Saturday, May 23, 2015

"Kaplan Waltz" - Nathan Abshire

In the late 1940s, Virgel Bozman created a string band that became the studio band for the Benny Hess' Opera label.  The band would be called the Oklahoma Tornados and featured fiddler Floyd Leblanc. Iry Lejeune would travel with Leblanc to record his most signature Cajun tunes for Opera with Virgel's backup band, "Love Bridge Waltz" and "Evangeline Special".  After seeing the success of this, Virgil moved near Lake Charles and created a label which would attract other Cajun musicians such as Nathan Abshire.

Oh mais malheureuse, 

Criminelle chère, 

la miserable ! 

Oh Petite!

Oh mais tu vas voir ton erreur,

Sera trop tard pour t'en revenir,

J'veux plus de toi, vilaine manière!

Oh la criminele!

Oh mais tu vas voir ton erreur,

Sera trop tard pour t'en revenir,
J'veux plus de toi, hah hah!
George Khoury

In 1949, George Khoury, who saw the need for more Cajun music decided to help Virgel finance a new label called "O.T. Records" named after his band. Broven mentions: 
Khoury was his sponsor, so to speak, because he didn't have that much money.  He was a good salesman, he had a log of gab because being a cowhorn salesman he had to have a log of gab.  

Shuler introduced Nathan to Virgil Bozman, who had started the O.T. label. On May 23, 1949, Bozman convinced the Nathan and Earl Demary's Musical Aces group to record “Pine Grove Blues” and “Kaplan Waltz” (#102). Nathan was backed by Earl Demarcy on guitar, Atlas Fruge on steel, Jim Baker on bass, Oziet Kegley on drums, and either Will Kegley or Wilson Granger on fiddle.   Earl, who drove a city bus in Lake Charles and known as the "Singing Bus Driver", played dances on the weekend at the Avalon Club where Nathan played.  Unfortunately, Bozman didn’t have the money to manufacture the records so in stepped Lake Charles businessman George Khoury, who assumed the pressing bills.   It sold several hundred and would be Nathan's first release after WWII, resurrecting his musical career.

Virgil Bozman
That sounds minuscule by today’s standards, but considering the limited Cajun market at the time, it was a certified hit and the band attracted even more bookings. Abshire, and the Pine Grove Boys, cut approximately ten 78s on O.T. including “Step It Fast” and “Pine Grove Boogie.” Abshire’s Creole and blues influences were heard throughout. This caused Khoury to start his own label, enticing Abshire to record with him.  

Oh, my,

It's wrong, dear,

It's miserable.

Oh small girl!

Oh, but when you see your mistake,

It'll be too late for you to return,

I want more of you, so bad!

Oh it's criminal!

Oh, but when you see your mistake,
It'll be too late for you to return,
I want more of you, ah ah!

It was a delicate, spine-chilling performance in the crying style of Amade Ardoin about a small town in south Louisiana.  But the song was unfairly eclipsed by the surging power of the record's flip side.  Nathan used the melody from the Angelus Lejeune's 1929 recording of "La Valse de Pointe Noire".  The melody was recorded by Bixy Guidry & Percy Babineaux as "Vien A La Maison Avec Moi" and even earlier by Dudley and James Fawvor as "La Valse De Creole" in 1928.  Even Amede Ardoin's "Valse De Ballard" carried some similarities.   
Daily World
Oct 28, 1949

He would re-record the tune with various versions of the lyrics over a period of time, including for Swallow in 1968, a field recording by Ray Alden & Dave Spilkia in NYC in 1970, and for La Louisiane in 1973 in Lafayette, LA.  Each time, the lyrics changed even more.  Dewey seemed to sing about the "t'en aller" theme common among post-war recordings about leaving to go to a certain place.  But it would be Dallas Roy's recording of the song in about 1966 with Andrew Cormier for Crazy Cajun records which solidified the lyrics into the most popular, well-known version today.

Oh, mais moi j'ma vas, 

Oui la bas à grand Kaplan,

Bébé ses pour voir m'a chere tit fille,

Moi j'connais, catin, que moi j'amie autant.

Oh mais tout les soir, 
Moi j'suis la après jonglé,
Hé Hé, après jonglé à ça t'a fait,
Ça t'as fait avec ton neg.

Virgil sold boxfuls of Nathan's records from the back of a large hearse. Later, the O.T. label would be exhausted and Virgil moved it to San Antonio with the help of James Bryant and Bennie Hess, former partners at the Opera label.  Bozman returned to San Antonio, Texas where he set up the Hot Rod label with local record man Bob Tanner of T.N.T. records. 

  1. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  2. Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule
Nathan Abshire & Other Cajun Gems: Vol.2 (Arhoolie, 1972)
14 Cajun Hits (Swallow, 1987)
Nathan Abshire & the Pine Grove Boys - French Blues (Arhoolie, 1993)


  1. Does anybody know who "Kaplan" in "The Kaplan Waltz" was?

    1. As mentioned, it's about a small town in south Louisiana named Kaplan. Nathan used to work and live in Gueydan, not far from the town.

    2. The town was named after Abrom Kaplan, who bought property in the early 1900s.


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