Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Les Blues De La Louisiane (Louisiana Blues)" - Leo Soileau

Recorded in Chicago, IL, "Les Blues De La Louisiane" (#17009) has to be the bluesiest song Leo Soileau had during his decade of recording.   The instrumental allowed Leo to sit back and let his fiddle shine only accompanied by a simple guitar rhythm. 

For unknown reasons, Decca chose to market this for the French speaking market as well as the English speakers as well.   On their original 1935 release, the song is listed as "Les Blues De La Louisiane" and on the re-issue, they gave it a new catalog number, renaming it to "Louisiana Blues".  The same was done with the records flip-side recording: "Pario Acadia Breakdown" or "Arcadia County Breakdown" respectively.  While Leo played the fiddle, his backup guitarist could have been either Bill "Dewey" Landry, Floyd Shreve, O.P. Shreve or Johnny Roberts, all who have played guitar with Leo at some point during this time.

Rayne Tribune
Sep 17, 1937

By the late 1930s, Leo had quite recording his group and took work playing in bars along the silver strip of Highway 90 playing in several dancehalls.  He even joined a group called the Daylight Creepers lead by Papa Cairo and backed by Bill Redlich, Erby Thibodeaux, and featured a guitar-playing new-comer to the Cajun music scene: J.D. Miller.   Miller would go onto be a key figure in the resurgence of Cajun music recordings after the war. 

Leo Soileau: Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 7 (Old Timey, 1982)
Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"Since The Age Of 14" - Joe Manuel

Joe Manuel and his brother Abe Manuel became one of the early Cajun string band groups before WWII.  Their father, Adam Manuel, was an accordion player who taught his sons some of the early Cajun songs he had learned. They had their first stint working alongside Leo Soileau's group and meeting people like Harry Choates, particularly in places like the Avalon Club in Basile.1  However, Joe's major claim to music was his beginnings playing guitar with Leo's contemporary, Harry Choates.   He recorded with Harry from 1946 to 1948, singing and playing banjo.  His wife, Johnny Smirle Manuel, played piano.

Depuis l'âge de quatorze ans,

Moi, j'ai roulé manche à manche,

(Avec) ma jug au plombeau,
Oh, mais, malheureuse.

Eh, 'tite fille, 
Le soleil après se coucher,
Mon cheval, il est p'us là,
Et parti à Grande Chenière.

Quand, moi, j'étais petit,
Mais, moi je braillais pour les patates,
Asteur, moi, je suis grand, 
Mais, moi, je brailles pour les veuves.

Eh, p'tite fille,
Toi, t'après m'quitter,
Moi, je mérite pas ça
oh, mais, malheureuse.

Oh that sounds good,
Come in ((boys??)...

That's pretty.

Quand, moi, j'étais petit,
Mais, moi je braillais, mais, pour les patates,
Asteur, moi, je suis grand, 
Mais, moi, je brailles, mais, pour ces veuves.

Eh, p'tite fille,
Toi, t'après m'laisser,
Moi, je mérite pas ça,
oh, mais, malheureuse.
B.D. Williams, Ralph Richardson, Abe Manuel,
Lenny Benoit, Pop Benoit, Joe Manuel 1
Courtesy of Ron Yule

However, after a falling-out with Harry, the group fell apart, and Joe went on his own forming his Melody Boys during the 1950s.   Once formed, the group would record an old Cajun tune called "Since The Age Of 14" (# 102) on Eddie Shuler's Folk-Star label. His brother, Abe Manuel Sr., toured alongside Lefty Frizzel around Nashville.  Manuel's tune was a play on Leo Soileau's "Quand Je Suis Bleu".  It was a song borrowed from the lyrics of Dennis McGee's 1930 recording of "Les Blues Du Texas" and captured by Alan Lomax in 1934 as "Depuis L'âge de Quinze Ans" during a field session.  The French word 'manche' translates directly to 'handle' or 'sleeve', however, in this context, the unique Cajun phrase "manche à manche" is understood to mean "from road to road", alluding to someone wandering around aimlessly, like a hobo.

