Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Les Blues De La Louisiane (Louisiana Blues)" - Leo Soileau

Recorded in Chicago, IL, "Les Blues De La Louisiane" (#17009) has to be the bluesiest song Leo Soileau had during his decade of recording.   The instrumental allowed Leo to sit back and let his fiddle shine only accompanied by a simple guitar rhythm. 

For unknown reasons, Decca chose to market this for the French speaking market as well as the English speakers as well.   On their original 1935 release, the song is listed as "Les Blues De La Louisiane" and on the re-issue, they gave it a new catalog number, renaming it to "Louisiana Blues".  The same was done with the records flip-side recording: "Pario Acadia Breakdown" or "Arcadia County Breakdown" respectively.  While Leo played the fiddle, his backup guitarist could have been either Bill "Dewey" Landry, Floyd Shreve, O.P. Shreve or Johnny Roberts, all who have played guitar with Leo at some point during this time.

Rayne Tribune
Sep 17, 1937

By the late 1930s, Leo had quite recording his group and took work playing in bars along the silver strip of Highway 90 playing in several dancehalls.  He even joined a group called the Daylight Creepers lead by Papa Cairo and backed by Bill Redlich, Erby Thibodeaux, and featured a guitar-playing new-comer to the Cajun music scene: J.D. Miller.   Miller would go onto be a key figure in the resurgence of Cajun music recordings after the war. 

Leo Soileau: Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 7 (Old Timey, 1982)
Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"Since The Age Of 14" - Joe Manuel

Joe Manuel and his brother Abe Manuel became one of the early Cajun string band groups before WWII.  Their father, Adam Manuel, was an accordion player who taught his sons some of the early Cajun songs he had learned. They had their first stint working alongside Leo Soileau's group and meeting people like Harry Choates, particularly in places like the Avalon Club in Basile.1  However, Joe's major claim to music was his beginnings playing guitar with Leo's contemporary, Harry Choates.   He recorded with Harry from 1946 to 1948, singing and playing banjo.  His wife, Johnny Smirle Manuel, played piano.

Depuis l'âge de quatorze ans,

Moi, j'ai roulé manche à manche,

(Avec) ma jug au plombeau,
Oh, mais, malheureuse.

Eh, 'tite fille, 
Le soleil après se coucher,
Mon cheval, il est p'us là,
Et parti à Grande Chenière.

Quand, moi, j'étais petit,
Mais, moi je braillais pour les patates,
Asteur, moi, je suis grand, 
Mais, moi, je brailles pour les veuves.

Eh, p'tite fille,
Toi, t'après m'quitter,
Moi, je mérite pas ça
oh, mais, malheureuse.

Oh that sounds good,
Come in ((boys??)...

That's pretty.

Quand, moi, j'étais petit,
Mais, moi je braillais, mais, pour les patates,
Asteur, moi, je suis grand, 
Mais, moi, je brailles, mais, pour ces veuves.

Eh, p'tite fille,
Toi, t'après m'laisser,
Moi, je mérite pas ça,
oh, mais, malheureuse.
B.D. Williams, Ralph Richardson, Abe Manuel,
Lenny Benoit, Pop Benoit, Joe Manuel 1
Courtesy of Ron Yule

However, after a falling-out with Harry, the group fell apart, and Joe went on his own forming his Melody Boys during the 1950s.   Once formed, the group would record an old Cajun tune called "Since The Age Of 14" (# 102) on Eddie Shuler's Folk-Star label. His brother, Abe Manuel Sr., toured alongside Lefty Frizzel around Nashville.  Manuel's tune was a play on Leo Soileau's "Quand Je Suis Bleu".  It was a song borrowed from the lyrics of Dennis McGee's 1930 recording of "Les Blues Du Texas" and captured by Alan Lomax in 1934 as "Depuis L'âge de Quinze Ans" during a field session.  The French word 'manche' translates directly to 'handle' or 'sleeve', however, in this context, the unique Cajun phrase "manche à manche" is understood to mean "from road to road", alluding to someone wandering around aimlessly, like a hobo.

Since the age of 14,

Well, I have rambled,

From one road to another,
(With) my pommel jug,
Oh, well, oh my.

Hey, little girl,
The sun has gone this evening,
My horse, he's no longer there,
And I am leaving for Grande Chenière.

When I was small, well,
I would beg for potatoes,
Now, that I'm grown,
Well, I beg, well, for the older women.

Hey, little girl,
You, yourself, have left me,
I don't deserve that,
Oh, well, oh my.

When I was small,
Well, I would beg, well, for potatoes,
Now, that I'm grown,
Well, I beg, well, for the older women.

