Thursday, August 17, 2017

"Gra Mamou" - Harry Choates

Harry Choates was the total and complete musician and entertainer. All of this life he ate, drank and slept music. It is sometimes very difficult to unravel the facts and myths surrounding the life and times of the man who wrote what has been called the Cajun national anthem, “Jolie Blon.” What Jimmy Rogers was to country music, Harry Choates was to French music.2

Originally recorded in 1928 by Leo Soileau and Mayuse Lafleur, the Victor recording "Basile Waltz" is a staple of Cajun music, with a variety of names given to the melody.  Leo had renamed the tune "Le Gran Mamou" in the 1930s, re-recording it as a string band song and played the tune for years across the Louisiana dancehalls.   Harry, an avid fan of Leo's music had joined his band in the early 40s, covering all their tunes.  Harry used this opportunity to cover Leo's signature song. 

Hé ha ha, hé hé hé

Oh mais ça t’as fait ton bon vieux chien.

S’en aller dans Grand Mamou, mais jolie fille,

C’est pour voir ma jolie mignonne, petite fille, joli petit cœur,

Hé petite fille, hé ha ha, oh mais quoi t’as fait à ton papan.

Oh toi, quoi, tit monde, chérie,
Quoi t’as fait à ton pauvre vieux nègre,
Ça me fait de la peine, je ne mérite pas ça,
Hé petite, villaines manières,
Oh mais moi, je connais ça sera pas longtemps.

Hé villaines manières, quoi t’as fait ton pauvre vieux nègre,
Ça sera pas longtemps, ha ha.

Helen and Harry Choates

Between 1946 and 1949, Harry had a successful career pushing his swinging style of Cajun music with his group called the Melody Boys.  But after internal issues broke the band apart, Choates continued searching for any recording opportunities he could find.  He found an upstart recording label run by Charles and Macy Henry in Houston, Texas.

By 1950, Harry entered the ACA Studios of Bill Holford with a new set of musicians and re-record the tune as "Gra Mamou" on the Macy's label.  Copying the same tactic Leo Soileau and Bluebird Records did by changing the name to "Le Grand Mamou", it's possible he could avoid any conflicts with song copyrights on a separate recording label.  The song featured Frank Juricek or Earl Rebert on steel guitar and possibly Louis Oltremari on piano, but by this time, most of Harry's second band were unknown.  It's most likely these were studio musicians that Henry used to back Harry up on the session.

Hey, ha ha, hey heh hey,

Oh well, what you did to your old dog.

Going to Grand Mamou, well, pretty girl,

It's to see my pretty cutie, little girl, pretty sweetheart,

Hey little girl, hey ha ha, oh well, what you've done to your dad.

Oh why, my little everything, dear?
What have you done to your poor old man?
It hurts me, I don't deserve that,
Hey little one, your naughty ways,
Oh well, I know it will not be long.

Hey, your naughty ways, what did you do to your poor old man,
It will not be long, ha ha.

It must have sold well since Harry was back in the studio later that year recording "Answer to Gran Mamou" however, for unknown reasons, the follow-up was never released.  Either done previously at Goldstar and later sold to Hummingbird or done at a Houston studio in 1951 for Hummingbird, Harry re-recorded the tune as "Big Mamou" (#1012).   
Oh mais, moi, je connais, mais malheureuse,
Quoi t’as fait mais avec moi, je mérite pas ça, chérie,
Hé petite, mais, joli cœur,
Oh mais, moi, je connais ça sera pas longtemps.

Oh, mais chère petite,
Moi, je connais mais ça t’as fait il y a pas longtemps, malheureuse,
Hé ha ha, hé hé hé, oh pour ça t’as fait ton pauvre vieux chien.

Oh yeah.

Tenor banjoist and Port Arthur resident Ivy Gaspard, who toured with Choates, recalled the Cajun music of southeast Texas:
This area was a hotbed of good musicians. You had as many good musicians here as you had anywhere. Some of the dancers who would come to our dances were amazed; they’d never heard French music played the way I played it on tenor guitar but (really) I was playing western swing. I didn’t care to play French, ’cause the musicians weren’t that good. They’ve got some good French musicians now but Harry’s the one who put the idea in their heads how to play that kind of music. Before that, French music, I hated to play it ’cause it was just the same thing over and over and over. But I didn’t mind playing French music with Harry ‘cause he had that beat.1

Oh well, I know, oh my,
What you've done, well, with me, I don't deserve that, dear,
Hey, little one, well, pretty sweetheart,
Oh well, I know it won't be long.

Oh, well, dear little one,
I know , well, that was done not long ago, oh my,
Hey ha hah, hey heh hey, oh, that you've done to your poor old dog.

Oh yeah.

Gra Mamou - 1950 - Macy's

Big Mamou - 1951 - Hummingbird

  3. Lyrics by Jordy A and Carol B
Harry Choates: Five-Time Loser 1940-1951 (Krazy Kat, 1990)
Cajun Fiddle King (AIM, 1999)
Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)

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