Monday, March 28, 2016

"Basile Waltz" - Harry Choates

By 1940, fiddler Harry Choates had left Happy Fat's Rayne-Bo Ramblers band and found work with Leo Soileau during the war years.   It would be during these years playing guitar and fiddle where he would master some of Leo's traditional Cajun songs as well as form a relationship with two band members, Abe and Joe Manuel   The brothers along with Harry stayed with Leo until 1946 when they ventured off to form the Melody Boys with Harry leading the group.   It would be that year in which they'd wax their first recordings for Goldstar record producer Bill Quinn including this tune called "Basile Waltz".   Named after a the town of Basile, Louisiana where he played at the Avalon Club dance hotspot, Harry Choates (misspelled Coates) would record the song a few months after his famed "Jole Blon".  Contrary to popular belief, this was not a cover of the 1928 Leo Soileau "Basile Waltz".  It was a rendition of Happy Fats and Doc Guidry's "Tit Maurice", with completely different lyrics.   Both of these songs landed on Bill Quinn's Gold Star label, however, by the later years, Quinn had outsourced his production to other labels including this one out of Los Angeles.  Together, the Gold Star originals would land on Modern.

C’est nous autres, oui, qu’est si joyeux,

C’est nous autres qu’aiment autant oui, l’amuser (?).

Si vous voulez, oui, mais (z)un bon temps,

Viens nous r’joindre sur l’samedi au soir à Grand Basile.

Tu m’as quitté, oui, pour t’en aller,

T’en aller aussi loin (z)avec un autre.

Si vous voulez, oui, vous amuser (?),

Viens nous r’joindre ce samedi soir à Grand Basile.

Oh, chérie, tu m’fais pitié,

T’avais été t’en aller aussi loin.

T’en r’tourner oui, t’auras du r’gret,

Ça t’as fait (z)avec moi, y a pas longtemps.
Joe Bihari

Modern Records was run by the Hungarian family of Lester Louis Bihari, Julius Jeramiah Bihari, Saul Samuel Bihari, and Joseph Bihari. Jules got a job servicing and operating jukeboxes in the Watts district, and found difficulty in locating and stocking the blues records his customers wanted to hear.   With his younger brothers Saul and Joe, he decided to set up a new label, Modern Records, in 1945. The Bihari Brothers were interested in the local Texas music and wanted to press more of it at their California pressing plant.  Quinn, overwhelmed by the response of his label, licensed his music to labels such as Modern and Deluxe. 

The song featured Esmond "Eddie" Pursley on guitar, possibly Abe Manuel on rhythm guitar, Joe Manuel on vocals and banjo, and B.D.Williams on upright bass.  According to musician Crawford Vincent, he noted that Harry learned alot from Cliff Bruner, a western swing fiddler who moved into the Houston/Beaumont area in 1937.  Vincent believes Bruner was a main influence on him.  The tune is sung by Joe Manuel and revolves around asking a lover to come back and enjoy some time having fun on a Saturday night in the town of "Grand Basile".   

After his father's death, Choates spent a lot of time in Basile where he played guitar in fiddlemaster Leo Soileau's band in the late 1930s.  Canray Fontenot, a fiddle player that learned quite a bit from Harry, recalled his earliest years:
When he first came to Basile, he was playing with Leo Soileau. He was playing the steel guitar. He was a good musician. He had bought a fiddle with an old black man from Mississippi.  Harry bought the fiddle for $5 dollars on credit and never paid the man.  That's the way he was. That was a little messy son of a gun; a little red head.  He didn't care about nobody but himself.9  
While playing steel guitar in Leo's band, he was learning how to play the fiddle.  Once he got good enough, every time they'd play a dance, Leo would let him play a tune on his fiddle.  
Then he got better than Leo.  That son of a gun could sing French and English.  He took off on his own.9  

Once he formed his own band in the 1940s, they worked for music mogul Quincy Davis.  Davis had a habit of taking in musicians, feeding them, and hiring them seven nights a week plus radio shows and matinees for the meager fee of $10 a week. The musicians rare complained since for most of them it was better than picking cotton in hot fields.8  Due to band finance management, Harry had a hard time keeping a band. Canray remembered:
Most of the time he'd change musicians.  I don't know how many times.  He didn't want to pay them.   He'd go collect the money, then state they hadn't paid him.  They'd raise all kind of hell.  He was messy, but talk about a good musician.9   

That's us, yes, so joyful,

We're so beloved, yes, the fun.

If you want, yes, to have a good time,

Come join us Saturday night in Grand Basile.

You left me, yes, you went away.

You went far away with another,

If you want, yes, to have fun,

Come join us Saturday night in Grand Basile.

Oh, honey, you make me pitiful,

You have been so away far.

You'll return, yes, you'll regret this,

You were with me there, not long ago
Helen and Harry Choates

Quinn claimed ownership of both "Jole Blon" and "Basile Waltz" and in 1946 issued them on his Gold Star label.  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.   In 1947, Lester Bihari, who was now a Galveston-based jukebox operator in Galveston, Texas, decided to ask Quinn to press the Harry Choates record on his brother's Modern label (#511).  Broven claims the Bihari's used the Gold Star masters however, the quality of these re-issues pales in comparison to the bright, crisp sound Gold Star had produced.  Unfortunately, Joe Manuel missed his opportunity to become a star of the song, since Quinn decided not to credit his vocals on the label.  

By 1951, Bill was more interested in recording the music instead of maintaining his label and Quinn would sell his Lightning Hopkins masters off to Modern records in Sep 1951  In 1952, he would outsource some of his masters for reissuing to Harold "Pappy" Daily of Houston's "D" Records (later "Starday" label out of Beaumont).  By 1955, Pappy bought the remaining Choates masters after Quinn decided to just focus on recording.  Quinn turned his basement into the largest basement studio in the region. Even in the late 50s, he expanded it hoping to jump into the TV recording business that was booming. However, he retired by the early 60s.   
Saul Bihari

Harry would eventually die in 1951 in an Austin, TX jail cell as a result of his alcohol addiction. Quinn's Gold Star Studios eventually became SugarHill Studios in 1971, purchased by legendary producer Huey Meaux who had earlier used it for his Crazy Cajun label. Jules and the Bihari brothers would effectively steal music from up and coming black artists by taking advantage of the artist's financial situation.  B.B. King had said: 
"The company [Modern] I was with knew a lot of things they didn’t tell me, that I didn’t learn about until later... Some of the songs I wrote, they added a name when I copyrighted it,"..."Like 'King and Ling' or 'King and Josea.' There was no such thing as Ling, or Josea. No such thing. That way, the company could claim half of your song."

  1. Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock 'n' Roll Pioneers By John Broven
  3. Interview with Sugar Hill's co-owner and chief engineer Andy Bradley
  4. Billboard Magazine, Sep 29, 1951
  5. Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule
  6. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music by Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  7. “Jole Blon”—Harry Choates (1946) Added to the National Registry: 2005 Essay by Ryan Brasseaux
  8. The Encyclopedia of Country Music : The Ultimate Guide to the Music: The ... edited by Paul Kingsbury
  10. Lyrics 
Devil In The Bayou - The Gold Star Recordings (Bear, 2002)

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