Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"La Veuve De La Coulee" - Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc

In 1940, Harry Choates made his first recordings, playing fiddle and electric guitar with Happy Fats' Rayne-Bo Ramblers.  Formerly a purely Cajun band, the Ramblers were by then playing western swing-influenced honkytonk music, the songs in English as often as French.  Choates too would make his living in both camps, switching effortlessly from old Cajun tunes to swing numbers.3 

Like the Hackberry Ramblers' "Wondering", "La Veuve De La Coulee" (#2081), known as "The Widows of the Creek", struck a chord with the record buying audiences when it was.  Released on Bluebird in 1942, the record  became a national hit.1  The remaining members were Sandy Lormand on guitar, Pee Wee Broussard on banjo, and Ray Clark on steel.   Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc recalls when the song was released:
Our picture came out along with people like the Sons of the Pioneers. We had the "Hit of the Week", which was a number we recorded called "Les Veuve A Kita La Coulee" that I had cut in Dallas for RCA.1,2  
Harry Choates

Tout les veuve de la coulée, 

Sont partie au village,

Pour acheter de coton jaune a la boutique.



Pour achter des coton jaune,

Pour fait des tite mémines,

Pour les belle tit coeur de coulée fini.


Tout les veuve de la coulée, 

Sont partie au village,

Pour acheter de coton jaune a la boutique.



Sont aller sur la coulée, 

Sont aller sur la coulée, 

Pour amener les belle tite fille la bas chez Joe. 
Crowley Daily Signal
Sept 12, 1941

It was an old melody that can be traced back to 19th century with the first instance known as "Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine".   By 1856, it would be formally written into the song "Darling Nellie Gray" and recorded by John Myers in 1904.  Years later, the tune would be popularized throughout Appalacia and Texas.  "La Veuve" became Happy's first significant hit.  The band increased the tempo and inserted lyrics of a French tale about widows and coton jaune.1   

Coton jaune is a hand-spun and hand woven Acadian brown cotton used by Cajun women in the countryside. According to Dr. Ray Brassieur and Suzanne Chaillot Breaux it's "New World cotton" originating from ancient trade routes from Chaco Canyon (New Mexico) up to Tunica Hills".  Breaux states:
"This cotton made its way over to south Louisiana and then it just took like crazy like cotton does in this area.  They were mostly doing wool up there in Nova Scotia, but when they arrived here they realized it was too hot, the climate wasn’t conducive for wool and they discovered this cotton growing here. Basically they realized that this cotton, not only was it free, but you didn’t need a cotton gin because they had discovered that the seed coat was seedless, plus hairless. So you would just pop the seeds right out and you had cotton that didn’t need a gin."5
As Happy resumed his music after the war, many of the tunes he remembered in the 40s were still popular on his radio program.  Given the chance to record again, he renamed "La Veuve" as "Les Veuve A Kita La Coulee" (#2035) for RCA Victor in 1946.  However, his new group consisted of Francis "Red" Fabacher on lead guitar, Jimmy Gardiner on rhythm guitar, Giles "Candy Man" Castillo on steel, Buel Hoffpauir on drums, Andrus "Nonc Ambros" Thibodeaux on fiddle (not to be confused with the famous accordion player Ambrose Thibodeaux). 

All the widows of the gully,

Are leaving to the village,

To buy yellow cotton at the shop.



To buy yellow cotton,

For making little bloomers,

For the pretty little girls of the gully to finish.



All the widows of the gully,

Are leaving to the village,

To buy yellow cotton at the shop.



Going down the gully, 

Going down the gully,

To bring the beautiful little girls down to Joe's.

That same year, he released the almost exact tune for J.D. Miller's Fais Do Do label called "Bayou Lafourche" (not to be confused by his recording of "Bayou Lafourche" on Bella done in 1953).  He changed the lyrics and slowed it down to a waltz. 
Alex Broussard, Nonc Ambrose, Happy Fats

Abe Manuel covered the tune in 1954, partly in French and partly in English, as "Country Girl".  Sidney Brown used the melody in his 1958 recording of "Noir Chaussette's Two Step".  In the later eras, "La Veuve" had many follow up recordings including one by Vin Bruce for Swallow records and in 1971, Austin Pitre recorded it giving it the title "Widow of the Gully" in which he "breaks" in the middle of the tune.   Later, the Balfa brothers would re-record the popular tune in 1975 in a live recording at the C.C. Lounge in Basile, Louisiana and then a week later in the studio at Rounder Records.   Quite possibly, it may have influenced Don Rich's recording of "Cajun Fiddle".


La Veuve De La Coulee (1942)


Les Veuve A Kita La Coulee (1946)



  1. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  2. "South To Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous" by John Broven
  3. Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost By Tony Russell 
  4. http://www.bopping.org/happy-fats-leroy-leblanc-his-rayne-bo-ramblers-louisiana-extraordinaire-1935-1967/
  5. http://www.theadvertiser.com/story/news/history/2015/05/11/big-deal-coton-jaune/27138863/
  6. Image by Neal P
Find:
Five-Time Loser 1940-1951 (Krazy Kat, 1998)
Cajun Fiddle King (AIM, 1999)
Devil in the Bayou - The Gold Star Recordings (Bear Family, 2002)
Cajun Classics: Kings Of Cajun At Their Very Best (Ace, 2002)
Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)
HAPPY FATS & His Rayne-Bo Ramblers (BACM, 2009)
Leroy Happy Fats LeBlanc: & His Rayne-Bo Ramblers (Master Classics, 2013)

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