NOTE: This story was a collaboration between Bopping.Org and ECM. The article can also be found on the cooperative blog site: http://www.bopping.org/the-khourys-label-cajun-concern/
The story of Khoury’s Recordings starts in 1949 with a man named John Harvey "Virgel" Bozman. He was a rustic singer/guitarist and part-time comedian who sometimes billed himself, with tongue-in-cheek, as the "The Arkansas Sinatra" He and his brother, Harmon Bozman, were auto mechanics and had apparently been a staple on the San Antonio country and western music scene for some time. By the end of 1945, he was in Houston recording for Bill Quinn's Gold Star label. While stationed at a San Antonio military base near the end of WWII, Cajun fiddler Floyd Leblanc befriended Bozman. Together, they had joined Bennie Hess’ Oklahoma Tornados country hillbilly band as a guitar player but Virgil also dabbled in his own material as well. In particular, his band waxed an English-French collaborative song called "La Prison", in which Virgil flirted with Cajun music's sound. In mid 1947, Floyd had helped Iry Lejeune record a two tunes with the band on Hess’ label “Opera” and they had him touring with the group for quite some time in 1948. Cajun music was well on it’s way back and while selling cow horns in Lake Charles, Virgil ended up moving from Texas to Louisiana in order to record it.
|The Oklahoma Tornados|
Floyd Leblanc, Iry Lejeune, Ben Oldeg,
Bennie Hess and Virgil Bozman
The O.T. Years
Then came George Khoury, a Turkish-American businessman from Lake Charles and record store owner. In 1947, as an owner of a record shop, he noticed a lack of Cajun music being recorded in south Louisiana and decided to open a business to compete with Ed Shuler’s Goldband Records and J. D. "Jay" Miller’s Fais-Do-Do and Feature labels. His base of operations was just around the corner from Ed’s on Railroad Ave in Lake Charles.
Khoury never had his own studio, however; he would rent out other studios and press the records in other places. He had his record shop in Lake Charles and many agree he helped Virgil finance his new record label "O.T. Recordings", named after Hess’ band. Together, Virgil would try to find new talent for producing records and Khoury would sell the records in his shop. Even his “O.T.” logo resembled a cattle brand. According to author John Broven:
Khoury was [Virgel’s] 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.2
Virgil kicked off his label with his own recordings, which were a hillbilly tune sung in French "Tell Me If You Love Me" and a Cajun tune "The Cameron Waltz" (#101), but he knew he needed other groups. It would be Eddie that would help Bozman get his first major outside recording artist. Eddie Shuler, a record producer in Lake Charles, had been approached by Cajun accordion player Nathan Abshire to record on his label after seeing the success Iry Lejeune’s recordings. Nathan had been playing at the Avalon Club when the owner Quincy Davis thought having Nathan record would be good for business. Eddie Shuler, who worked for the KPLC radio station, was too busy with the promotion of Iry LeJeune and put Nathan’s band in touch with businessman Virgil Bozman. Also, Vigil had been familiar with Nathan’s music since Floyd had played in Nathan’s band years before. Virgil had noticed how Eddie Shuler produced his records for Goldband. According to Eddie Shuler:
He kept the pot boiling by selling cowhorns (the famous Longhorns) and it is how he landed in Lake Charles one day. He discovered fast how I managed to get artists recorded by a third person and he decided to follow my steps. He arrived at the station studio, gave a bottle of booze to the sound engineer, asked him to cut an acetate, left with it and got it pressed somewhere else.2
He sold cow horns. In fact, I still have one of his cow horns over the entrance to my door there that he gave me back at that time. I let him sing on my radio show. Anyway, he went then and teamed up with George Khoury and then he went out and found Nathan Abshire.1Pine Grove Blues Success and Aftermath
Earl Demary, Wilson Granger,
Eldrige Guidry, unknown on drums,
Nathan Abshire, and Ernest Thibodeaux
In May of 1949, Virgil gathered Nathan Abshire with Earl Demary ‘s backup band in the KPLC studio, located inside the Majestic Hotel in Lake Charles, to cut 8 tracks; the first of which was the legendary "Pine Grove Blues" for the O.T. label (#102). The melody was his version of Amédée Breaux’s "Blues du ‘Tit Chien" recorded for Vocalion Records in 1934. Nathan’s 1935 recording "One Step de Lacassine" clearly anticipates the melody. There are some similarities with Bob Wills‘ "Milk Cow Blues" recorded in 1946 and even a loose similarity with "In The Pines", which some have credited as Nathan’s source. His Pine Grove Boys band included Roy Broussard and Ernest Thibodeaux on vocals, Earl Demary or Ernest Thibodeaux on guitar, Atlas Frugé on lap steel, Jim Baker on bass guitar, Oziet Kegley on drums, and either Will Kegley or Wilson Granger on fiddle. The flipside contained a less-than-impressive “Kaplan Waltz” based on Angelas Lejeune’s 1929 recording of “Pointe Noir”. Since most Cajun 78s usually reached a pressing figure of 500, it was a big hit, pressing around 3,200 copies of the single. Virgil sold boxfuls of “Pine Grove Blues” from the back of a large hearse.2
Virgil kicked the label off with a string of tunes containing a discography of Cajun songs such as Nathan’s cover of Leo Soileau’s "Grand Mamou" (#106), "Lake Charles Two Step" (#106), “New Orleans Waltz” (# 110), “Hathaway Waltz” (# 111), a re-recording of his pre-war “French Blues” (# 110), and an improved swingy version of his first hit called “Pine Grove Boogie” (#111). At one point that year, Virgil and Khoury convinced the hit artist of the area, Harry Choates, to wax a record, trying to capitalize on his fame giving it “Jole Blon’s Gone” (#107) and the obscure "Lake Charles Waltz" (#107). Neither Nathan nor Harry could recreate the success of the Pine Grove Blues O.T. recording.
