Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Bon Ton Roula" - Clarence Garlow

While leaving the arena of Cajun music briefly, we can't ignore it's influence on another genre of music: Zydeco. While some can debate it's origins for years, many can agree it falls in line with the same similar origins of Cajun music.   Determining the first zydeco recording can be difficult, with as many opinions as there are artists.  Was it Clifton Chenier in 1955? How about Boozoo Chavis in 1954?   Was it Amede Ardoin in 1929?   One can make a strong case for either of these artists.  Yet, researchers and authors point to a briefly popular R&B musician in the late 1940s named Clarence Garlow.
You see me there, well I ain't no fool,
I'm one smart Frenchman never been to school,
Wanna get somewhere in a Creole town,
You stop and let me show you your way 'round,
You let the bon ton roula, you let the mule-ay pull-ay,
Now don't you be no fool-ay, you let the bon ton roula.

At the church ba-zar or the baseball game,
At the French la-la, it’s all the same,
Want to have fun now you got go,
Way out in the country to the zydeco.
Clarence Garlow

The song was an original 1949 Macy's recording "Bon Ton Roola" (#5002) considered the first zydeco recording by some.  Garlow recalls:
I happened to be coming through the town of Houston and stopped at he Coconut Grove. They had a band and I asked the guy if I could sit in.  I did and they must have liked it.  They called Macy Henry and Steve Poncio to come listen and they came over.  I didn't think I was good enough but they thought differently.  [Bon Ton Roula] was born in the studio when we was trying to find something to record. It caught like a shot in the arm and the crowds got bigger.
Garlow’s band stopped momentarily when he sang the line about zydeco, making it seem to hang suspended in time. Listening to it today evokes a dramatic sense of Louisiana music history in the making. Clarence Garlow brought critical mass to the word zydeco, but not to the music per se. Garlow’s forté was mainstream African-American rhythm and blues. His singing — in English, French, and “Franglais” — blended passion with sly street smarts, and his expert guitar work recalled the style of T-Bone Walker.5

It was a glorious cut that sounded rather more like an R&B garage band with a Mardi Gras beat than a full-baked zydeco performance.   Others consider it a "proto-Zydeco" recording in which other's after him had modernized and popularized into actual zydeco music.2  His band consisted of Clarence Garlow on vocals & guitar, Shelby Lackey on alto sax, Wilmer Shakesnider on tenor sax, Johnnie Mae Brown on piano, probably L.D. "Eldeen" Mackintosh on bass, and Johnny Marshall on drums.

By 1953, Macy's label had collapsed and he had made a deal with J.D. Miller to record a different version of the tune, calling it the "New Bon Ton Roola" (#1000).  Mysteriously, Miller re-used this catalog number for reasons unknown, however, given he'd record Clarence again using his 3000 series, there's a good chance this record listing should have been #3000.  Eddie Mesner of Alladin Records, heard about his performance in Beaumont and asked him if he was signed with anyone. Garlow eventually signed with Aladdin Records and re-record it a third time, spelled "New Bon-Ton Roulay" that same year with the Maxwell Davis Orchestra.  The Messner brothers even released it on their own distinctive label called "Roula". He was so known for this song, it became his nickname.

The sound is so vastly different from the Cajun music of it's era, it's a struggle to find a way to veer off into this record's article and maintain the connection to the commonly accepted sound of Cajun music. Regardless of the debate on it's origins, not long afterwards, pioneers of the genre like Clifton Chenier and BooZoo Chavis combined more traditional sounds with new rhythm and blues elements, creating a new style of music.  By 1957, he'd try once more with Eddie Shuler's Goldband but the song's success had died out, until 1967, when Clifton would cover Clarence's song.

  1. "South To Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous" by John Broven
  2. Music USA: The Rough Guide By Richie Unterberger
  3. http://home.comcast.net/~cajunzydeco/zydemagic/whatiszydecomusic.htm
  4. http://americanamusictriangle.com/timelines/cajun-zydeco/
  5. http://blog.ponderosastomp.com/2015/09/if-you-cant-dance-to-zydeco-you-cant-dance-period/

Clarence "Bon Ton" Garlow ‎– 1951-58 (Flyright, 1983)
Louisiana Stomp-Clifton Chenier With Clarence Garlow (JSP, 2009)
Queen of Hits: The Macy's Recordings Story (Acrobat, 2011)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Allons Danser Colinda" - Happy, Doc And The Hadacol Boys

Known as the first recording producer to create a label dedicated to Cajun music, in 1946, J. D. Miller started his Fais Do Do record label and began recording his first set of artists: Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc on vocals and guitar and Oran "Doc" Guidry on fiddle. 

