Sunday, March 26, 2017

"Gran Prairie" - Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc

The lively character and musician, Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc. It's one of the Happy's more well known tunes, converting a popular melody into a country string band song.  Happy and fiddler Harry Choates had a short and tumultuous stint in 1940 when their group recorded a slew of songs for Bluebird records.  However, like many bands that worked with Harry, it didn't last.  His drinking and loose lifestyle was too erratic for Happy's style.  While together briefly, they headed to the Jefferson Hotel in Dallas, Texas to record "Gran Prairie" (#2081).  Grand Prairie is a rural region of St. Landry Parish between Opelousas and Ville Platte.  Here, the song which would eventually become Hank William's "Jambalaya" became an ode to this region.

Moi j'm'en va chère p'tite fille pour toujours,

Ouais là-bas z'à Grand Prairie malheureux,

Rappelle-toi malheureuse ma p'tite fille,

Tous les misères qu'tu m'as fait, jolie coeur.

Moi j'm'en va chère p'tite fille pour toujours,

Ouais là-bas z' à Grand Prairie malheureux,

Ouais là-bas malheureuse au bout du monde,

Moi j'm'en va z'à Grand Prairie,

C'est mon pays.

Eric Arceneaux, Louis Arceneaux, Happy Fats
1936 Blue Goose Dancehall2

The first recording of this melody as a Cajun tune was by the Guidry Brothers called "Le Garcon Negligent" in 1929.   As a direct influence from the Jolly Boy's "Abbeville", the tune foreshadows Papa Cairo's use of the tune in his recording of "Grand Texas", or "Big Texas", in years to come.   It would be no surprise that Happy heard the melody since he had previously worked with Red Fabaucher of the Jolly Boys and Papa Cairo of the Louisiana Rounders.  Both had used the melody in their tunes, including Papa Cairo's "Alons Kooche Kooche" several years earlier.  The song contains a quick fiddle ride by a relatively unknown fiddle player at the time known as Harry Choates.  The rest of the band contained Sandy Lormand on guitar, Joseph M. "Pee Wee" Broussard on banjo, Ray Clark on steel guitar and Harold Broussard on piano.  

I, myself, will go, dear little girl, forever,

Yes, over there to Grand Prairie, oh my,

Remember how unhappy you were, my little girl,

All the misery which you made for me, pretty heart.

I, myself, will go, dear little girl, forever,
Yes, over there to Grand Praire, oh my,
Yes, over there, oh my, to the end of the world,
I, myself, will go to Grand Prairie,
It's my countryside.
Sandy would go on to play with Happy for several years including Doc Guidry's Sons of the South band.  Pee Wee Broussard would tour with Harry Choates and in an interview with Kevin Coffey, stated:
[Harry] never looked for what could happen tomorrow.  He lived for today.1

  1. Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost By Tony Russell
  2. Rayne's People and Places By Tony Olinger


Harry Choates: Five-Time Loser 1940-1951 (Krazy Kat, 1990)
Gran Prairie: Cajun Music Anthology, Vol. 3: The Historic Victor Bluebird Sessions (Country Music, 1994)
Cajun Fiddle King (AIM, 1999)
Devil In The Bayou - The Gold Star Recordings (Bear Family, 2002)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)
Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)
The Beginner's Guide to Cajun Music (Proper/Primo, 2008)

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