Other musicians Virgil managed to get were Cleo Harves and Jerry Barlow on his listings. (# 103, # 105). The label would eventually move to San Antonio, run by James Bryant and Bennie Hess (former partners at Bill Qunn’s Gold Star records), however, by the end of 1949, O.T. suddenly dried up.
He released his last 4 recordings he was holding onto, outsourcing the pressings by mailing his masters to Stephen Shaw and George Weitlauf in Cincinatti, OH. The records contained Nathan performing covers of the Breaux tune “Step It Fast” (# 114) and a rendition of Harry Choate’s famous Jole Blon hit called "Jolie Petite Juliette" (# 114). The other one labeled as Sandy Austin was the stage name for Abe Manuel when he and his brother Joe played Corpus Christi in 1950. They recorded "Scrambled Eggs" and a Joe Falcon cover called "Madame Saustain" (# 113). The O.T. label only produced 14 records that are known to exist.
The Khoury/Lyric Years
Meanwhile, realizing Bozman is out of the Cajun music market and with the help of Eddie Shuler, George Khoury decides to continue Virgil’s recordings by creating two labels simultaneously, Lyric and Khoury’s, in 1950. The reason for both names is unknown, but he set aside the 600 series for Cajun music and 700 series for hillbilly. It’s also possible he bought out all of Virgil’s material and signed Nathan Abshire exclusively.
NOTE: Keeping track of George’s numbering scheme is confusing and leads to plenty of misinformation when creating a complete discography. His reasoning for jumping around issue numbers, repeating numbers and missing numbers completely can frustrate anyone researching the label. Over time, he would have two sets of 700 series, using several different logo styles. Some numbers are issued only with “Lyric” name and some only with “Khoury’s” with a few issued on both. He followed up with R&B issues using the 800 and 900 series. However, this didn’t prevent him from using the number “1” once, issuing one “500” once on Khoury’s, issuing a “100” on Lyric, and later issuing a “1000” and “5000” both on the Lyric name. As far as anyone can tell, there were no session sheets that remain to prove any particular session dates. Most of the discography work is speculation based on historical recordings and personal interviews with musicians. Dates here are approximates at best. 3
There are a number of batches of records by artists which were probably assigned and then released at intervals. The location of some of the larger gaps do suggest that the missing numbers could have been deliberately skipped.3
The Early 1950s
During the first year in 1950, he recorded Lawrence Walker, Horace Lebleau, Crawford Vincent with Will Kegley, and Jimmie Choates. Walker was a Cajun accordion player who had a history of playing music with his brother Elton, Norris Mire and Aldus Broussard before the war. He even hosted a group of musicians at the National Folk Festival for the Texas Centennial in 1936. By 1950, he was back in the studio interested in recording again, this time with Khoury. Lawrence’s songs such as “Mamou Two Step” (# 601), "Country Waltz" (#601), “Wandering Aces Special” which was Joe Falcon’s "A Cowboy Rider" (# 606), "La Valse Kim Fe Du Mal" (# 606), "Tu Le Du Por La Mam" (#607) which was a Fawvor Brothers original and “Ton Papa Ta Mama Ma Sta Da All” (# 607) first appeared here.