Allons danser, Colinda,

Allons danser, Colinda,

Allons danser, Colinda,
Pour faire fâché les vieilles femmes.

Allons danser, Colinda,
Allons danser, Colinda,
Pendant ta mère est pas là,
Pour faire fâché les vieilles femmes.

C'est pas tout le monde qui peut danser,
Tous les vieilles valses des vieux temps,
Pour faire fâché les vieilles femmes,
Allons danser, Colinda.

J.D. recalls the event:
I got checking around and found out that Cosimo Matassa had a studio in New Orleans, so I called him, made arrangements, and picked up Happy Fats and Doc Guidry.  The first record was "Allons Danse Colinda"--we called it "Colinda".1
The first Fais Do Do release, "Allons Dancer Colinda" (#1001) by Happy, Doc and the Boys, sold only moderately, but Happy Fats remembers the record (derived from the Calinda voodoo dance brought to Louisiana by Negro slaves from Haiti, San Domingo, and the West Indies) with affection. The well-known song is about a Cajun boy asking a girl named Colinda to do a risqué dance with him.   According to Happy:
We took the name from a song called "Danse Colinda".  We got it from a book in a library at Southwestern University, Lafayette.  Actually, it was a Haitian song, so we just took the name, the tune is not the same, or the lyric.  Doc Guidry and I just sat down and we wrote a French song, a two- or three- chord song that is pretty easy to write.  Our recording never did make much of an impression, but I've been collecting royalties on it ever since Jimmie Davis recorded it in 1949.1
Happy Fats may not have realized it, but, Doc's melody came from a much older song which influenced Dennis McGee's "Madame Young" back in the 1920s. Later, when interviewed by Shane Bernard, Doc Guidry testifies they created neither:
It was a mistake when they put "Words and music by Happy and Doc".3

Calinda (Kalinda) is also a martial art, as well as kind of folk music and dance in the Caribbean which arose in the 1720s. Calinda is the French spelling, and the Spanish equivalent is calenda; it is a kind of stick-fighting commonly seen practiced during Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. There, Carnival songs are considered to be derived from calinda chants and "lavways".

Calinda is also one name assigned to an Afro-Caribbean form of stick fighting as practiced in Haiti and entering the United States through the port city of New Orleans. It is also practiced in other parts of the Caribbean, such as Martinique. Considered indecent by the respectable portion of the population, it was officially banned throughout the State in 1843, but continued to be performed for many years afterward.2

An early version of the Calinda was danced only by men, stripped to the waist and brandishing sticks in a mock fight while at the same time balancing upon their heads bottles of water. As soon as a dancer spilled a drop of his water he was banished from the field. Later the Calinda degenerated into a thoroughly lascivious performance.

Let's go dancing, Colinda,

Let's go dancing, Colinda,

Let's go dancing, Colinda,
To make the old women angry.

Let's go dancing, Colinda,
Let's go dancing, Colinda,
While your mother's not around,
Make the old women angry.

Not everyone knows how to dance to them,
Old waltzes of long ago,
Make the old women angry,
Let's go dancing, Colinda.

The Fais Do Do label 78s are now very rare since in the late sixties, Jay Miller offered his entire stock to a local fair for use as sideshow shooting targets.1

  1. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  2. http://www.frenchcreoles.com/ArtTheater/CalindaDance/calindadance.htm
  3. Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues By Shane K. Bernard

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)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

"Beaumont Waltz" - Harry Choates

In the spring of 1951, Harry Choates was struggling to make payments and alcoholism was taking it's toll.  He was already getting banned from some places but still was recording and many of his former musicians bailed.   Familiar with the recording scene throughout Texas and after re-connecting with his good Virgil Bozman, together they set out to San Antonio to record again.

Hé, petite, tu m’as laissé pour t’en aller,

Hé, chérie mais, mais, quoi t’as fait avec ton pauv’ vieux nég,

Oh, meon, quoi t’as fait, ça a pas fait bien,
Oh mais, moi j'connais, mais, ca ta fais ton pauv’ vieux nég.

Hé, meon, oh, moi j'connais,
Hé qui t'en me quand t’as fais ton pauv’ vieux nég, 
Hé, chérie, oh, mais, moi j'connais,
Oh, mais, moi j'connais t’as pas fais bien, ton pauv’ vieux nég.

