Monday, April 24, 2017

"Cankton Two Step" - Lee Sonnier

During the 1940s, musician Lee Sonnier was a respected Cajun accordion player from Rayne, Louisiana.   He and his band were invited by his son-in-law J.D. Miller to record several songs in 1950 in Miller's makeshift recording studio. Sonnier's group consisted of Bruce Broussard on vocals, possibly Freeman Hanks on guitar, possibly Louis Miller on fiddle  and possibly Rita Broussard on guitar. J.D. explains:

At the time I had numerous people who wanted French records. An French records, apart from 'Jole Blon' and a couple of other Harry Choates recores, just were not available.  You had the older records that had been made by Joe Falcon, they may have been discontinued.  So I just said 'Well, I'm gonna see maybe if we can make some records'.  I didn't know what would be the first step to do it.1

Les paroles toi t'as écouté ta vieille maman et ton papa, 

Je vas t’emmener ayou jamais, catin, mais, moi je vas t’avoir.

Tu m'as quitté depuis la terre (?) mais moi j'connais j'mérite pas ça, 
Pas tout ça toi t'après me faire avec ton nègre, ici, jolie fille. 

Avant longtemps, tu vas revenir, pis demander je te fais pardon, 
pour ça t'as fait z'avec moi, mais ouais, je voudrais plus te voir.
Crowley Daily Signal
Jun 21, 1950

Having learned electrical work from his father-in-law Lee Sonnier, he was fascinated on how the recording process worked based on a previous session at Cosimo Matassa's studio in New Orleans that year.   The increasing availability of portable tape machines was a boon in encouraging young men such as Miller to take the plunge into the record business.  Lee's band worked with Miller to record "Cankton Two Step" (#1018), one of the first Cajun accordion recordings after WWII.   The group gathered around three microphones and a tape recorder in the back of Miller's M&S electrical shop.  Miller recalls:
At that time there wasn't much equipment available.  In fact, I had the first tape recorder in Louisiana.  When we recorded at Cosimo's we were recorded with an overhead disc cutter. I went to Houston, Gates Radio Supplies, inquiring about getting me a recorder, and I had in mind an overhead because that was the only one I'd ever seen.  They had just got in three Magnecord recorders; it seems to me it was a model PT-6.  You could carry it around. So I bought that, I bought three microphones, I bought a high-level mixer, which in reality is just three volume controls, and I came back. I had an amplifier that I used for monitoring and setup what I had as a monitor speaker, just one speaker.2
J.D. Miller

The words you had heard from your old mom and dad,

I'm going to take you there forever, little doll, well, I'm going to get you.

You left me from this land, well, I know I didn't deserve this,
Not all that which you've done with your old man, here, pretty girl.

Before long, you'll come back, and ask that I forgive you,
For what you've done with me, well yeh, I would like to see you more.

Lee's group played alongside other Cajun bands of the time such as Iry Lejeune, Lawrence Walker, Nathan Abshire and Aldus Roger at dance halls such as the Welcome Club.  Later recordings by musicians such as Lawrence Frugerework the tune into the song "Tit Mamou".

  1. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  2. Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock 'n' Roll Pioneers By John Broven
  3. Lyrics by Stephane F and Jordy A
Fais Do Do Breakdown - Volume One - The Late 1940's (Flyright, 1986)
Acadian All Star Special - The Pioneering Cajun Recordings Of J.D. Miller (Bear, 2011)

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