Wednesday, February 1, 2017

"Wondering" - Riverside Ramblers

The Riverside Ramblers were actually the Hackberry Ramblers recording by a different name.  By 1936, the band was broadcasting from the Montgomery Ward store in Lake Charles and the station held a contest as to what to name the group.  The store's most popular tire was the "Riverside" and some listener won with the suggestion of Riverside Ramblers.

In 1937, when Joe Werner was in the band, they went to record again and did a song Joe claimed he had learned from an itinerant, hobo guitar player in Rayne.  Legend has it, the two musicians exchanged stories and songs, including the name of this song called "Wondering" (#6926), and it became the biggest seller the Hackberry/Riverside Ramblers ever had.1   It made Joe Werner a star and he quite for a while to form his own band and recorded for the Decca label.  When asked how "Wondering" came into being, Joe laughed and said:
It was back in my courtin' days.  One day I sat down and started picking away at the guitar and playing the harmonica and the tune fell together.  I worked out the words the same way.  It was in Paco's Cafe over in Rayne.  I had the song and words before I left Paco's that night.5
Paco's Cafe 9
Rayne by Tony Olinger

He explained that he later got help to have the song written since he wasn't able to write music.  Preston Trahan, who was a pianist with an orchestra "somewhere up North" was the one who wrote the music down for him.5  Trahan was a well known pianist in the region that worked for Frank's Orchestra throughout the 1920s.8

For years, many believed Joe Werner was the original writer of the song.  However, historians now know the song is a cover of a Jack Golding 1928 recording for Gennett records called "Wondering".  Evidently, it was doubtful that Bluebird was aware of the original tune which Werner was borrowing from. Werner recorded the tune alongside Luderin Darbone on fiddle and Lennis Sonnier on guitar.



Wonderin', wonderin' who's kissin' you

Wonderin', wonderin' if you're wondering too

Ev'ry hour through the day since you've been away

I keep wonderin', yes, wondering if you're wonderin' too



I pray every night to the good Lord above

To send back to me the one I really love



Wonderin', wonderin' who's kissin' you

Wonderin', wonderin' if you're wondering too

Ev'ry hour through the day since you've been away

I keep wonderin', yes, wondering if you're wonderin' too



(Instrumental Break)

I pray every night to the good Lord above
To send back to me the one I really love

Wonderin', wonderin' who's kissin' you
Wonderin', wonderin' if you're wondering too
Ev'ry hour through the day since you've been away
I keep wonderin', yes, wondering if you're wonderin' too

Joe Werner, Luderin Darbone, Lennis Sonnier

The Hackberry Ramblers however liked their original name but made a compromise when they went to record again.  Their Cajun numbers were labeled as by the Hackberry Ramblers and their English material as by the Riverside Ramblers.  The outfit got a call to do some recordings in New Orleans.  Joe went along for the ride.  Joe stated:
Victor picked it up and made one of them old Bluebird records of it.5
Joe's "Wondering" went over the country and into Canada.  GIs in Europe told him after the war that they had heard it on record in the service clubs of England and Germany and elsewhere.5  Joe claims he got paid $150 for the song.7

By the end of that year, Decca's A&R man tried getting several of the members to move over to their label. "Wondering" as by the Hackberry Ramblers was a very successful record, so much so that the Decca label were very keen to get the band to record the number for them.   Fiddle player Luderin Darbonne told them it would mean the band reneging on their contract with RCA Victor, something he and the group wouldn't entertain. Seemingly Joe Werner then came to see Luderin to announce that he was leaving the Hackberry Ramblers and was going to record for Decca.4  



Darbone was unaware that Werner had obtained the copyright of the song after Decca had discussed the possibility of him recording for the company. Thus Joe jumped ship to Decca and by the end of the year, they had him re-record the tune as "Answer to Wondering" with a new group, Louisiana Rounders.4

By 1951, Webb Pierce signed a contract with Decca.  His third release, "Wondering", took off slowly but eventually spent four weeks at the top in 1952. By 1952, Joe gave up entertaining, mainly due to the loss of his son Richard the previous year in a tragic accident.  His 10 year old son, who used to accompany him on the KSIG radio program, swerved his bike into a tractor trailer, killing him.6   Joe continued to collect royalties on the song ever since. 


Jack Golding, 1928

Joe Werner, 1937


Webb Pierce, 1952



  1. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music by Ryan Andre Brasseaux 
  2. Hackberry Ramblers Early Recordings 1935-1948 LP Cajun Old Timey.  Liner notes. 
  3. Country: A Regional Exploration By Ivan M. Tribe
  4. CAJUN-Rare & Authentic.  Pat Harrison.  Liner notes.
  5. "Werner's Wondering Finds New Popularity".  H.I. Mitchell.  CDS. 1952.
  6. "Richard Werner Killed In Bike-Truck Mishap"  CDS 4-28-1951
  7. CDS 12-12-1967
  8. "Work Complete On Legion Blackface Show" RT 8-4-1928
  9. Rayne By Cheryl McCarty, Tony Olinger

Find:

Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 4: From The 30s To The 50s (Old Timey, 1972)
Hackberry Ramblers: Early Recordings 1935-1950 (Arhoolie, 2003)
Cajun Louisiane 1928-1939 (Fremeaux, 2003)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)
The Beginner's Guide to Cajun Music (Proper/Primo, 2008)
JOE WERNER Early Cajun Artist (BACM, 2016)

1 comment:

  1. great article, full of revelations. Thanks Wade

    ReplyDelete

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