Hey, little girl,
You, yourself, have left me,
I don't deserve that,
Oh, well, oh my.

Grande Chenière is a small villiage in south Louisiana located in Cameron Parish situated on the Mermentau River.  While the name directly translates to "oak grove", in Louisiana, the term "chenière" applies to a ridge of relatively high ground surrounded by swampland and covered with oak trees.2  "Les veuves" directly translates to "the widows", but in Cajun French, it often refers to lonely, single, and often older women.  By the 1950s, Leo's tune became Elise Deshotel and Dewey Balfa's "La Valse De Bon Baurche".  Manuel's tune is not to be confused with Dennis McGee's "Two Step De La Ville Platte", more commonly known as "Depuis L'âge de Quinze Ans". 

  1. "Cajun Dancehall Heyday" by Ron Yule
  2. Louisiana Place Names: Popular, Unusual, and Forgotten Stories of Towns ... By Clare D'Artois Leeper
  3. Lyrics by Jordy A and Stephane F

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"Alberta" - Walker Brothers

By 1935, small acoustic accordion-based ensembles began to give way to more substantial string-based orchestras.  Lawrence Walker and Nathan Abshire, a pair of experimental accordionists who would become two of the leading proponents of the pot-WWII dancehall sound, recorded the clearest example of the shift to Cajun swing on the Bluebird record label.3  

In 1935, Lawrence recorded his version of the song "Corina, Corina", in English, in honor of his daughter Alberta.   Originally a Leadbelly song called "Roberta", it was also covered by the Mississippi Sheiks.  Lawrence joined his brother Elton Walker on violin, with  probably Junior Broussard on guitar, and possibly Aldus Broussard or Norris Mire on guitar.  According to producer Chris Strachwitz:

It is well known among jazz musicians in New Orleans.  I think it is a jazz tune with a Cajun accent.   This belongs to both black and white tradition in the South and was first popularized on record by the Mississippi Sheiks in the late 1920s.  Perhaps it was a popular tune long before then.  The accordion on this performance seems to show strong [Creole] Cajun influence and I think Lawrence Walker probably learned it from a [Creole] Cajun performer.1
"Corina" was a "blues with a touch of jazz and a flavor of hillbilly" that by the 1930s was widely popular among blues and hillbilly artists, who also recorded the arrangement under the titles "Alberta" and "Roberta". The tune later became a fixture in the Western swing repertoire largely through the popularity of Bob Wills.3   Author Ryan Brasseaux writes:
In essence, "Alberta" can be equated with the Breaux family composition "Ma Blonde Est Parti" because both tunes describe an inconsolable man lamenting about the impenetrable boundaries that separate the protagonist from his belle.3

Alberta, Alberta, where have you been so long,
Alberta, Alberta, where have you been so long,
I ain't had no lovin', since you've been gone.

I met Alberta, way across the pond,
I met Alberta, way across the pond,
Didn't write me no letters, you didn't care for me.

Alberta, Alberta, tell the world "Adieu",
Alberta, Alberta, tell the world "Adieu",
Just a little bit of lovin', let your heart be true.

Alberta, Alberta, where have you been so long,
Alberta, Alberta, where have you been so long,
I ain't had no lovin', since you've been gone.

Lawrence Walker transformed the Cajun accordion style by adding strong elements of swing to his playing. This transformation is revealed in this Bluebird recording.  Even so much that James Hancock (a Joe Davis pseudonym) had taken out a copyright to what he called Lawrence's "Alberta Blues".2

  1. Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 2 The Early 30s.  Chris Strachwitz.  Liner notes.
  2. The Melody Man: Joe Davis and the New York Music Scene, 1916-1978 By Bruce Bastin
  3. Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  4. Lyrics by Jerry M

Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 2: The Early 30s (Old Timey/Arhoolie, 1971)
Cajun Louisiane 1928-1939 (Fremeaux, 2003)
I Saw The Light (Blues People 1934 -1935) (Blues Classics, 2015)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

"La Nouvelle Marche De Marris" - Happy Fats

The New Wedding March.   The song has it's origins in colonial French Louisiana and folklore connects it to the old Acadian ancestors in Europe.  Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc, with Willie Vincent on steel guitar, teamed up with the Guidry brothers, Ray on banjo, Nathan on bass and Doc on fiddle, to cover a Cajun classic tune called the Wedding March.   Happy took the song, which was first recorded by Joe Falcon as "La Marche De La Noce", and created a fiddle-led string band version, entitled "La Nouvelle Marche De Marris" (#2057).    The 1938 Bluebird recording session was held at the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans.

