Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Basile Waltz" - Leo Soileau and Mayuse Lafleur

One of most popular Cajun waltzes of all time, it still has a place in modern day recordings and live dance halls.   Created by Leo Soileau and Mayuse Lafleur, other musicians would take the tune and change it's name and it's lyrics; recording it for years to come.  The "Basile Waltz" (#21769) comes in at the top of the list for one of the most covered and recorded tunes throughout Cajun music history. It's the common Cajun lament about asking a lover to leave and go away with him, this time, to the small south Louisiana town of Basile.

The original was done in Atlanta, GA as the flip side to Soileau and Lafleur's famous "Mama Where You At?" recording in October 1928 for Victor.   Before the war, others recorded the melody as well.  Joe and Cleoma borrowed from the melody for their song "Aimer Et Perdre (To Love and Lose)".  After the Depression in 1934, Decca invited Joe and Cleoma Falcon to record in New Orleans in which she used the melody in her song "Ma Valse Preferé".  Even Leo would re-use the melody in his later recording of "La Bonne Valse". 

Oh, allons s'en aller dans grand Basile,

Oui, jolie petite fille.

Hé, toi malheureuse qu'est t'as fais,

Oh, moi je t'ai jamais fais rien pour toi faire ça 

Toi tite fille, t'auras du regret avant longtemps ça t'as fait.

Toi, jolie petit monde ça t'as fait,
Moi je connais tu vas pleurer, malheureuse, ye yaille,
Toi tite fille tu connais j'mérite pas ça toi t'as fait.

Oh, jolie fille, malheureuse, 
Si t'aurais voulu m’écouter chérie, 
Tu serais dans le grand Basile avec aujourd'hui, chère.

Oh, toi 'tite fille chérie,
Moi je connais c'est ça, j'm'en vas dans grand Basile,
Mais toi 'tite fille, tu peux pas venir me rejoindre, 
Et même si tu veux, malheureuse, je veux pas te voir.
Abbeville Meridional
Dec 15, 1928

Lafleur was an excellent singer and an expressive accordionist. The two men quickly reached simpatico in their playing.  It took five hours for the engineers to perfect the vocal levels for the session however, Lafleur's playing was brighter and more enthusiastic than Falcon's more traditional style.  The Victor session became infamous after the death of Mayuse nine days later.    By 1935, Soileau teamed up with Floyd Shreve, Bill Landry, and Tony Gonzales as the Three Aces.  Together, they traveled to New Orleans and re-recorded the tune in a string-band style as "Le Grand Mamou" on both the Bluebird label (#2194) and the Montgomery Ward label (#4880).  

Mayuse Lafleur
It wouldn't be until 1948 when Harry Choates used "Basile" as "Gra Mamou" (#124) for the Macy's label in Houston, even following up with "Answer to Gra Mamou" which was never released.  At some point, he recorded an alternate take pressed at the Humming Bird studio called "Big Mamou" (#1012) in 1951.  During Nathan Abshire's first session recording with Will Kegley and Atlas Fruge in 1950, they laid down the song "Grand Mamou" for Virgel Bozman's O.T. label (#106) however, due to a poor recording sound, his version never sold well and was almost lost to history.  Even record producer Eddie Shuler found favor in recording the song with his own group entitled "Grande Mamou".  However, it would be Link Davis' English version of "Big Mamou" in 1952 which solidified it's national popularity.
Oh, go, let's go to big Basile,
Yes, pretty little girl.

Hey, you're so unhappy, how you feel,
Oh, I never did anything for you to do that,
You little girl, you'll regret this before too long, all you've done.

You, pretty little world of mine, what you've done,
I know you're going to cry, oh my, ye yaille,
You little girl, you know I don't deserve what you've done.

Oh pretty girl, oh my,
If you wanted to listen to me, dear,
You'd be in big Basile with me today, dear.

Oh, you little girl, dear,
I know that's it, I'm going to big Basile,
Well, you little girl, you can not come with me,
And even if you want to, oh my, I don't want to see you.
Cajun music mural
Basile, LA

Since then, many musicians have taken this melody and have put their own spin providing countless recordings since the 50s such as Harry Choates, Ambrose Thibodeaux, Link Davis, Eddie Shuler, Pete Hanley, Ella Mae Morse, Dolores Gray, Jimmy Newman, Everly Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Rod Bernard, and Clifton Chenier.  

Over time the song would be interchangeably known as both "Basile" and "Grand Mamou" in the Cajun music circles.   Today, however, most of the world knows the tune as "Big Mamou".

  1. Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  2. Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule
  4. Label scan by University of Louisiana at Lafayette Cajun and Creole Music Collection - Special Collections
  5. Louisiana Music: A Journey From R&b To Zydeco, Jazz To Country, Blues To Gospel, Cajun Music To Swamp Pop To Carnival Music And Beyond by Rick Koster
  6. Lyrics by Stephane F
Le Gran Mamou: A Cajun Music Anthology -- The Historic Victor-Bluebird Sessions, 1928-1941 (Country Music Foundation, 1990)
The Early Recordings of Leo Soileau (Yazoo, 1999)
Cajun Origins (Catfish, 2001)
The Early Recordings of Leo Soileau (Yazoo, 2006)
The Return Of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of (Yazoo, 2012)
The Missing Country & Blues Album (Magic Gold, 2014)
Down Home Blues (Goldenlane, 2014)

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