Saturday, November 26, 2016

"Pine Island" - Miller's Merrymakers

The Merrymakers were a string band led by Beethoven Miller, fiddler Jean Baptiste Fuselier and guitarist Preston Manuel.  They band didn't live far from the area known as Pine Island.  Pine Island is a small community west in southwest Louisiana where dancehalls such as Forestier's would dot the region catering to Cajun musicians of the 1930s.  This farm community was settled in the middle of a prairie around a hill thick with pine and oak trees. Pine Island became the home to many in the late-1920's after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. The many people that lost their homes and livelihoods moved west and settled in Pine Island.2 According to Preston Manuel, his guitarist:
When I first playing, I was about eighteen or nineteen years old, my first dance was in Iota, Louisiana.  I started playing with J.B. Fuselier and the Merrymakers, just a little group. We played in Pine Island there, so we made "Pine Island Two Step".1 

Eh, chère p'tite fille,

Me quitter ma chere mignonne pour toi.

Il y a pas jamais pleurer tout seul,

Quoi te faire avec ton nègre aujourd'hui.

Eh, moi j'm'en va la-bas, dans la maison,
Oh, toujour li mon tout seul, chérie, (aw, chère),
Eh, personne, pour mamay, chere belle,
Pour ma yeh chere blonde (....).

J.B. Fuselier

In 1936, they recorded the tune "Pine Island Two Step" (#2006) with either Manuel or Miller on guitar.  His line "Il y a pas jamais pleurer tout seul" maybe heard as "je croyais pas jamais t'aurais tout ça" meaning "I never thought you would do that".   It resembled a slowed down version of "Abbeville" by the Jolly Boys of Lafayette.  Given that Cleoma Breaux used a slightly different version of the melody for her "Pin Solitaire (Lonesome Pine)", it's not surprising the same melody was chosen for his Pine Island.

Hey, dear little girl,

I've left my dear cutie for you,

There, you'll never cry alone,

Why have you gone done this to your old man today.

Hey, I'm going over there to the house,
Oh, I'm always alone, dear (aw dear),
Hey, no one, for my mom, dear beautiful,
For my dear blonde girl (.....).
Like many pre-war Cajun tunes, the melody was used in other recordings, including Fuselier's own "Lake Arthur Waltz".  Other notable tunes of the era was Happy Fats' "Gran Prairie" with Harry Choates on fiddle and Papa Cairo's "Allons Kooche Kooche" and "Big Texas".   All of these tunes would eventually become Hank William's "Jambalaya" in 1952. 

The town of Pine Island also had a general store, a Catholic church, and a big dance hall where the Merrymakers and Hackberry Ramblers often played in the late 1930’s. In a PBS documentary, Independent Lens, Make 'Em Dance, Edwin Duhon remembered playing in the dance hall in Pine Island where they first used an amplifier.2,3

  1. Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule, Bill Burge
  4. Lyrics by Stephane F

The Cajuns: Songs, Waltzes, & Two-Steps (Folkways, 1971)
Gran Prairie: Cajun Music Anthology, Vol. 3: The Historic Victor Bluebird Sessions (Country Music, 1994)
Cajun Louisiane 1928-1939 (Fremeaux, 2003)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)
Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)

1 comment:

  1. This melody also resurfaced later as Quelle Etoile by Alphée and Shirley Bergeron and more recently as Le Two-Step à Paul Daigle by Paul Daigle, Robert Elkins & Cajun Gold.


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