One old convention still found in south Louisiana is le bal de noce, or wedding dance, often held in a dancehall.  In the old days when people were poor, the owner paid the wedding couple ten or fifteen dollars to have the adance at his hall, and charged fifteen cents entrance fee.  During the first song, "La marche des maries", the newlyweds link arms and, followed by the wedding party, walk around the dance floor at least twice.  Then they dance the first waltz. Afterwards all dance, and every man present is expected to dance with the bride and pin money on her veil.1

(Je vas) te prendre dans mes bras pour toujours, ma tite fille,
(Je vas) te soigner et t'aimer pour toujours, jolie fille, malheureux,
Mais, aujourd’hui, tu me promets de m'aimer, pour toujours,
Moi j'connais ce promis, c'est pour vrai.

Mais, aujourd’hui, tu me promets de m'aimer, pour toujours,
Moi j'connais ce promis, c'est pour vrai.

Happy Fats recalled these wedding dances and how different they were from regular dances:
Now they were different when there was a wedding dance, a bal de noce.  They had a wedding dance, the wedding couple and their attendants would come in, and they had possession of the floor for the march.  They'd make a march around the hall a couple of times, the music they'd play would be the wedding march, and the first tow dances were theirs, just them and their attendants.  And they'd dance a waltz and a two-step, then their mothers would come in.2

In 1936, folklorist Lauren Post remarked about Acadians and their wedding dance:
The bal de noce followed and the wedding crowd augmented the regular Saturday night group of dances.  The big crowd, the wedding, and the festive spirit all combined to make the dance a memorable one, and many an Acadian housewife takes pleasure in recalling so many present that they could not all enter the fais-do-do.3

(I'll) take you in my arms forever, my little girl,
(I'll) care for you and love you forever, pretty girl, oh my,
Well, today, you promised you'll love me, forever,
I know that this promise, it's for real.

Well, today, you promise you'll love me, forever,
I know that this promise, it's for real.

After the wedding, gaiety prevailed.  There was a wild and joyful procession back to the bride's home with the newlyweds buggy--drawn by the fastest horse around.  The fathers rode in the second buggy also with a fast horse, and others followed fast on their heels.  Men along the way often saluted the couple with shotgun lasts.  A sumptuous feast was laid at the bride's home and the size or importance of the wedding was sometimes judged by the number of cakes brought by the guests. Dancing lasted until daybreak, although the newlyweds had retired around midnight.4  

Other marriage customs existed.  One marriage custom observed in the remote marshes was "sauter le manche de balai", or jumping over the broomstick.   This allowed a young couple to marry without a priest, who might live far away.  "Witnesses" held the stick about a foot or so above the ground and the couple simply hopped over it together.  The couple was then wed and the merrymaking could begin.4   

Another custom determined who would boss the home.  Old people would get together to make quilts for the girl's trousseau.  When they were through, the boy would stand on one side of a quilt and the girl on the other.  A cat was placed on the quilt and the quilt was tossed into the air.  Whichever side the cat jumped to would determine the boss of the family.4 

  1. Cajun Dancing by Ormande Plater
  2. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  3. The Acadians of South Louisiana--Their Courtships and Weddings.  Lauren Post. Rayne Tribune.   May 22, 1936
  4. Cajuns Had Unusual Courtship Customs.  Crowley Post Signal. Jun 6, 1976
  6. Lyrics by Jordy A

Sunday, July 2, 2017

"Diséz Goodbye A Vôtre Mère (Tell Your Mother Goodbye)" - Dennis McGee & Sady Courville

Dennis McGee is one of the most revered fiddlers in Louisiana music history.  He studied and learned the fiddle from nineteenth century fiddlers and lived long enough to pass on extinct dance and fiddle styles. He was one of the first Louisianans to record extensively, not only with a fiddle band but also with an accordionist, either Amede Ardoin or Angelas Lejeune.   Extensively interviewed and studied, he lived to be part of the festival scene that arose in the 1970s, giving listeners and musicians alike a window into the south Louisiana music of a century ago.1  

Dis "bye bye" à tant qu’ tu as fait pour toujours,
Dis "bye bye" à ta maman pour le reste de tes jours, malheureux,
Gardez donc comment donc, comment j’vas faire, malheureux,
Dis adieu pour toujours, quitter toujours.

Gardez donc, comment donc moi j’vas faire, malheureuse,
Toujours donc moi tout seul pour toujours,
Dis adieu (z) à ta chère et vieille maman, malheureux, 
Viens donc, viens finir tes jours, neg’.

