Monday, November 27, 2017

"Valse De Beaumont" - Singing Frenchman

With the success of licensing the re-release of Harry Choates' Jole Blon, the New Jersey label DeLuxe found themselves curious about future of Cajun music and the possibilities it had for it's struggling label.   On a tour of the area, company A&R scout Joe Lieberwitz discovered the Hackberry Ramblers, Happy Fats and a relatively unknown Texan billed as the "Singing Frenchman".1   

Named Johnny William “J. W.” Billiot, he and his wife Bessie "Grace" lived in the Beaumont area.  Born in Hamshire, Texas, he and his father moved to Louisiana for about a year where Johnny attended school.  He had a “larger than life” personality, and is described by relatives as a showman who loved the music and had a lot of rhythm in his music. He played the fiddle and piano in addition to the accordion. His nephew Joseph recalls, 
“He bought an accordion at a hock shop on Pearl (Street) in downtown Beaumont. He and my father (Antone) added another leaf (bellow) where he could pull it out real far. They did this to all his accordions.”1 

Hé, petite, moi j'connais, chère,
J’ai parti de la belle pour m’en (aller) à grand Texas.

Hé, chère, j’ai pleuré, petite,
(Qui) t’as fait à ton vieux nègre, c’est pas longtemps.

Hé, petite, j'ai parti, chère,
Parti de la belle pour m’en (aller) à grand Texas.
The Singing Frenchman
Johnny Billiot, George Jones (behind),
Billy Rayon, Bill Guillory

After the oil economy boomed in the 1930s, Beaumont was a hotbed of Cajun influence and activity.  So many of the Cajuns have settled in the southeastern corner of Texas known as the "Golden Triangle" of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange that the area has been referred to as the "Lapland", where Cajun culture overlaps into Texas.2  As lead accordionist and vocalist, Johnny assembled a group with his wife Grace on backup vocals, Bill Guillory on fiddle, Billy Rayon on guitar, Nick Guidry on fiddle, Lloyd Gilbert on guitar and Bill Guidry on guitar.  By 1949, the group occasionally found themselves playing gigs further east in Sulphur.  Once, a radio show announcer, Joe Trum of KTRM, discovered his talents. It's believed he contacted DeLuxe records executive Joe Lieberwitz for this recording session.1  There, his band recorded "Valse de Beaumont" (#6045) as an ode to the town he was living in.

Hey, little girl, I know, dear,
I have left the beautiful one to go to big Texas.

Hey, dear, I've cried, little one,
Who, you've done this to your old man, it wasn't long ago.

Hey, little one, I've left, dear,
Left the beautiful one to go to big Texas.

  1. Cajun Dancehall Heyday by Ron Yule
  3. Lyrics by Jordy A

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