Hé, ha ha, hé, chérie, 
Hé petite, quoi t’as fais ton pauv' vieux chien.

Virgil Bozman, who had gave up on his O.T. label, left Lake Charles and headed to meet with Bob Tanner, who had started his T.N.T. and Hot Rod label earlier.  Together, they either decided to create their own label called Allied or partially lease the name from the much larger Allied Recording Company.  Either way, Bob and Virgil had Choates show up to the KCOR radio station in San Antonio and record four tunes, one of them being the "Beaumont Waltz" (#103).  The session would kick off Tanner's short lived Allied label.
Hey, little one, you left me to go away,
Hey, dear, well, what did you do to your old man,
Oh, cutie, what you did wasn't good,
Oh, well I know, well, what you did to your poor old man.

Hey cutie, oh, I know,
Hey, who were you with when you did that to your poor old man,
Hey, dear, oh well, I know,
Oh, well, I know, you didn't treat well your poor old man.

Hey, haha, hey, dear,
Hey, little one, whatever did you do to your poor old man.

Lucky Ford
This time, Harry was working with a slew of new musicians including guitarist Lucky Ford, the vocalist for the Texas based band Jimmy Revard & His Oklahoma Playboys.  Lucky would go on to play with Jimmie Rivers & Vance Terry.  Anther would be steel guitarist Lloyd Hazelbaker who also played with Revard.   Junior Keelan stayed with him as his bass player.  According to Link Davis' wife, Doris Meadows:
Choates was the kind of guy, he worked and make money ,then wouldn't work anymore 'till he spent his money.
Bob's radio station recording studio and pressing plant couldn't match the sound quality Choates was used to having at Bill Holford's ACA studio when he was recording for Macy Henry the previous year.  However, this session is believed to be his last.   Under strange circumstances, he was jailed for late payments and died in a jail cell, believed to be either due to physical trauma and/or his alcoholism.

  1. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  2. Dance Halls and Last Calls: A History of Texas Country Music By Geronimo Trevino III
  3. All over the map: true heroes of Texas music by Michael Corcoran
  4. http://www.rockabilly.nl/artists/linkdavis.htm
  5. Lyrics by Stephane F

Harry Choates: Five-Time Loser 1940-1951 (Krazy Kat, 1990)
Harry Choates: Cajun Fiddle King (Aim, 1999)
Top 45 Classics: The Very Best Of Harry Choates (GRR Music, 2014)

Monday, December 14, 2015

"Ouvrez Grand Ma Fenêtre (Raise My Window High)" - Cleoma Breaux

One of Cleoma Breaux's most well known recordings of the blues.   For those interested in French blues recordings, this one is a must.  The record of "Ouvrez Grand Ma Fenêtre" (#17001) is the second release in a slew of Cajun pressings by Decca in New York, also referred to as "Leve Tes Fenetres Haut" or "Raise Your Window High").  Their December 1934 session kicked off Decca's entire Cajun repertoire for the next five years. 

Si tu me vois après venir, lève tes fenêtres haut,

Quand tu vois moi venir, lève tes fenêtres haut,

Quand tu vas m’voir partir, baisse ta tête et pleurer.

Je m’ai soulé hier au soir, je m’ai soulé le soir d’avant,
Je m’ai soulé hier au soir, je m’ai soulé le soir d’avant,
J’va me souler à soir, pis moi j’veux plus jamais de ma vie.

J’suis après travailler, une piastre dix sous par jour,
J’suis après travailler, une piastre dix sous par jour,
Ma femme prend la piastre et moi pour faire avec dix sous.

Si toi tu me veux pas, donne moi ta main droite,
Parce qu’si toi tu me veux pas, donne moi ta main droite,
Parce qu’si toi tu me veux pas pas, moi j’suis sûr(*), moi j’veux pas de toi.

It's a French version of a swingy, bluesy song in the style of Jimmie Rodgers' "Anniversary Blue Yodel (Blue Yodel No. 7)" that most likely has an older origin.  She would later record an English version of the melody for Bluebird two years later entitled "Raise Your Window".  Even the lyrics between the two versions changed.  In this version, she talks about getting drunk like never before, working for money that get's shared unequally, and wanting to get married. Songs, like this 12-bar blues and similar others, would eventually influence Iry Lejeune's "Grand Bosco" and Happy Fats' "Blues de Bosco".
Daily Advertiser
Oct 25, 1935

If you see me coming, raise your windows high,

When you see me coming, raise your windows high,

When you leave my sight, hang your head and cry.

