Monday, October 9, 2017

"Easy Rider Blues" - Moise Robin & Leo Soileau

During 1929, Paramount had gained enough interest in Cajun music to bring in fiddler Leo Soileau and his new accordion player Moise Robin to the Gennett Recording Studio, Starr Piano Company Building, Whitewater Gorge Park in Richmond, Indiana.  The two were carrying on the earlier work that Soileau had begun with his late friend, Mayuse Lafleur.  

The Soileau-Robin recordings are interesting for their tension filled playing, particularly Soileau's "special", the "Easy Rider Blues" (#12808), which indicated a debt to the Texas blues-man Blind Lemon Jefferson.  While the words borrow from Jefferson's iconic song, the melody follows closer to his "Black Snake Moan" released in 1927.  Leo's lyrics are more of a mesmerizing chant with English vocal calls surrounding the word "rider", "woman" and "mama".  When  folklorist Ralph Rinzler asked Leo if there were any songs he wrote that hadn't been written before, Leo claimed "Easy Rider Blues".   Soileau recalls the recording after is made it's way in stores:
That was popular down here boy!  Very good!6
Starr Piano Company

According to author Ryan Brasseaux:
Soileau's English-language lament "Easy Rider Blues" featured the intricate interplay between the fiddle and accordion voices.  Moise kept time with his left hand on the accordion's two bass chords, while interjecting syncopated riffs between Soileau's crying fiddle runs.  The fiddler's experimental composition represented the collision of conflicting instrumental styles.  Their bluesy interplay sounded like a tense debate between the fiddle and Robin's aggressive accordion rebuttals.4  

Goodbye ride, my soul rider,

Goodbye ride, my soul rider, rider, rider, rider, rider,

Woman, woman, if you flag my train, woman,

I'm sure gonna let you ride.

Mama, mama, there's trouble around my bed,

Mama, malheurse, mama.
Moise Robin

Early Cajun music and early Mississippi Delta blues recordings often collided into what is known as "Cajun blues".  According to John Broven, "their Paramount version of 'Easy Rider Blues' was a remarkable Cajun-blues performance."5  After their return to Arnaudville, Louisiana, the duo moved to Opelousas and hired a manager, Elton Doucet. Robin played more dances and recorded two more times with Soileau before he wanted a break from the musician’s life and quit.  However, according to Soileau, the duo never hit off.  Tension stemmed from artistic differences.  Robin recalled the tension as well:
Leo always wanted to take the lead when we played.  He kept the lead and I had to follow him.  It's bothersome to always follow a violin, you see.  It's difficult. I had to play below his violin's volume.  We didn't play too long together, about one year.1
Blues melodies like this one influenced early Cajun tunes such as Dennis McGee and Ernest Fruge's "Les Blues Du Texas".  In 1934, Alan Lomax traveled to Louisiana to record Wayne Perry in which he covered the tune, simply listed as "Cajun Two Step" on the session notes.3  Perry's version speeds and swings the melody.   The same basic melody appears in the Balfa's "Les Blues De Cadien" and the Musical Four Plus One's "Tran La Ezy".  

  1. Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule
  2. Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordings By Joshua Clegg Caffery
  4. "Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music" by Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  5. "South To Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous" by John Broven


Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 5: The Early Years 1928-1938 (Old Timey/Arhoolie, 1973)
Down In The Basement: Joe Bussard's Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s 1926-1937 (Old Hat, 2003)
Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)
The Early Recordings of Leo Soileau (Yazoo, 2006)
The Beginner's Guide to Cajun Music (Primo, 2008)

1 comment:

  1. great, great song, full of blues feeling. Leo's vocal is astounding. Thanks!


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