Monday, August 22, 2016

"Le Gran Mamou" - Leo Soileau

While there was no single style of Cajun fiddling, the musician who did the most to revitalize the instrument, and who also played a central role in the 1930s in both the popularization and modification of Cajun music, was Leo Soileau.7 Before stepped into Victor's Bluebird studio to record "Le Gran Mamou", he had previously recorded the tune in Atlanta with his former partner, Mayeus Lafleur.  Back in 1928, he called it "Basile Waltz".  It was the flip side to his famed "Mama, Where You At?" recording.   But after Lafleur's death, Leo created a new band in 1934, called the Three Aces, with two guitarists and a drummer.  The accordion was dropped from the lineup and the new sound was Cajun country music.  His Three Aces were composed of Floyd Shreve on guitar, Bill (Dewey) Landry on guitar, and Tony Gonzales on drums.  While the song has slight similarities to the Joe Falcon recording of "Aimer Et Perdre (To Love and Lose)" recorded in 1928, however, it comes much closer to Cleoma Breaux's recording of "Ma Valse Prefere".

Oh mais s'en aller dans grand Mamou, 

C'est pour voir ma jolie petite chère.



Oh mais toi, t'es mon chéri,

Moi je connais je mérite pas ça mais toi t'as fais,

Avec moi, il y a pas longtemps malheureuse,

Faudra que tu regrettes pour ça t'as fait malheureuse.



Oh, toi 'tite fille cherie, 

Moi je connais je mérite pas ça, mais toi t'as fais, 

Jolie fille, pour ton vieux nég', mais ça t'as fait, 

Tu vas pleurer mais il sera trop tard.

Oh, toi 'tit monde chéri, 
Moi je m'en vas dans grand Mamou, malheureuse,
Quand même tu veux t'en revenir, joli petit monde,
Moi, je veux pas que tu t'en reviens (z')avec moi.



Leo Soileau and the Three Aces
Floyd Shreve, Tony Gonzales, 
Leo Soileau, and Dewey Landry 6

Mamou, labeled as "The Cajun Music Capital of the World", was located near many of the dance halls in which Cajun musicians played in.  "Grand Mamou" refers to the large, mammoth (mamou) prairie where many Cajuns and colonial French settled during the 18th century.

Like several of RCA Victor's Bluebird label, they were also pressed on the Montgomery Ward label. After the beginning of the depression, Montgomery Ward got into the cut rate record business. Montgomery Ward released records from 1933 through 1941 with their own label however, they didn't actually have a recording studio. A lot of the companies had labels that only sold in certain department stores, or at a discount. Some were extremely inexpensive and some were done under pseudonyms.  These were apparently pressed by Victor and made available through their mail order catalog.  Most of the discs they issued seem to be from Victor, though they did get material from other labels. Even Sears had their own label called Silvertone.





Oh, well, I'm going to big Mamou,

It's to see my pretty little darling.



Oh, well, you, you're my darling, 

I know I do not deserve this, but, you've done that,

With me, it's not been long I've been unhappy,

You will regret why you've made me unhappy.



Oh, you dear little girl,

I know I do not deserve this, well, what you've done,

Pretty girl, to your old man, well, it's been done,

You're going to cry but it'll be too late.

Oh you little world of mine,
I am going to big Mamou, oh my,
Anyway, you want to return, pretty little world of mine,
I do not want you to come back to me.

Twisting the familiar French language repertoire with the drummer's back beat, adding healthy doses of western swing, and in turn applying that recipe to American standards, Soileau's group essentially defined the Cajun string band sound.1  Oddly enough, he'd re-use the same melody in "La Bonne Valse" in 1937.  The song itself would carry itself throughout Louisiana as "Grand Basile", "Basile Waltz", "Grande Mamou", and "Big Mamou".  It would be recorded by Harry Choates twice, Link Davis, Clifton Chenier, Aldus Roger, Dewey Balfa, Eddie Shuler and many more.   Over time the song would be interchangeably known as both Basile and Grand Mamou.






  1. Louisiana Music: A Journey From R&b To Zydeco, Jazz To Country, Blues To Gospel, Cajun Music To Swamp Pop To Carnival Music And Beyond by Rick Koster
  2. The Encyclopedia of Country Music
  3. http://www.mainspringpress.com/book_MW.html
  4. http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/an-interview-with-78-rpm-record-collector-gary-herzenstiel/
  5. http://jopiepopie.blogspot.com/2014/01/basile-waltz-1928-gran-mamou-1935-big.html
  6. Country Music Originals : The Legends and the Lost: The Legends and the Lost By Tony Russell
  7. Southern Music/American Music By Bill C. Malone
  8. Lyrics by Stephane F
  9. Image by Devon F

Find:
Le Gran Mamou: A Cajun Music Anthology -- The Historic Victor-Bluebird Sessions, 1928-1941 (Country Music Foundation, 1990)
Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)

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