct french dialect and unique set of ballads living along the Red River. Among them was a guitarist named Blind Uncle Gaspard.  

Alcide Gaspard (1880-1937)was a blind vocalist and guitarist from Louisiana who alternated between string-band music (in a band with his brothers) and traditional Cajun balladry on his recordings for Vocalion. Born in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana in 1880, he became blind when he was seven. Gaspard formed his first band with his brothers Victor and Amade.  Gaspard played guitar and sang at social functions – passing the hat around at the end of his show. 
Uncle Blind Gaspard

On January 26, 1929, he traveled with fiddler Delma Lachney to record only a few tunes for Vocalion in Chicago, including an instrumental, upbeat song entitled "Riviere Rouge" (Vocalion #5281). It was through an arrangement with a Marksville furniture and record store owner that Lachney and Gaspard made the trip in an automobile to record for the Brunswick-Collender Company. The duo recorded ten sides there.  

Delma Lachney was a fiddler and vocalist from around Marksville, Louisiana, which is located in the central part of the state. He played in house parties and social gatherings with family members. He formed many bands and performed until 1946 or 1947. There is little biographical information other than birth and death dates (1896-1947) and the fact that Lachney traveled to Chicago in 1929 to record a handful of sides for Vocalion. His most well known tune is "La Danseuse". Later that year, they would record in New Orleans. 
Delma Lachney

This region of Louisiana isn't considered part of the heart of Cajun music however, the French language still existed due to early colonial French influences.  What makes this unique is that only a handful of musicians from the Red River region ever recorded French music during this early period and even today, their music is still quite unknown in south Louisiana.  Little else is known about Gaspard.

Featured here is their song about the river which runs through their home parish. You can easily hear the hillbilly influences which is typical of northern Louisiana. Their 78 records are some of the most valuable in all of early Cajun music due to their scarcity.  





Sources:

  1. http://oldweirdamerica.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/31-la-danseuse-by-delma-lachney-blind-uncle-gaspard/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_Uncle_Gaspard
Find:
John Bertrand / Blind Uncle Gaspard / Delma Lachney Early American Cajun Music (Yazoo, 1999)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Lafayette (Allons à Luafette)" - Joe Falcon

Starting off a new blog, it's critical to get the first article right.   So, what better way to start it than with the first Cajun song ever commercially recorded?: Allons a Lafayette (Let's Go To Lafayette).

In 1928, Columbia had just acquired Okeh records two years before. They were very interested in "hillbilly" (country) music which was played in the southern areas.   The sales of this music began to increase.  

Frank Buckley Walker was the Artist and Repertoire (A & R) talent scout for Columbia Records’ Country Music Division during the 1920s and 1930s. Along with Ralph Peer of Victor Records, Walker mastered the technique of field recordings. Specializing in southern roots music, Walker set up remote recording studios in cities such as Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, Dallas, Little Rock and Johnson City searching for amateur musical talent. 

On June 19, 1962, he would speak about his discovery of Joe Falcon and Cleoma during an interview with Mike Seeger.


So I went up to Lafayette for a weekend. I happened to know something of the story of the Cajuns and was astounded at the interest that there was in their little Saturday night dances. A single singer would have a little concertina-type instrument and a one-string fiddle and a triangle, those were the instruments, but they would always have a singer and of course they sang in Cajun. And to me it had a funny sound. So I brought down a little group. I think his name was Joe Falcon. I brought him down to New Orleans, and we recorded just to have something different. We put it on the market, and it had tremendous sales.  
[There were] definitely local sales extending all over the state of Louisiana and some of Texas, because there is a great many of the Cajuns living over in Texas. It was amazing that you could sell fifty or sixty thousand records in a locality of that size. And yet, that was just a little extra that turned out okay...we made a regular business out of that. 
Joe recalls the experience.  During the spring of 1928, a native of New Orleans and friend of Frank's executives, George Burrow lived and worked in Joe's hometown of Rayne.  He knew the locals, Joe's music, and that people would buy these records if he had some.  George contacted one of the executives of Columbia and found out they would be recording in New Orleans.  Burr arranged an audition with Columbia, in New Orleans, by guaranteeing that, should the group be accepted, he would buy 250 records to sell in dancehalls in and around Crowley, in Acadia Parish.  


Taken soon after the recording in New Orleans, 1928.
Barnett Studio, Crowley, LA
Burr drove the Falcons and a singer, Leon Meche, to the Columbia audition in New Orleans. They headed to New Orleans, arriving at the Godchaux Building, not far from the Columbia Phonograph Company on Canal Street. But when they got there, Columbia didn't think the duo would be enough to make a record.  As Falcon recalled years later “When [Burr] went to talk to them, they asked where the band was. Burr pointed to me and Cleoma and Meche.” Columbia’s A&R man (artists and repertoire) told Burr that the company was only interested in large orchestras that played foxtrots and similar dance tunes.  George immediately explained Joe's music was popular back home and wrote a check for double his original order to 500 records.  Still doubting their abilities, they asked to hear a tune.   As they prepared themselves, Joe's friend and vocalist, Leon Meche, was getting ready however, he got stage fright and backed out.   