Since the age of 14,

Well, I have rambled,

From one road to another,
(With) my pommel jug,
Oh, well, oh my.

Hey, little girl,
The sun has gone this evening,
My horse, he's no longer there,
And I am leaving for Grande Chenière.

When I was small, well,
I would beg for potatoes,
Now, that I'm grown,
Well, I beg, well, for the older women.

Hey, little girl,
You, yourself, have left me,
I don't deserve that,
Oh, well, oh my.

When I was small,
Well, I would beg, well, for potatoes,
Now, that I'm grown,
Well, I beg, well, for the older women.

Hey, little girl,
You, yourself, have left me,
I don't deserve that,
Oh, well, oh my.

Grande Chenière is a small villiage in south Louisiana located in Cameron Parish situated on the Mermentau River.  While the name directly translates to "oak grove", in Louisiana, the term "chenière" applies to a ridge of relatively high ground surrounded by swampland and covered with oak trees.2  "Les veuves" directly translates to "the widows", but in Cajun French, it often refers to lonely, single, and often older women.  By the 1950s, Leo's tune became Elise Deshotel and Dewey Balfa's "La Valse De Bon Baurche".  Manuel's tune is not to be confused with Dennis McGee's "Two Step De La Ville Platte", more commonly known as "Depuis L'âge de Quinze Ans". 

  1. "Cajun Dancehall Heyday" by Ron Yule
  2. Louisiana Place Names: Popular, Unusual, and Forgotten Stories of Towns ... By Clare D'Artois Leeper
  3. Lyrics by Jordy A and Stephane F

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"Alberta" - Walker Brothers

By 1935, small acoustic accordion-based ensembles began to give way to more substantial string-based orchestras.  Lawrence Walker and Nathan Abshire, a pair of experimental accordionists who would become two of the leading proponents of the pot-WWII dancehall sound, recorded the clearest example of the shift to Cajun swing on the Bluebird record label.3  

In 1935, Lawrence recorded his version of the song "Corina, Corina", in English, in honor of his daughter Alberta.   Originally a Leadbelly song called "Roberta", it was also covered by the Mississippi Sheiks.  Lawrence joined his brother Elton Walker on violin, with  probably Junior Broussard on guitar, and possibly Aldus Broussard or Norris Mire on guitar.  According to producer Chris Strachwitz:

It is well known among jazz musicians in New Orleans.  I think it is a jazz tune with a Cajun accent.   This belongs to both black and white tradition in the South and was first popularized on record by the Mississippi Sheiks in the late 1920s.  Perhaps it was a popular tune long before then.  The accordion on this performance seems to show strong [Creole] Cajun influence and I think Lawrence Walker probably learned it from a [Creole] Cajun performer.1
"Corina" was a "blues with a touch of jazz and a flavor of hillbilly" that by the 1930s was widely popular among blues and hillbilly artists, who also recorded the arrangement under the titles "Alberta" and "Roberta". The tune later became a fixture in the Western swing repertoire largely through the popularity of Bob Wills.3   Author Ryan Brasseaux writes:
In essence, "Alberta" can be equated with the Breaux family composition "Ma Blonde Est Parti" because both tunes describe an inconsolable man lamenting about the impenetrable boundaries that separate the protagonist from his belle.3

Alberta, Alberta, where have you been so long,
Alberta, Alberta, where have you been so long,
I ain't had no lovin', since you've been gone.

I met Alberta, way across the pond,
I met Alberta, way across the pond,
Didn't write me no letters, you didn't care for me.

Alberta, Alberta, tell the world "Adieu",
Alberta, Alberta, tell the world "Adieu",
Just a little bit of lovin', let your heart be true.

Alberta, Alberta, where have you been so long,
Alberta, Alberta, where have you been so long,
I ain't had no lovin', since you've been gone.

