Saturday, May 20, 2017

"Avalon Waltz" - Nathan Abshire

Nathan Abshire lived most of his early life in a small town north of Gueydan called Riceville.   After the war, he was approached by members of the Pine Grove dancehall house band, known as the Pine Grove Boys.   The accordion was back in the limelight and the owner, Quincy Davis, thought the addition would be good for business in his clubs.  By 1949, he was recording in the radio stations in Lake Charles under the direction of Virgel Bozman and George Khoury.  In 1950, Abshire moved to Basile, located on the Louisiana prairie on Highway 190: 
“What brought me here to Basile was music. You see, I came to play seven nights a week at the Avalon Club here in Basile. So my wife and I took this little house, and we’ve lived here ever since. We know lots of people here, and lots of people come from all over to visit.”
Nathan would play most of his nights at this club and adopted the name, the Musical Five.  According to author Lyle Ferbache, there were other clubs that had a long history in southwest Louisiana, and a few were older, but arguably none of them quite had the Avalon's pedigree. Leo Soileau, Happy Fats, Harry Choates and many others had all be featured at the Avalon during the peak of the string band years.  It was a place owned and managed by a rough and tumble "colorful and bombastic owner", John Quincy Davis.2  


Quincy Davis (right)

Davis served in the navy during WWI but got into trouble, serving a prison term. Legend has it that he escaped from Angola the first time, only to be recaptured after a statewide manhunt.  By 1937, he had converted a large, narrow barn in Basile into the Avalon Club.  Davis was a big man and if a fight broke out, it didn't take long for both parties to be outside.2   According to fiddler Will Kegley's daughter:
If Quincy got real mad, he would grab the troublemakers, knock their heads together, and run or drag them out the door.2

Hé, tite fille, rappelle-toi ça t'as fait,

Ouais z'avec moi, 'tit monde, il y a pas longtemps,

Et tant qu'à toi, 'tit fille, je veux pas de toi.

Hé, 'tite fille, moi j'ai été chez ton papa,
C'est pour demander, catin, ton mariage,
Mais, c'est trop dur, catin, pour toi, te marier.

Nathan's group played six out of seven days, alternating between both Quincy Davis’ clubs in Lake Charles, the Crystal Grill and the Broken Mirror in the evening, and on KPLC radio for a daily broadcast in the daytime.  By the time they recorded "Avalon Waltz" (#631) in 1953, his band contained Ernest Thibodeaux on rhythm guitar, Atlas Fruge steel guitar, Jim Baker on bass guiter, possibly Shelton Manuel or Ozide Kegley on drums, and Will Kegley or Cleveland "Cat" Deshotel on fiddle.  
Pervis Clement, Ronnie Goodreaux, Nathan Abshire
Ernest Thibodeaux (guitar on right, out of sight)

The Avalon was successful partially because Davis had crafted it, and the surrounding buildings, into a tourist attraction in which music was only one aspect.2  According to Bernella Fruge:
He had a zoo by the Avalon.  He had buses coming in. A lot of buses from Opelousas, New Iberia, Mamou.  Buses that would bring people from the country to the Avalon club. And his club had a restaurant, a saloon... the zoo had monkeys, snakes, I think one tiger...right on the side of the building.2 



Hey, little girl, remember what you've done,

Yeh, with me, little everything, not long ago,

And as for you, little girl, I don't want you.

Hey, girl, I've been to your dad's place,
It's to ask, little doll, your hand in marriage,
Well, it's too hard, little doll, for you to get married.

The Clement Brothers, who also recorded for Khoury at the same time as Nathan, loved Nathan's playing and went to the Avalon almost every week-end to hear him play and sit in once in awhile.  His Avalon Waltz can be found in the melody of Austin Pitre's "Redell Waltz".



  1. http://www.offbeat.com/articles/masters-of-louisiana-music-nathan-abshire/
  2. Louisiana Music by Lyle Ferbache and Andrew Brown
  3. Lyrics by Stephane F and Phoebe T and Matt D

Find:
Nathan Abshire & the Pine Grove Boys - French Blues (Arhoolie, 1993)

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