Comment donc que j’vas faire, moi tout seul,
Je suis tout seul, tout seul, malheureux je suis vaincu,
Gardez donc, jamais chère elle fait pas ça  avec ton neg’
Fais pas ça d'en pour lui tout seul, en mentant,
J’suis ton neg’, malheureux, c’est pour toujours, malheureux, 
Fais pas ça, j'suis ton neg mais, malheureux.

Dennis McGee & Sady Courville

Dennis claims that many of the tunes he remembered were passed down from his grandfather, himself remembering them as a child. According to record producer Chris King:
He, himself, learned from a man who was a hundred years old when McGee was just a boy. And this was at the turn of the century, so he was learning a repertoire and technique that was essentially 200 years old.2
One of them was "Diséz Goodbye A Vôtre Mère (Tell Your Mother Goodbye)", a common theme Dennis used about telling his loved one to leave her mother and father and come with him.  However, the love interest refuses and he laments on the pain he must suffer  all alone; blaming her for his misery.  It was recorded for Vocalion (#5334) records in New Orleans in 1929 on his first recording session alongside fiddler Sady Courville.

Say "Bye Bye" to your dad forever, 

Say "Bye Bye" to your mom for the rest of your days, oh my,
Look at how it is, how will I handle this, oh my,
Say goodbye forever, leaving forever.

Look at that, how am I doing to do this, oh my,
Forever, I'll be alone forever,
Say goodbye to your dearest old mom, oh my,
Come back, come live here to the end, my friend.

How do you handle being all alone,
I'm all alone, all alone, oh my, I am defeated,
Look at that, dear, she should never do that with your old man,
Don't do that to him, he's alone, just lying there,
I am your old man, oh my, it'll be forever, oh my,
Don't do that, I'm your old man, well, it's terrible. 

Young fiddlers like Mike Doucet, Al Berard, Dennis Stroughmatt, Tina Pilione and David Greely studied the music of McGee and included his songs, licks and style in their repertoires.1

  1.  Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule, Bill Burge
  2. Vinyl Asides Episode 8 - Christopher King
  3. Lyrics by Stephanie D


Dennis McGee ‎– The Complete Early Recordings (Yazoo, 1994)
Cajun: Rare & Authentic (JSP, 2008)
Cajun Swamp Stomp, Vol 1 (Lumi, 2012)
Cajun Music, The Pretty Girls Don't Want Me (Firefly, 2012)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"Jolie Catin" - Iry Lejeune

In the small community of Pointe Noire near Church Point, a young man named Iry Lejeune was learning to play his cousin's accordion and listening to old recordings, especially records of Amédé Ardoin. This in turn led him to record "The Love Bridge Waltz" and "The Evangeline Special" for a Houston record label in 1947. After scoring a big regional hit with the record, LeJeune began to record for Eddie Shuler's Goldband Records in Lake Charles, bringing back the traditional sound of Cajun music from earlier in the century and through his own musical genius giving his songs an immediacy and direct emotional appeal lacking in Americanized music.5 

His rough accordion sound was a fresh change from the earlier country swing material by the Hackberry Ramblers and Happy Fats. A huge fan of Amédé Ardoin, Lejeune exploded with power as a Cajun accordionist, playing so loud that he often drowned out a full electrified band in his recordings. Many of the Vanicors played behind Iry during this session including Milton and Ellis on fiddle and Ivy on guitar.  

Billboard Magazine, mistakenly listing
"Steve Fruge" and Iry Lejeune

Even though producer Eddie Shuler created the Folk-star label specifically for Iry, he moved him onto his more widely sold Goldband label.
I had Folk-Star and Goldband.  Then, later, after two or three records, I put him on Goldband because he was selling a lot of records. I said "Hell, I don't give a damn about Folk-Star, I want Goldband". I put him on Goldband then.3

Eh, yé yaille, chère jolie,

Toi, catin, 'gardez donc,
Moi, j'suis là dans les misères.
Jolie, je peux pas t'avoir.
Moi, je n'peux plus dormir le soir,
Avec tour mes jonglements,
Et mon chagrin que j'ai pour toi.
Catin, oublie pas ça.

Eh, yé yaille, tu connais,
T'après sentir ton mal,
Parce que, toi, t'as toujors fait,
Tout le temps mal avec moi.
Tu m'as toujours maltraité,
Fait quelque chose que je méritais pas.
Mais, peut-être, que tu t'aperçois,
Toutes tes grosses erreurs.

Eh, yé yaille, tes chers 'tits yeux,
Qu,est aussi canaille ça me ressemble,
Que t'as quelque chose,
Que tu veux me dire,
Mais tu te sens pas cpable.
Moi, je voudrais que tu me redis,
Pour toi-même voir quo'faire que toi,
Tu m'as mis dans autant de chagrin,
Que moi je suis toujours dedans.

