Saturday, September 9, 2017

"Courville and McGee Waltz" - Sady Courville & Dennis McGee

The main instrument of the 19th century Cajun musician was the fiddle.   Traditional old-time Cajun bands often included a lead and a second fiddle. An excellent representation of this style was the early recordings of Dennis McGee and Sady Courville.  Dennis and Sady met in the mid-twenties. As it happens, they had much in common, starting with Gladys, Sady’s sister and Dennis’ wife. Both men were well-known musicians of the time, along with Amadee Ardoin, Angelais Lejeune, and Ernest Fruge, to name a few. Certainly they were among the most important and respected Cajun fiddlers of the day. For the next several years they played dances regularly, as had Sady’s predecessors, the Courville Brothers, before them.1   Dennis explained:
I was successful with my music. It wasn't that it was so good, but it was some old music that no one had head before.2    
Sady recalled his musical legacy:
My father and his brother Arville were both violin players who learned the music from their mother, my maternal grandmother, who was a Fruge.  Her family were all musicians and she knew the tunes her brother played. She'd sing these folk tunes to my father and brother. These folk tunes were brought here by the Cajuns back in the late 1700s.2  

Eraste Courville (Sady's father) & 
Arville Couville (Sady's uncle)
1900, Chataignier, LA

By 1929, the duo headed to New Orleans and recorded some of the earliest Cajun fiddle-led tunes, one of them being a self-entitled waltz simply called "Courville and McGee Waltz" (#315). Many professionals learned quite about bit about Cajun fiddling from this duo.  According to fiddler Tracy Schwarz:
The striking differences heard in Cajun fiddling from other U.S. folk styles can be traced primarily to the use of the following noting hand techniques: drones, octaves, unisons, open strings with a lower tuning, slides, trills, and lack of vibrata. Briefly, these can be described this way: Cajun fiddling abounds in a ringing, sustained treble tone achieved by wide separation of notes played in harmony on adjacent strings.1
In waltzes, the most strikingly different bowing technique is the marking of rhythm. Where country fiddlers will bow one continuous stroke to sustain a note, Cajun fiddlers change direction with each waltz beat, thereby providing rhythm alongside the melody. It must be cautioned here that this is a general discussion and that personal observation of Dennis McGee and Sady Courville leads to the conclusion that older bowing styles were more complicated than this, and also that there are a number of different bowing sub-styles under the general title of “Cajun fiddling.”1

The uniqueness about this recording is the fact that it's the only pressing that lists Courville's name on the label.  In fact at the time of the recording sessions, Sady requested of the company that his name be omitted from the labels when the records were released. And omitted it was: only “Dennis McGee” appears. It was the stigma: since the music embodied “Cajun” more dramatically than any other cultural form (except perhaps the language), it bore that stigma most directly.1  Sady recalled:
People used to make fun of me and other Cajuns who played Cajun music. That was the reason you won't find my name on some of the records Dennis McGee and I made. They asked me why I didn't want my name on those records. I said "Because people are making fun of me and I want to try and better myself".  But, I am for the program of Cajun culture. Then, the last number we made, I let them put on there Courville and McGee Waltz.   That's the only record my name was on.2  

  2. Ye Yaille Chere by Raymond Francois
The Early Recordings Of Dennis McGee: Featuring Sady Courville & Ernest Fruge (Morning Star, 1977)
The Complete Early Recordings of Dennis McGee (Yazoo, 1994)

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