Sunday, January 28, 2018

"Valse De Lake Charles" - Harry Choates

Harry Choates played fiddle, guitar, and mandolin throughout south Louisiana and Texas.  His 1946 rendition of “Jole Blon,” the song that would come to be called the “Cajun National Anthem,” had not only been the first French song to crack the Billboard national charts but its ascent above the Number Five position is an achievement unsurpassed to this day.  The audience taste at that time had succumbed to the popularity and influence of cowboy and western swing styles and Cajun Music had followed their trend towards fiddle-led outfits. String bands led by stars like Harry Choates and Leo Soileau were in heavy demand.  

Tu m'as quitté, pour t'en aller,

Dans Grand Lake Charles, mais jolie cœur.

Oh, mais chère petite, mignonne,

Oh, sera pas longtemps.

Oh, vilaine manière,

Moi j'connais, t'as pas fait bien.

Oh, mais chère petite chérie,

Oh, mais moi j'connais t'as fait de la peine.

Nathan Abhsire's main recording outlet, O.T. records, was gaining some momentum with his music and the producer, Virgil Bozman, easily saw Harry's popularity.  In 1949, he convinced him to land two sides, one of which was "Valse De Lake Charles" (#107), the town in which Virgil had his operations based.  Recording closer to his home town at the KPLC radio station, Harry dropped most of his regular Melody Boys for some local Cajun musicians, most notably Leo Soileau's drummer Crawford Vincent and Happy Fats' pianist Harold "Popeye" Broussard.  B.D. Williams remained on bass guitar.   The tune is clearly a rendition cut from the older versions by Anatole Credure in 1929 and The Four Aces' instrumental done in 1938 called "Lake Charles Waltz".
You left me to go away.
To big Lake Charles, my pretty sweetheart,
Oh, well, dear little cutie,
Oh, it hasn't been long.

Oh, how terrible it is,
I know, you aren't doing well,
Oh, dear little darling,
Oh, well, I know you hurt (me). 

Harry's lyrics were limited by what he knew, often repeating the same words, general phrasing and his signature "Eh! Ha ha!".  In this case, writer's love interest is leaving to the big town of Lake Charles. This was the first and only time Crawforrd Vincent teamed up with Harry.  Vincent was still a member of Leo Soileau's band, but Soileau was in the process of building his own club, so Vincent had time off.   He played with Harry during events near the Green Lantern near Opelousas.  Then, suddenly, Harry left, as he usually did, just when his musical fortunes were beginning to turn in a positive direction.  Vincent remembered that Harry received calls for engagements and booking dates, and over half of these he didn't fulfill, many times failing to show up.1 

  1. Poor Hobo: The Tragic Life of Harry Choates, a Cajun Legend by Tim Knight
Release Info:
107-A Jole Blon's Gone 107 O.T.
107-B Valse De Lake Charles 107 O.T.

Cajun Music - The Early 50s (Arhoolie, 1969)
Devil In The Bayou - The Gold Star Recordings (Bear Family, 2002)
Cajun Honky Tonk: The Khoury Recordings Vol. 2 (Arhoolie, 2013)
Bayou Two-Step - Cajun Hits From Louisiana 1929-1962 (Jasmine, 2015)

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