Monday, October 23, 2017

"Poor Hobo" - Harry Choates

Cajun swing fiddler Harry Choates' memory is lived in legendary tales of his life.  Never content to staying in one place or settling down with his family, he truly led the life of a vagabond.   He never owned a fiddle, allegedly; borrowing them as he needed to make enough money for drinking.  Money was never around and found refuge wherever he could in between paying gigs.

"Poor Hobo" was recorded twice by Harry.  Once for Mercer's Cajun Classics in early 1947 and then again for Bill Quinn's Gold Star label in late 1947.  The song is based on the Breaux brother's classic "Les Tracas Du Hobo Blues" recorded for Columbia back in 1929.   Harry's drummer, Curzy "Pork Chop" Roy remembers the recording session:
I remember those because Quinn who was a tough customer had us do several retakes on those songs.  We didn't receive any money for this.  Harry received a check.3

Hé Ha Ha.

Oh, je peux me voir, mais, comme un pauvre hobo,

Pas personne qui me veux pas, mais, ça m’a fait pitié.

Hé, malheureuse, quoi faire tu fais comme ça,

Oh, je connais, c'est par rapport à la mienne.

Oh, petite, pour moi tu fais comme ça,

Quoi t'a fait, mais, moi, je connais sera pas longtemps,
Mais, moi, j'connais chérie, hé hé hé,
Oh chère, je vas t'emmener un jour, chérie.

Bandera, 1950
Frank Lamanski, Phil Marx, Harry Choates,
Louis Oltremari, Ivy Gaspard, Junior Keelan 

It was a tune his most likely picked up while playing with Leo Soileau in the late 1930s, known as "Chere Liza".  His session at Goldstar was backed up by Pee Wee Maples on guitar, Pee Wee Lyons on steel guitar, Grady Mann on bass, and Johnnie Ruth Manuel on piano.  Although author Tim Knight lists Amos Comeaux as the drummer, Curzy specifically remembers playing the drums on this recording session.  Apparently, after the band finished recording, Quinn took them all to a Mexican restaurant.  Curzy recalls:
We got paid in hot tamales.3

Oh, I can see that, well, I'm like a poor hobo,

Not a single person that does not want me, well, that makes me sad,

Hey, it's terrible, why are you doing this like that,

Oh, I know, it's because of how I look (feel).

Oh, little one, you've done this to me like that,

What you have done, well, I know it won't be long,

Well, I know, dear, hey, hey, hey,

Oh dear, I'm going to take you away one day, dear.

Later 45 releases by Starday and D Records (ST212 and D1043) mis-titled Harry's "Louisiana" as "Poor Hobo".  Author Tim Knight would use this title of this song for his biography on Harry Choates; a fitting description of what his life was like.  Success and stability were never important to him.  He had a naive innocence about himself, and said he was only interested in making people happy. According to Harry's daughter, Linda:

“My daddy just loved people with an almost childlike trust.”1

Poor Hobo - Early 1947 - Cajun Classics

Poor Hobo - Late 1947 - Goldstar

  2. Image by Tim Knight
  3. Poor Hobo: The Tragic Life of Harry Choates, a Cajun Legend by Tim Knight
  4. Lyrics by Stephane F and Jordy A
Harry Choates ‎– The Fiddle King Of Cajun Swing (Arhoolie, 1982, 1993)
Cajun Fiddle King (AIM, 1999)

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