During this second session at KPLC in 1950 (or possibly 1952), Eddie Shuler had gotten the Vanicors and Iry together, laying down four sides, one of them being a fast paced two-step known as "Jolie Catin" (#102).  The crude, yet direct, translation to "pretty whore" doesn't capture the deeper meaning in Cajun culture.  It became a term of endearment, roughly translated to "pretty little doll", which had no negative connotation attached.  It's Iry's version of the Amede Ardoin song "Eunice Two Step" and allegedly, the song was inspired by his cousin Geraldine Lejeune Morain.  Doug Kershaw recalls playing with Iry:
I would set in with Iry & Nathan both.  Iry had so much heart & feeling when he sang & played his accordion.  I took that memory and applied it to myself when I grew up.
Crowley Daily Signal
Feb 9, 1950
Soon after, some band member changes had been made. Orsy had left to join Lawrence Walker as his rhythm guitarist and previous recordings had be on a "D" accordion but by this time, Iry traded it in for a "C" Monarch accordion.  According to Mike Leadbitter, on these recordings done at KPLC, Iry removed his shoes due to the fact that while playing, he would stomp his feet... causing the needle to jump on the disc!
Eh, oh my, dear pretty one,
You, little doll, look at this,
I am here in misery.
Pretty one, I can't have you.
I can no longer sleep at night,
With all I am thinking,
And my sadness I have for you.
Little doll, don't forget that.

Eh, oh my, you know,
You are feeling pain,
Because you always did,
Always did wrong by me.
You've always mistreated me,
Did things that I didn't deserve.
Well, maybe you realize,
All your big mistakes.

Eh, oh my, your dear little eyes,
That are so mischievous, it seems to me,
That you have something,
You want to tell me,
But, you don't feel like you are able.
I'd want you to tell me again,
For yourself why you,
Have placed me in all this grief,
That I am still in.
Much later, Nathan Abshire would re-record the tune into his "Basile Breakdown".

  1. Iry Lejeune: Wailin the Blues Cajun Style by Ron Yule
  4. Billboard Magazine, 1951
Cajun's Greatest: The Definitive Collection (Ace, 2004)

Friday, June 23, 2017

"La Valse Penitentiaire" - Moise Robin & Leo Soileau

The song is based on an old Creole story of a convicted person leaving for 99 years, headed to prison.  The verses come from "Le Penitent et L'Ivrogne" which were written by literary authors to accompany popular melodies.1  Recorded in 1929 for Victor records, the original form would be chanted for Alan Lomax by Cleveland and Isaac Sonnier and Fenelon Brasseaux five years later.   The group recorded "La Chanson des Savoy" for Lomax in Erath, Louisiana.1   The Sonnier's lines such as "je suis parti au Baton Rouge", "pour recevoir la berouette", and "c'est le fouet dessus mon dos" are key references to the penitentiary located north of Baton Rouge known as Angola.
Oh, mame, 'gardez donc, malheureuse!
J'sus après m'en aller au Baton Rouge, chère maman!

Oh, chère maman, m'en aller au Baton Rouge
Pour quatre-vingt-dix-neuf ans, chère maman!

Oh, chère maman, hier matin tout l'monde
Était après m'observer m'en aller pour toujours!

Oh, chère maman, c'est d'traîner ma berouette,
Ma berouette pour quatre-vingt-dix-neuf ans!

Oh, chère maman, j'sus après vivre trop longtemps
Pour rester, oui, là-bas à coté d'chère mame!

Oh, chère maman, r'gardez donc, malheureuse!
Temps qu'moi, j'ai parti, t'étais mis à pleurer!

Moi, j'ai dit, "Chère maman, c'est pas la peine toi tu brailles,
J'vas r'venir quand même j'sus dedans vingt ans d'suite!"
Angola prison camp, 1934.

In Robin & Soileau's tune "La Valse Penitentiaire" (#22183), the "berouette" (wheelbarrow), appears as a sign of imprisonment, as it does in many other related songs in Cajun music.  In this case, "quatre-vingt-dix-neuf ans" is a physical sentence.   In Louisiana, the "Penitentiaire" referred to here is the one north of Baton Rouge, located on an old slave plantation known as "Angola".   Angola State Penitentiary is a maximum-security prison farm named after the country from which many of the slaves came who worked on this former plantation.   These plantations Panola, Belle View, Killarney and Angola, were joined in 1880.  With good behavior, the man in the song could get out of prison in twenty years.
Angola convicts building a levee,
Atchafalaya River, 1901
'Andrew D. Lytle's Baton Rouge' Photograph Collection
Louisiana State University Libraries, Special Collections

With constant flooding across the riverbanks of Louisiana, prison labor was commonly used to help build levees to control the flow of water away from populated areas, especially after the Mississippi flood of 1927.  The wheelbarrow would have been the common mode of levee building until dredging machinery made it's way into the swampy areas near the Atchafalaya basin.