All of these recordings appear on Khoury’s early 600 series as Cajun artists. It’s possible the Texas Melody Boys with Pee Wee Pitre may have been recorded during this period which was given the only # 500 for “Ain’t No More”, a version of “Step It Fast”, and an old Creole melody they called “Old Time Waltz”. Jimmy Choates band recorded “Lonesome For You” and “Belle Isle Waltz” and the band also appears on the country 700 series as #705. Crawford Vincent, who played with Leo Soileau for years, teamed up with Will Kegley of the Pine Grove Boys for two tunes "Chere Petite Blun" (# 605) and the J.B. Fuselier classic "Lawtell Two Step" (# 605). They were listed as Vincent & Cagley. Horace "Ricky" Lebleu was a hillbilly musician from the Lake Charles area that teamed up with Nookie Martin of Eddie Shuler’s band for two songs "Korea Blues" and "Basile Girl" (# 603).
Meanwhile, Virgil was back in San Antonio pressing songs by Cajun musicians he had previously recorded; most of them being Nathan Abshire’s band members. While in San Antonio, Bozman and Hess set up the Hot Rod label with local record man Bob Tanner of T.N.T. records. There, between 1950 and 1952, they recorded a few of Virgil’s artists such as Nathan’s lead singer, Ernest Thibodeaux on “Jennings Two Step” (# 105) and Nathan’s fiddler Wilson Granger on “Bayou Chico Waltz”. He released his last recordings of Nathan himself with "Hathaway Two Step" (# 103) and "Chere Te Mon" (# 103). The recording quality wasn’t particularly impressive and could have been the reason for their unpopularity. During this timeframe, Bob had also launched his Allied label, releasing several recordings of Harry Choates.
He also pulled in little known Cliff Lemaire and the Kaplan Swingmasters for the song "Cow Island Special" . Obscure artist Tan Benoit also recorded two songs, "Iowa Two Step" and "Gueydon Waltz". Outside a few recordings by Virgil himself, the label did not last long. Virgil’s attempt at the recording business was over. Bob continued his TNT label well into 1953, pressing records for Eddie Shuler’s band as well as for Aldus Roger and Iry Lejeune.
The following year, with Nathan no longer working for Virgil’s label, George contracted him to re-record "Pine Grove Blues" (# 611). It didn’t sell nearly as well as Virgil’s recording two years earlier, but it produced several titles popular with Nathan’s band such as “Belezere Waltz” ("La valse a Belezere") (# 610) based on the tune "A Precious Jewel" by Roy Acuff and “Choupique Two Step” (#610) based on Amede Ardoin‘s "Amede Two Step" . These were pressed on both the Lyric and Khoury label. Other songs were completed such as, “Valse de Hollybeach” (# 611), "Iota Two Step" (# 612) and “Valse de Bayou Teche” (# 612), a tune originally recorded by the Segura Brothers in 1929. Nathan’s career with the Pine Grove Boys was taking off.
1951 would round off the year with Lawrence Walker again, this time recording “Johnny Can’t Dance” (# 615), the bluesy "Evangeline Waltz" (# 615), “Bosco Stomp”(# 616), "Waltz Of Sorrow" (# 616), "Creole Waltz" (# 617) and an upbeat version of Joe Falcon’s Lafayette as the “Lafayette Two Step” (#617). It’s around this point when George began to switch labels from black to blue.
By 1952, George’s label is doing well enough for him to attract other obscure local bands. He invites Lawrence Walker back again for “Reno Waltz” (#623) and an old Joe Falcon song “Madame Sostan” (#624) but Lawrence feels the pressure to record some of his English country favorites including "Little Bitty Girl" (# 623) which was a 1946 comical jazz recording by Velma Nelson and "Keep Your Hands Off It" (# 624). Khoury tries his luck with recording two rather unknown groups, one being Clopha "Shuk" Richard with Marie Falcon. Marie was Joe Falcon’s niece and played music in some of the same venues in which Joe had played. She sang her version of “Jole Blon” called “Jole Brun” (#621) and did her Cajun version of “The Wild Side Of Life” (#621)("Le cote farouche de la vic" ). The group cut "Madam Entelle Two Step" (# 622) and "Chere Vere Naig" (# 622) during the same session. But it would be Elise Deshotel’s group which would feature a rather unknown singer and fiddler known as Dewey Balfa. Possibly recorded in late 1951 or early 1952, they waxed some of the best known tunes with a young Dewey on vocals such as Leo Soileau‘s “Quand Je Suis Bleu” he called “La Valse de Bon Baurche”, Cleoma Breaux‘s “Crowley Waltz” he called “La Valse de Tepetate (Tamper Tate)”, and “La Valse da Courage” which is very similar to Nathan’s “Bayou Teche”. The flipsides were instrumentals such as "La Two Step De Villeplatte", "Two Step De Avalon", and "Two Step De Kindergarden" (# 618, 619, 620). However, Khoury failed to latch onto marketing the bluesy vocals and powerful fiddle solos which Dewey would make famous ten years later.