I got drunk last night, I got drunk the night before,
I got drunk last night, I got drunk the night before,
I'll get my self drunk tonight until I'll want to never again in my life. 

I'm back from work, a dollar and a dime per day,
I'm back from work, a dollar and a dime per day,
My wife takes the dollar and I'm left with the dime.

If you do not want me, give me your right hand,
Because if you do not want me, give me your right hand,
Because if you do not want me, myself, I'm sure I do not want you. 

  1. Lyrics by Stephane F

Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

"J'vai Jouer Celea Pour Toi (I'll Play This For You)" - Bixy Guidry & Percy Babineaux

It's the original "J'Ai Ete au Bal".    Along with John Bertrand and Milton Pitre's "The Rabbit Stole The Pumpkin" recording for Paramount in Chicago, these two songs influenced several tunes throughout Cajun music for time to come. 

The instrumental, "J'vai Jouer Celea Pour Toi (I'll Play This For You)", was recorded during a RCA Victor session in New Orleans in 1929 (#22210).  Adolph "Bixy" Guidry and Percy Babineaux, an accordion-fiddle duo, cut eight sides in one session for the Victor company.  In some listings, he's known as "Dixie" Guidry.  According to Nathan Salsburg, curator of the Alan Lomax Archive: 

Inauspiciously issued in the second year of the Depression, their first releases sold poorly. Surviving copies—to say nothing of surviving playable copies—are laughably scarce.  They show Guidry and Babineaux to be an intoxicatingly loose and ragged pair, Bixy's accordion sighing mournfully behind Percy’s keening fiddle. 
It's origins are much older.  According to Raymond Francois says he believe it is related to the songs "Oh Susannah" and "Get Along Cindy".1  In 1934, Joe Falcon and Cleoma Breaux use the melody for their Decca recording of "Ne Buvez Plus Jamais".  This original melody may have also influenced Lawrence Walker's "Jolie (Johnny) Can't Dance".   However, it's most dominant influence can be found in Iry Lejeune's 1954 recording of "I Went To The Dance" for Eddie Shuler's Goldband Records in Lake Charles. 

  1. Ye Yaille Chere, Traditional Cajun Dance Music by Raymond E. François
  2. https://roothogordie.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/let-me-play-this-for-you/
Le Gran Mamou: A Cajun Music Anthology - The Historic Victor–Bluebird Sessions 1928–1941 Vol. 1 (Country Music Foundation, 1990)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)
Let Me Play This For You : Rare Cajun Recordings (Tompkins Square, 2013)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"Pleur Plus' (Don't Cry)" - Columbus Fruge

Columbus Fruge (or Frugé) was from Arnaudville, Louisiana, a town in the St. Landry and St. Martin parishes in south-central portion of the state. Neither his birth date or his death date have been recorded. Virtually no details of his life exist, other than the fact that he began playing accordion as a child and was performing around his hometown by the age of eleven. 
Hé, yaille! chère 'tite fille, t'es la fille de la veuve que moi, j'aimais.
Moi (z) aujourd’hui, dans la traîne dans les chemins, chérie.

Chère, t'es partie de mourir moi tout seul là bas à la pointe noire.

Yé yaille, tu connais, toi tu me fais des misères, j'suis parti m'en aller.

Hé, toi tu marches pour ton nég', te connais ce ton nég' est parti, s'en aller si longtemps.

Hé, canaille.

Pourquoi tu me fais les misères!

In 1929, Frugé traveled to Memphis, Tennessee where he recorded four sides for Victor Records including "Pleur Plus' (Don't Cry)", (#22206).  In the song, he be referring to Pointe Noire, a locale not for from Fruge's home in Arnaudville, Louisiana.
Hey, yaille! Dear little girl, you're the daughter of the widow I loved,
Today, I'm lagging behind down the road, honey,

Dear, you left me to die by myself over there in the black point.

Ye yaille, you know, you make me miserable, I'm going to go.

Hey, you're walking towards your old man, you know your old man left to go so long ago.

Hey, mischievous one.

Why do you make me miserable!

  1. http://theanthologyofamericanfolkmusic.blogspot.com/2010/02/saut-crapaud-jump-frog-columbus-fruge.html
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)