Oh, mama, look at this, oh my,

I have gone to Baton Rouge, dear mama.

Oh, dear mama, going to Baton Rouge,
For ninety-nine years, dear mama.

Oh, dear mama, yesterday morning everyone,
Watched me go away forever.

Oh, dear mama, it's the dragging of my wheelbarrow,
My wheelbarrow for ninety-nine years.

Oh, dear mama, I have lived way too long,
To rest, yeh, over there next to my dear mama.

Oh, dear mama, look at that, oh my,
Time which I had left, you were crying.

I said, "Dear mom, it's not worth you wailing,
I'll come back anyways, I'll be back in twenty years."

Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell, authors of The Life and Legend of Leadbelly, said that Angola was "probably as close to slavery as any person could come in 1930." Hardened criminals broke down upon being notified that they were being sent to Angola.

  1. Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordings By Joshua Clegg Caffery
  2. Lyrics by 'Hormisdas'

Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 1: First Recordings - The 1920's (Old Timey, 1970)
The Early Recordings of Leo Soileau (Yazoo, 2006)

Monday, June 19, 2017

"B.O. Sparkle Waltz" - Leroy Broussard

Leroy Broussard started playing at eight, professionally at fifteen and worked with Chester Issac "Pee Wee" Broussard and the Melody Boys, and Cleveland Crochet.  The son of Ulysses and Clotilde Broussard, both musicians (accordion), he would steal his father's accordion to practice and learned to play without his father knowing. 
Oh, comment j'vas faire, bébé,
Oh, je suis moi tout seul, 'tite fille,
Oh, t'es aprés me quitter pour t'en aller,
Oh, comment j'vas faire, bébé.

Oh, mais, moi j'voudrais, 'tite fille. 
Oh, mais, tu t'en viens, bébé.
Oh, oui, me rejoindre Chez B.O.,
Oh, pour un bon temps, bébé.

Leroy Broussard
When he was ten, the family moved to Winnie, Texas and a few years later, at about fifteen, he started to play professionally with local Cajun bands. In the early 1940s he moved back to Louisiana and joins "Pee Wee" Broussard's band, The Melody Boys. It was just a few years later that he formed his own group, The Happy-Go-Lucky Band. By the mid 1940s he is back in Texas playing music and managing B.O.'s Sparkle Club in Bridge City, Texas.  It just across the Rainbow Bridge over the Neches River from Port Arthur. It was an old dance hall with wooden floors and an oyster-shell parking lot.4

The club was named after it's original owners, Alfred Elie "A.E." Billeaud (pronounced "BEE OHH") and his wife Lula Ola Armstrong Billeaud of Port Arthur, TX.  Their family had it's origins from Broussard, Louisiana but left with many Cajuns to the Golden Triangle area of Texas for better job opportunities in the oilfields.  By the 1940s, the Billeaud's settled in the small town of Bridge City and opened up B.O's Sparkle Club with a relative Walter Billeaud managing the nearby movie theater.  By the 1950s, Leroy and his relative, Bill Broussard, were running the place. 
Oh, how am I going to handle this, baby?
Oh, I'm by myself, little girl,
Oh, you're leaving me to go away,
Oh, how am I going to handle this, baby?

Oh, well, I'd like to, baby,
Oh, well, come to you, baby,
Oh, yes, join me at B.O.'s place,
Oh, for a good time, baby.

By 1957, Leroy and his group recorded the "B. O. Sparkle Waltz" on Eddie Shuler's Goldband label. It was a song that had some influences from Cleoma Breaux's "Pin Solitaire".   His group featured himself on accordion, Freeman Hanks on fiddle, Robert Thibodeaux on drums and Charlie Babineaux on guitar. Just listening to Leroy belt out the vocals, one can understand why this is one of the most difficult songs for Cajun singers. 