|Dewey Balfa and Nathan Abshire|
The following year seemed to slow down for Khoury and his recordings. Jimmy Newman would be George’s brand new artist but his recordings only sold moderately. Nathan’s group was in turmoil due to band member changes and they were looking for more material to record. Jimmy recorded his country tune “Darling” which somehow landed on the Cajun 600 series while the 700 hillbilly series seemed to fade away. Nathan recorded “Musical Five Special” (# 631), a cover of Joe Falcon‘s “Fe Fe Ponchaux” and “Avalon Waltz” (# 631) but also recorded some cover tunes, “The New Jole Blon” (# 636) and “Tee Per Coine” (# 636), a version of "Keep A Knocking But You Can’t Come In" . Crawford Vincent, who had played for years with Leo Soileau and other members, headed to the studio with Albert "Curly" Lebleau and recorded “Tippy Tee Tippy En” (#640), an old traditional Cajun ballad known as "T’es Petite et T’es Mignonne".
By 1954, things seemed to remain slow. His 600 series seemed to employ more country music from Cliff Lemaire and Rick Johnson with one record by Nathan containing “Texas Waltz” (# 645), a slightly different version of his "Kaplan Waltz" and "Point De Lou” (# 645), a rendition of “Rabbit Stole The Pumpkin” in which Iry Lejeune had famously made into his “J’ai Ete Au Bal”. Strange enough, he would try to resurrect his Lyric label with Amar Devillier’s “Shoe Pick Waltz” and “Durald Two Step” using number #1 but never continued the series. He kicked off his second 700 series again, this time with Eddie Shuler covering “J’ai Passee Devant” (#700) and re-issuing Floyd Leblanc’s “Louisiana Stomp” (#700), a tune Virgil had recorded previously on O.T.
George reverted back to his original recording artists that he trusted and in 1955, released a string of tunes by Nathan Abshire and at least one by Lawrence Walker such as Nathan’s "Casa Blanca Waltz" and, "Lu lu Boogie" (# 647), "Shamrock Waltz" (# 652) and "Carolina Blues" (# 649). The unusual songs, "Boora Roomba" (# 649), Dewey and Nathan’s version of “La Cucaracha”, and "Mama Rosin" (#652), also known as “Ay Mama Inez”, were attempts to cash in on the briefly popular Cuban rhumba influence which entered mainstream country music that year. However, George was now pressing his records using different logos and label styles, some in California. Lawrence followed up with "Waltz of Regret" (# 648) and the "Brunette Two Step". One inventory listing by Nathan’s band shows them covering some Happy Fats tunes but it seems to never have been released. The 600 series seemed to be fading away as well.
The Final Years
By the end of 1955, the writing was on the wall. The influence of rock and roll was taking a toll on Cajun music sales. R&B and country music was on an up hill swing and Cajun music sales weren’t the same as they were almost 10 years earlier. He wouldn’t record any Cajun music until about 1956 with Nathan Abshire, both "Crying Pine Grove Blues" (# 701) and "L.S.U. French Waltz" (# 701), and in 1957 Cleveland Crochet with Shorty Leblanc, both on 45RPM and both on his new second 700 series. But by the time Cookie and the Cupcakes released their huge R&B hit “Mathilda”, George wasn’t interested in Cajun music anymore. He would occasionally issue out a Cajun record to keep sales up. He released one more Nathan Abshire on 45RPM in 1958 containing “Cannon Ball Special” (# 704) and “Red Rock Waltz” and a 45RPM of Pee Wee Broussard containing Angelas Lejeune’s “Perrodin Two Step” (# 709) and “Jolie Te Brun”.
|Eddie Shuler, George Khoury,|
Between 1956 and 1958, Cajun music recordings across Louisiana were on the decline. Needing more exposure, Lawrence Walker heard a man named Floyd Soileau was starting up a recording label in Ville Platte. Having already recorded Austin Pitre and Adam Hebert, the Khoury recording artist was eager to switch over to Floyd’s new Swallow label. This ended the relationship between George Khoury and Lawrence Walker. Nathan would eventually follow suit.
The following year, Khoury would land an even bigger R&B hit with Phil Phillips’ “Sea of Love” and yet only released two Cajun records that year, Pee Wee Broussard’s “New Iberia Stomp” (# 720) with “La Valse De Bons Amies” (# 702). The other one being “La Robe Barre” (# 725) and “Elton Two Step” (# 725) by Lawrence “Blackie”Fruge in 1959.
He would only re-release an earlier Cleveland Crochet “Sha Meon Waltz” in 1961 when he restarted his 1000 series as an R&B label which lasted until 1966. Finally, in 1966, Wilfred Latour recorded “Bye Bye Cherie” and “Te Julie”, a couple of zydeco based tunes, believed to be George’s last French recordings.
- South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven. P32.
- Generous amounts of information and guidance by Lyle F.