He looked at me and said 'You better sing it yourself, I might make a mistake'. So I took over.
Godchaux Building on Canal Street

So, Joe and Cleoma played "Allons a Lafayette" on his German diatonic accordion (probably a "Monarch") which his dad bought for him in Lafayette and Cleoma played a guitar.  The sound took the executives by surprise.  


They came over to where we recorded and they said 'Lord but that's more music out of two instruments than we ever heard in our lives.  We don't understand nothing, but it's a sweet sound.  Pardner, get ready, we're going for good now.  We are going to make it!'

Allons à Lafayette, c'est pour changer ton nom.

On va t’appeler Madame, Madame Canaille Comeaux.

Petite, t’es trop mignonne pour faire ta criminelle.

Comment tu crois que moi, je peux faire comme ça tout seul.

Mais toi, mon joli Coeur, regarde donc ce que t’as fait.

Je suis si loin de toi, mais ça, ça m' fait pitié

Petite, t’es trop mignonne pour faire ta criminelle.

Observe moi bien mignonne, tu vas voir par toi même.

Que moi je n'mérite pas c'que t'es en train d' faire.
Pourquoi tu fais tout ça, c'est bien pour m'faire fâcher!
Advertisement in Port Arthur News,
August 24, 1928
The record sold well in the region and kicked off an entire genre of music which is still going strong.  People would often buy several copies of the record since the playing needles would wear the records out.  Afterwards, more recording companies chose to begin recording Cajun music. 

Under mysterious circumstances that aren't quite understood, although recorded in April (Joe claims it was in July), some state the record (#15275-D) wouldn't be released until October.  According to Joe, it was released eight days before the second Cajun song to be released by Leo Soileau and Mayuese Lafleur.  Interviews with Leo claim his record came out a week after Lafayette was released sometime after October. However, we do know it was available for purchase by August that summer in Port Arthur, TX and even in West Virginia. The Columbia issues themselves sold 19,249 copies, fairly respectable for that time.

Like many of the Columbia tunes after 1926, it would be re-issued on Okeh (#90018) and like many Cajuns songs, "Allons a Lafayette" is based on an older tune.  In this case, the tune is called "Jeunes Gens Campagnard"; a song Joe had heard as a little boy. 


Let's go to Lafayette to change your name.
We will call you Mrs. Mischievous Comeaux.
Honey, you're too pretty to act like a tramp.
How do you think I am going to manage without you?
Look at what you done, pretty heart.
We are so far apart and that is pitiful.
Honey, you're too pretty to act like a tramp.
How do you think I am going to manage without you?
Look at what you done, pretty heart.
We are so far apart and that is pitiful.
There has been some confusion with the line "Madame Canaille Comeaux".  Gerard Dole suggests the line could be "Madame canaille comme moi", or "naughty, like me".  While most people will be confused reading the translations, it's because it doesn't capture the idiomatic nature of the Cajun French language, missing out on the color, nuances, and the point of the lyrics.

From that moment on, fans of Joe and Cleoma would purchase multiple copies of Lafayette, due to ruining them from playing them so much.   Their song would kick off an entire genre of music for generations of people to follow.  In late 1946, Harry Choates resurrected the tune and officially entitled it "Allons A Lafayette" on his Gold Star recording.

In 2010, the song "Allons a Lafayette" came in at #3 in Robert Dimery's book "1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: And 10,001 You Must Download".4

In 2013, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame Award.




  1. LSU Libraries Special Collections. POST (LAUREN CHESTER) PAPERS. Stack: 7:11-19. Box: 8. Sound Recordings: Audio Tapes. Side 1: Post interview with Joe Falcon / Side 2: Lecture on Imperial Valley. Joe Falcon, Acadian musician (1963)
  2. Broven, John.  "South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous", p15-17.
  3. Seeger, Mike (1962). "Frank Buckley Walker. Columbia Records Old-Time Music Talent Scout"
  4. 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: And 10,001 You Must Download Hardcover – November 2, 2010 by Robert Dimery
Find:
The Cajuns: Songs, Waltzes, & Two-Steps (Folkways, 1971)
Sony Music 100 Years: Soundtrack for a Century (1999)
Cajun Origins (Catfish, 2001)
Les Cajuns Best Of 2002 Les Triomphes De La Country Volume 12 (Habana, 2002)
Cajun Louisiane 1928-1939 (Fremeaux, 2003)
Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)
Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)
The Beginner's Guide to Cajun Music (Primo, 2008)
The Best Of Cajun & Zydeco (Not Now, 2010)