Sadly, around that same year, the original building burnt down and by 1958, C.G. "Tiny" Richardson rebuilt it and renamed it the Sparkle Paradise club.  He gave it a dash of honky-tonk glamour. He booked Cajun, country, zydeco, and R&B acts, including legends like Lesa Cormier, Clifton Chenier, Fats Domino, and Freddy Fender, until the Paradise closed in the late eighties.6  He reopened it again in 1999 but in 2005, Hurricane Rita damaged the place beyond repair.   In 2006, although he kept trying to raise the money, the city refused to allow Richardson re-open the famous place, threatening to demolish it themselves.  In a desperate attempt, Tiny used trailers and a truck to keep a wrecking crew from razing the building but to no avail.7  Bassist "Jumpin' Joe" Morris remembered the place:
Oh man, it was a huge club. It was really huge. And everybody would turn out. People were like, you know, on the bandstand, we were standing high over and it would look like, you know, ants, there were so many people that was there.5

As for Leroy, by the late 1950s, he was in Louisiana again working for the city of Lafayette where he retired after fifteen years due to disability. He would later record for Lee Lavergne's Lanor Records.  August Broussard would later re-record the tune for Swallow Records.

  5. Way Down In Louisiana: Clifton Chenier, Cajun, Zydeco and Swamp Pop Music
  8. Cajun Dancehall Heyday by Ron Yule
  9. Lyrics by Stephane F

Cajun Dance Tunes Vol.2 (Goldband, 1989)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Une Pias Ici Une Pias La Bas" - Hackberry Ramblers

"A Dollar Here And A Dollar There".  The Hackberry Ramblers were formed just as the Great Depression was taking a toll on the music industry and south Louisiana people's lives. Fiddle player Luderin Darbone and accordionist Edwin Duhon created the two-man core of The Hackberry Ramblers, formed in the Louisiana town of the same name in 1932.  Darbone and Duhon's musical progress has reflected both the ebb and flow of Cajun music, and its melding with all kinds of musical forms: country, the jazz-tinged form known as western swing, and a palpable black influence.2   

Though such eloquence suggests a masterful command of English, both men came to it as a second language, having spent their early childhood speaking French. 

When I started school, I couldn't speak English. There were two of us like that; we sat at a little red table. They had an outhouse in those days, they didn't have a toilet inside - and when the kids' hands went up 'cos they wanted to go, we didn't know what they were saying. So by 11 o'clock, I was peeing on the floor. The first English word I learned was when the teacher grabbed us: "Gotcha." She beat us black and blue. Knocked the hell out of us.2

Quand j'ai eu vingt et un ans,

Mon pere m'a dit que j'etais dedans.

C'est l'heure que t'arretes de depenser,

Une piastre ici, une piastre la-bas.

Ca s'fait, moi, j'ai marie une chere petite fille,
Une des filles que moi j'aimais,
Asteur, je connais ca vas etre,
Une piastre ici, une piastre la-bas.

Ma petite femme ellese peut faire du linge,
Du linge pour un bebe,
Et la, je connais ca va etre,
Une piastre ici, une piastre la-bas.

Floyd Shreve, Luderin Darbone,
Danny Shreve, Claude "Pete" Duhon

The Hackberry Ramblers were known to cover some traditional French tunes such as "Jolie Blonde" but also perform new compositions such as "Une Pias Ici Une Pias La Bas", a song which sows what it means to live in a money-based economy caught in the throes of the Great Depression.  It was one of the many songs Luderin wrote himself.3 The "une piastre" is the most common Cajun term for a dollar, though "un dollar" is sometimes used.  "Ça s'fait" is a very common term which might be translated literally "thus", but is used as "and so".1

Recorded at the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans in 1938, the group assembled band members Danny Shreve on guitar, Floyd Shreve on guitar, Claude "Pete" Duhon on bass,  and Luderin Darbone on fiddle and vocals.  The group not only recorded for Bluebird throughout the 1930s, they found other ways to keep the money flowing in by playing routinely on KVOL radio station based in Lafayette, Louisiana.  Throughout the song, at the end of each verse, the band jumped in together to repeat "une piastre ici, une piastre la-bas", highlighting their mutual feelings about where their money really goes.
Rayne Tribune
Feb 19, 1937

When I turned twenty-one,

My father told me what I had to do,

It's time to stop spending,

A dollar here, a dollar there.

So I married a dear little girl,
One of the girls I loved,
Now, I know it's going to be,
A dollar here, a dollar there.

