Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Bayou Man" - Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc & Al Terry

In the heart of Cajun music came local musicians singing of the Cajun countryside for English country music labels.   The Southerners were a group led by Allison Joseph Theriot on vocals with his brother Charles Edward "Bob" Theriot on steel guitar.  They were better known as Al Terry and Bob Terry.  Al was among the first musicians of Cajun ancestry to succeed in both country and rockabilly music.  The group performed live on KVOL in Lafayette, Louisiana where Terry also worked as an announcer.  It would be people like Happy Fats who would help steer their careers.

By 1952, Happy used Al's band and the song "Bayou Man" (#2) was released on a California label called Bella. The label was run by John Pusateri, a native of Franklin, Louisiana and a good friend of Hank Williams. That same year, Al and Bob was touring with Hank Williams.  After his release of "Good Deal, Lucille" in 1954, he made an appearance on the Louisiana Hayride show; co-billed with Elvis Presley.

Southerners, 1950
Sexton Trahan (guitar), Danny Boulet (piano),
Alton Bernard (drums), Al Terry (vocals),
Bob Terry (steel guitar), Rufus Alleman (bass)

Bayou man, bayou man,
Wild and free to roam, bayou man.
Row, row, r-o-w, row,
Just going along.

Going to the swamps
Setting traps today,
'Cause the possum trail is moving far away,
And the coons are coming up from the across the bay,
Tra-la-la, tra-la-la,
Just rowing along.

Bayou man, bayou man, 
Bold and gay, a loving bayou man,
Row, row, r-o-w, row,
Just singing along.

When the season's over,
This racoon trapping man,
Will serenade his gal,
And ask her for her hand,
In the church he'll wed, 
The fairest dame in the land.
Tra-la-la, tra-la-la,
Just rowing along.

Church Point News
Aug 17, 1948

The Bella session was one of Happy's last Cajun recording attempts.   He recorded a session with Alex Broussard and Doc Guidry in 1964 for Swallow Records but two years later, focused his efforts in a different direction.

By 1966, with race relations making the news, Happy, along with local record producer J.D. Miller, used his musical abilities to bring controversial attention to the changes he saw happening.  Miller created the label Red Rebel Records specifically for segregationist music which Happy used to record roughly 20 songs between 1966 and 1972, including one called "Dear Mr. President". 

"Dear Mr. President" was a spoken word condemnation of Lyndon Johnson's civil rights policies that sold over 200,000 copies despite its appalling racism. 

According to Happy in an interview:
"We didn't have any problems with that, not at all," Fats maintained. "There wasn't anything violent about it -- it was just a joke. I had a car of black people run me down on the highway one time coming in Lafayette, and they said, 'Are you the fellow that made " Dear Mr. President"?' I said I was, and they said, 'We'd like to buy some records.' They bought about 15 records. There was a big van full of black people and they loved it . . . Either side at that time, they didn't want integration very much. They wanted to go each their own way."3

In his songs, he made clear his confusion on the civil rights legislation that was being passed as well as his discontent for race integration.  Some songs vehemently and overtly express hatred such as "Looking For A Handout" and "Kajun Ku Klux Klan".  Others weren't so direct.  Similar to his promotion of Dudley Leblanc years earlier, he used his recording outlet to promote politics in songs such as "Dear Daddybird (From A Plow Mule To A Politican)" and "Vote Wallace in 72".   Other songs dealt with the growing discontent with the war overseas such as "Birthday Thank You Tommy , From Viet Nam" and "Veteran’s Plea".  

By 1976, Happy's output was on the decline.  He helped record a few singles that year on some obscure labels with only a handful of songs in the years to come.  Although his later years tarnished his name, he was a colorful character that helped promote Cajun music and musicians themselves in his earlier years.

  1. The Encyclopedia of Country Music
  2. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  3. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/happy-fats-mn0000949000/biography
  4. Discussions with Billy D
Al Terry featuring Bob Terry & "Happy Fats": Better Late Than Never (BACM, )

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