Friday, December 7, 2018

"Jole Brun" - Harry Choates

The main catalyst for exposing interest in Cajun music after the war was fiddle player Harry Choates.  Choates had just recorded his hit song "Jole Blon" and was looking for any work he could find.  He and record producer Jimmy Mercer figured they could take his themed title, rename it, and make even more money on a different recording label.   He renamed the tune "Jole Brun (Pretty Brunette)" and changed some of the lyrics for the Cajun Classics label (#1009).

Still under contract with Bill Quinn's Gold Star label which he scored his hit "Jole Blon", he either recorded in a radio station in Lake Charles, or possibly ventured out to Paris, Texas where Jimmy Mercer had created his own pressing plant and recording studio. His makeshift studio located in the plant allowed the whole process to occur onsite.  Together with Harry, he brought along Esmond Pursley on guitar, Joe Manuel on banjo, Pee Wee Lyons on steel, B.D. Williams on bass, Curzy Roy on drums, and Johnnie Manuel on piano.

Oh, mais, jolie brune, mais, malheureuse, chère 'tite fille,
Oh, pourquoi t'as fais, mais, ça t'as fais à ton pauvre 'tit chien.

Oh, mais malheureuse, mais, jolie brun, t'as chagrin,
Oh, vilaines manières, malheureuse, ça fait pitié.

Oh, jolie brune, ma petite jolie cœur,
Eh, ha ha!  Eh, malheureuse.

Oh, mais, malheureuse, tu connais ça a pas fais bien,
Oh, pourquoi t'as fais, mais, avec moi, si mal, bébé,
Oh, j'connais, chère petite, tu va avoir du regret,
Tu vas venir un jour, jolie brune, oh, ça, (dans) pas longtemps.

The Paris News
Nov 24, 1946

In 1946, Jimmy Mercer had obtained a hydraulic record press from Chicago and had it shipped to Texas.  He started with his first label, Swing, and called his place Swing Record Manufacturing.   He boasted the machine could produce a record in 18 seconds and had the capacity of 2700 records a day.  According to Mercer:

We are engaged in manufacturing records for a number of well known companies and we also intend to put out two records under our own label, "Swing" and "Downbeat".   We hope to be able to give talent in Northeast Texas an opportunity to audition so that they might possibly become recording artists.3  

Oh, well, pretty brunette, well oh my, dear little girl,
Oh, why have you done this, well, that you've done to your old little dog.

Oh, well, oh my, well, pretty brunette, you're sad,
Oh, your terrible ways, oh my, made it pitiful.

Oh, pretty brunette, my little pretty sweetheart,
Eh , ha ha!  Eh, it's terrible.

Oh, well, oh my, you know that it's not been well,
Oh, why have you done that, well, with me, so bad, baby,
Oh, I know, dear little one, you're going to have regrets,
You will come back one day, pretty brunette, oh, it won't be that long.

The Paris News
March 29, 1949

By 1947, Choates was now in considerable demand and he had no qualms about contracts. Surprisingly at one point, Quinn narrowly stopped Choates from recording with Decca in violation of his contract. In February, Choates recorded for Jimmy Mercer’s Swing Records in Paris, Texas (author Andrew Brown states Lake Charles, Louisiana) on his new label, Cajun Classics, created just for Choates, including “Jole Brun.” Cajun Classics was part of a family of labels operated by Jimmy Mercer in Paris from 1946 to 1950. When the records went on sale, Quinn contacted Mercer, only to find Choates had signed a contract with him as well so he and Mercer settled on an arrangement.1

Mercer had many labels over his career including All Spice, Cajun Classics, Hillbilly Hit Parade, Personality, Royalty, Swing, Vox, Western Magic, Zest, and Zip labels.  However, Mercer had run into trouble in 1949 when he was "convicted of shipping obscene (party) records across state lines".  According to the FBI, a complaint was filed alleging that Mercer transported "obscene, lewd, lascivious matter of indecent character" to St. Louis.  He was arrested by a US deputy marshal at his home and was released on bond.  This spelled the end of all of Mercer's recording activities.2  

  2. "Shipping Obscene Records Charged".  Paris News. Mar 29, 1949
  3. The Paris News Nov 24, 1946.
  4. Lyrics by Stephane F
Release Info:
1007 Hackberry Hop | Series 1007 Cajun Classics
1009 Jole Brun | Series 1009 Cajun Classics

Harry Choates ‎– The Fiddle King Of Cajun Swing (Arhoolie, 1982, 1993)
Cajun Fiddle King (AIM, 1999)

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