Lawrence Walker transformed the Cajun accordion style by adding strong elements of swing to his playing. This transformation is revealed in this Bluebird recording.  Even so much that James Hancock (a Joe Davis pseudonym) had taken out a copyright to what he called Lawrence's "Alberta Blues".2

  1. Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 2 The Early 30s.  Chris Strachwitz.  Liner notes.
  2. The Melody Man: Joe Davis and the New York Music Scene, 1916-1978 By Bruce Bastin
  3. Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  4. Lyrics by Jerry M

Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 2: The Early 30s (Old Timey/Arhoolie, 1971)
Cajun Louisiane 1928-1939 (Fremeaux, 2003)
I Saw The Light (Blues People 1934 -1935) (Blues Classics, 2015)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

"La Nouvelle Marche De Marris" - Happy Fats

The New Wedding March.   The song has it's origins in colonial French Louisiana and folklore connects it to the old Acadian ancestors in Europe.  Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc, with Willie Vincent on steel guitar, teamed up with the Guidry brothers, Ray on banjo, Nathan on bass and Doc on fiddle, to cover a Cajun classic tune called the Wedding March.   Happy took the song, which was first recorded by Joe Falcon as "La Marche De La Noce", and created a fiddle-led string band version, entitled "La Nouvelle Marche De Marris" (#2057).    The 1938 Bluebird recording session was held at the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans.

One old convention still found in south Louisiana is le bal de noce, or wedding dance, often held in a dancehall.  In the old days when people were poor, the owner paid the wedding couple ten or fifteen dollars to have the adance at his hall, and charged fifteen cents entrance fee.  During the first song, "La marche des maries", the newlyweds link arms and, followed by the wedding party, walk around the dance floor at least twice.  Then they dance the first waltz. Afterwards all dance, and every man present is expected to dance with the bride and pin money on her veil.1

(Je vas) te prendre dans mes bras pour toujours, ma tite fille,
(Je vas) te soigner et t'aimer pour toujours, jolie fille, malheureux,
Mais, aujourd’hui, tu me promets de m'aimer, pour toujours,
Moi j'connais ce promis, c'est pour vrai.

Mais, aujourd’hui, tu me promets de m'aimer, pour toujours,
Moi j'connais ce promis, c'est pour vrai.

Happy Fats recalled these wedding dances and how different they were from regular dances:
Now they were different when there was a wedding dance, a bal de noce.  They had a wedding dance, the wedding couple and their attendants would come in, and they had possession of the floor for the march.  They'd make a march around the hall a couple of times, the music they'd play would be the wedding march, and the first tow dances were theirs, just them and their attendants.  And they'd dance a waltz and a two-step, then their mothers would come in.2

In 1936, folklorist Lauren Post remarked about Acadians and their wedding dance:
The bal de noce followed and the wedding crowd augmented the regular Saturday night group of dances.  The big crowd, the wedding, and the festive spirit all combined to make the dance a memorable one, and many an Acadian housewife takes pleasure in recalling so many present that they could not all enter the fais-do-do.3

(I'll) take you in my arms forever, my little girl,
(I'll) care for you and love you forever, pretty girl, oh my,
Well, today, you promised you'll love me, forever,
I know that this promise, it's for real.

Well, today, you promise you'll love me, forever,
I know that this promise, it's for real.

After the wedding, gaiety prevailed.  There was a wild and joyful procession back to the bride's home with the newlyweds buggy--drawn by the fastest horse around.  The fathers rode in the second buggy also with a fast horse, and others followed fast on their heels.  Men along the way often saluted the couple with shotgun lasts.  A sumptuous feast was laid at the bride's home and the size or importance of the wedding was sometimes judged by the number of cakes brought by the guests. Dancing lasted until daybreak, although the newlyweds had retired around midnight.4  

Other marriage customs existed.  One marriage custom observed in the remote marshes was "sauter le manche de balai", or jumping over the broomstick.   This allowed a young couple to marry without a priest, who might live far away.  "Witnesses" held the stick about a foot or so above the ground and the couple simply hopped over it together.  The couple was then wed and the merrymaking could begin.4   

Another custom determined who would boss the home.  Old people would get together to make quilts for the girl's trousseau.  When they were through, the boy would stand on one side of a quilt and the girl on the other.  A cat was placed on the quilt and the quilt was tossed into the air.  Whichever side the cat jumped to would determine the boss of the family.4 