My little woman, she can make clothes,
Clothes for a baby,
And now, I know it's going to be,
A dollar here, a dollar there.
"Une Pias" was later sold to someone in Finland and they used it in an advertisement.  Luderin notes:
I never did hear the song they made, but they paid us over $4,000.3

  1. Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 3.  Liner notes.
  3. Cajun Dancehall Heyday.  Louisiana Folklife Journal Vol 37. (2013).  Ron Yule
Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 3: The String Bands Of The 1930s (Old Timey/Arhoolie, 1971)
Cajun Origins (Catfish, 2001)
Cajun Louisiane 1928-1939 (Fremeaux, 2003)
Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

"Aimer Et Perdre (To Love And Lose)" - Joe Falcon

Joe Falcon and Cleoma Breaux were the first authentic Cajun musicians from South-West Louisiana to record commercially. Guitarist and singer Cléoma is a major historic and pioneering figure in the evolution of South Louisiana music. The popularity of their recordings opened the door for further commercial recording of Cajun and Creole music. Columbia and its competitors were solely focused on making money in the vernacular/ethnic music market. Cultural preservation, obviously, was never a consideration for them. Nevertheless these corporations did function as defacto documentarians. They captured a snapshot in musical time – the transitional period when an isolated, self-contained community began interacting with mass communication, as recently created by the ascendance of two synergistic new industries: records, and radio broadcasting.5

In 1929, they recorded a love song called "Aimer Et Perdre (To Love And Lose)" for Columbia records (#40513).  Their Columbia years lasted until the Great Depression.   Afterwards, riding on their local fame, they performed and recorded, rather prolifically, until Cleoma's untimely death in 1941. Joe and many other Cajuns mourned her passing.The melody would influence Leo's "Ma Chere Tite Fille" and "La Valse de la Rosa".  Later, it shows up in Nathan Abshire's "Cher Tit Monde".

Oh, cher 'tit monde, moi j't'aimais,
J't'ai perdu par roulailler les grands chemins,
Regarde donc voir quoi j'ai fait avec moi-même, cher,
Moi j'te regrette, jolie fille,
T'es mignonne oui pour moi,
Oui pour moi, mais t'oublier mais comme j'ai fait,
Regarde donc voir, cher, t'es mignonne
Oui, pour moi, joli coeur malheureux,
Et Bon Dieu ta belle figure que moi j'aime tant, cher,
Plutôt c'est moi, mais s'en aller,
J'vais parler avec ta maman.

Oh, cher 'tit monde, ah yé yaille,
Jongle à moi, malheureux,
Tu vas attraper ça t'as fait y' a pas longtemps, cher,
Oui, t'auras des regrets, tu vas voir toi t'en as.

Oh, tous les belles filles d'la Ville Platte, mais sont mignonnes,
Mais j'sais pas quoi y a avec eux,
Oh j'les sent' si vaillantes et si adorables,
Y en n'a pas un' qui veut de moi,
Moi j'sais pas si c'est moi,

Si c'est moi qu'est malchanceux dans la Ville Platte.

Cleoma Breaux and Joe Falcon
By Robert Crumb
According to record producer Chris King, the recording made him reconsider other Americana music at an early age:
It wasn't until high school that I had this discovery of a stack of 78s at my grandparents farm which contained almost a reflection of what I have in my own collection which is Washington Phillips, Blind Willie Johnson, but it also had "Aimer Et Perdre", this Cajun lost love song by Joe and Cleoma Falcon in there and it got me very interested in what music was outside of the American vernacular.4
There are loose similarities to Leo Soileau's Grand Mamou.   It creates a simultaneous feeling of joy and despair from the singular human emotion of love, and all the consequences that follow.2

Oh dear little world, I loved you,

I lost you by rambling along the highways,

Look what I have done with myself, dear,

I miss you, pretty girl,

You're cute for me, 

You're cute for me, but to forget you as I did,

Look, dear, you're cute,

Yes for me, unhappy sweetheart,

And Good Lord, your pretty face I love so much, dear,

Instead it's me who's going,

I'm going to talk to your mama.

Oh dear little world, ah yé yaille,
Think about me, unhappy one,
Before long, you're going to pay for what you did, dear,
Yes you will have regrets, you'll see, you will have some.

Oh all the pretty girls in Ville Platte are cute,
But I don't know what's the matter with them,
I feel they 're so nice and lovable
There's not one who wants me
I don't know if it's me,

If it's me who's unlucky in Ville Platte.

It's because of these early years of work done by Columbia and other labels we are given the chance to hear the Cajun music of the era.  Over the following years, other labels and projects remastered the music giving these songs new life.  In 2012, Chris King released a CD on Tompkins Square entitled "Aimer Et Perdre: To Love & To Lose Songs, 1917-1934".   In 2017, the duo was featured in the television film "American Epic".

  1. Aimer Et Perdre: To Love & To Lose Songs, 1917-1934.  Liner notes.
  4. Vinyl Asides Episode 8 - Christopher King

Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 1: First Recordings - The 1920's (Old Timey, 1970)
Cajun Vol. 1 Abbeville Breakdown 1929-1939 (Columbia, 1990)
Cajun Origins (Catfish, 2001)
Aimer Et Perdre: To Love & To Lose Songs, 1917-1934 (Tompkins Square, 2012)