  1. Cajun Dancing by Ormande Plater
  2. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  3. The Acadians of South Louisiana--Their Courtships and Weddings.  Lauren Post. Rayne Tribune.   May 22, 1936
  4. Cajuns Had Unusual Courtship Customs.  Crowley Post Signal. Jun 6, 1976
  6. Lyrics by Jordy A

Sunday, July 2, 2017

"Diséz Goodbye A Vôtre Mère (Tell Your Mother Goodbye)" - Dennis McGee & Sady Courville

Dennis McGee is one of the most revered fiddlers in Louisiana music history.  He studied and learned the fiddle from nineteenth century fiddlers and lived long enough to pass on extinct dance and fiddle styles. He was one of the first Louisianans to record extensively, not only with a fiddle band but also with an accordionist, either Amede Ardoin or Angelas Lejeune.   Extensively interviewed and studied, he lived to be part of the festival scene that arose in the 1970s, giving listeners and musicians alike a window into the south Louisiana music of a century ago.1  

Dis "bye bye" à tant qu’ tu as fait pour toujours,
Dis "bye bye" à ta maman pour le reste de tes jours, malheureux,
Gardez donc comment donc, comment j’vas faire, malheureux,
Dis adieu pour toujours, quitter toujours.

Gardez donc, comment donc moi j’vas faire, malheureuse,
Toujours donc moi tout seul pour toujours,
Dis adieu (z) à ta chère et vieille maman, malheureux, 
Viens donc, viens finir tes jours, neg’.

Comment donc que j’vas faire, moi tout seul,
Je suis tout seul, tout seul, malheureux je suis vaincu,
Gardez donc, jamais chère elle fait pas ça  avec ton neg’
Fais pas ça d'en pour lui tout seul, en mentant,
J’suis ton neg’, malheureux, c’est pour toujours, malheureux, 
Fais pas ça, j'suis ton neg mais, malheureux.

Dennis McGee & Sady Courville

Dennis claims that many of the tunes he remembered were passed down from his grandfather, himself remembering them as a child. According to record producer Chris King:
He, himself, learned from a man who was a hundred years old when McGee was just a boy. And this was at the turn of the century, so he was learning a repertoire and technique that was essentially 200 years old.2
One of them was "Diséz Goodbye A Vôtre Mère (Tell Your Mother Goodbye)", a common theme Dennis used about telling his loved one to leave her mother and father and come with him.  However, the love interest refuses and he laments on the pain he must suffer  all alone; blaming her for his misery.  It was recorded for Vocalion (#5334) records in New Orleans in 1929 on his first recording session alongside fiddler Sady Courville.

Say "Bye Bye" to your dad forever, 

Say "Bye Bye" to your mom for the rest of your days, oh my,
Look at how it is, how will I handle this, oh my,
Say goodbye forever, leaving forever.

Look at that, how am I doing to do this, oh my,
Forever, I'll be alone forever,
Say goodbye to your dearest old mom, oh my,
Come back, come live here to the end, my friend.

How do you handle being all alone,
I'm all alone, all alone, oh my, I am defeated,
Look at that, dear, she should never do that with your old man,
Don't do that to him, he's alone, just lying there,
I am your old man, oh my, it'll be forever, oh my,
Don't do that, I'm your old man, well, it's terrible. 

Young fiddlers like Mike Doucet, Al Berard, Dennis Stroughmatt, Tina Pilione and David Greely studied the music of McGee and included his songs, licks and style in their repertoires.1

  1.  Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule, Bill Burge
  2. Vinyl Asides Episode 8 - Christopher King
  3. Lyrics by Stephanie D


Dennis McGee ‎– The Complete Early Recordings (Yazoo, 1994)
Cajun: Rare & Authentic (JSP, 2008)
Cajun Swamp Stomp, Vol 1 (Lumi, 2012)
Cajun Music, The Pretty Girls Don't Want Me (Firefly, 2012)