Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Reno Waltz" - Lawrence Walker

After WWII, several Louisiana labels began recording Cajun music again, most of them locally. One of them was George Khoury, a Turkish-American businessman from Lake Charles and record store owner. He would record the earliest music by Lawrence Walker, who would have two hits with Khoury, "Evangeline Waltz" and "Reno Waltz" (#623) in the 1950s.   The original tune, "La Valse de la Grande Chenier" also inspired "T'es Petite et T'es Mignonne" and Lionel Cormier's "Welcome Club Waltz". 

His first band, Walker Brothers, consisted of himself on either accordion or violin and his brother Elton on violin. In 1929, they would record for Brunswick in Dallas and in 1935, record for Bluebird (later Montgomery Ward) in New Orleans. He appeared at the National Folk Festival in Dallas in 1936.

However, Lawrence is credited by many for developing what came to be called "new style" Cajun music in the 1950s. Walker's father, Allen, was a popular fiddler and introduced Walker to Cajun music.   A demanding bandleader, he tightened arrangements and smoothed the sound of his Wandering Aces, especially reducing the syncopation in his own accordion style. Walker was a perfectionist, who relentlessly drove his band to higher standards.  He would eventually initiate contact with the record-men of the area, certain of his ability to sell records.  He would record Reno Waltz again in 1961 for La Louisiane, however, this time he used different lyrics and replaced the steel guitar with a smooth dueling fiddle ride. 

Oui la place que moi, j'voudrais mourir

C'est dans les bras, de mon bébé

Demander pardon, pour ça que j'ai fait

là je serais d'accord de m'en aller, mais pour toujours

Quand je va mourir, j'aimerais que tu viens

Fermer mes yeux bébé, pour moi j'en va

Pour moi j'en va, mais pour toujours

Comme tu connais ça, c'est dur pour moi je l'aime

Lawrence Walker
In Cajun French, the verb "jongler" is a mysterious, old French word and seems to translate as "to think" or "reminiscence".   Reno was named after the Reno Dance Hall located between the towns of Kaplan and Gueydan in Louisiana. It was based on an older tune, "La Valse de Grand Chenier". Lawrence had gotten into a "spat" with the club owner Arestille "Dado" Seaux.  In order to make peace and have a chance to continue playing there, Walker named the song after the club.  Walker who grew up in Texas, would play both country and Cajun music in dancehalls across south Louisiana. Walker also recorded "Allons Rock N Roll", the first Cajun rock n roll tune, which he sung in English.   His popularity gained him the moniker "King of the Dancehalls". 
That's the place that I want to die
In the arms of my loved one
I ask your forgiveness for what I've done
I'd even agree to go away forever

When I will die 
I want you to come 
Close my eyes for me, little baby 
For me, i'm going away forever,
You know, it makes me sad
For I'm in love
Later he would record for Swallow Records. After Lawrence died unexpedly of heart failure, his fiddler, Lionel Leleux requested his friend Don Montoucet to fill in for the rest of their musical engagements.  Uneasy about filling in, Lionel just told him:
Oh don't worry about a thing.  Just do it like old Lawrence used to and everything will be just fine. 
In 2014, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and LouisianaDancehalls.com posted a rare 1950s film of people dancing at the Reno Club. 

  1. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  2. Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Volume 8: Genres: North ... edited by John Shepherd
  3. All Music Guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music edited by Vladimir Bogdanov
  4. The Encyclopedia of Country Music
  5. Accordions, fiddles, two step & swing: a Cajun music reader by Ryan A. Brasseaux
  6. Cajun and Creole Music Makers
  7. Discussions with William S
  8. Lyrics by 'ericajun'
Allons Cajun Rock'n Roll (Ace, 1993)

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Evangeline Playboys Special" - Austin Pitre

Many Cajun musicians were ready to bring the accordion back into the genre after WWII.   Throughout the 30s and 40s, much of the music had a strong western-swing feel dominated by the fiddle.  Unlike the bluesy sound of Nathan Abshire or the elegance of Lawrence Walker, Austin Pitre (also spelled "Pete") brought a raucous, loud, hard-edged voice with a powerful playing style.  Rumor has it, he was the first Cajun musician to play the accordion standing up as well as behind his head and between his legs. In his career, Austin would be most known for his recording of "Les Flammes d'Enfer".  

Pitre's major influence was Amede Ardoin and he was already well known by the time he recorded.  In 1948, Austin kicked-off his recording career in J.D. Miller's recording studio in Crowley for his Fais-Do-Do / Feature label.   One of those songs was "Evangeline Playboy Special" (#1013) named after his band and the parish he was from.  They played at many dancehalls throughout south Louisiana including the Chinaball Club.

Hey, 'tit monde, malheureuse chérie,

Tu vas jamais mais oublier

Les misères tu m'avais fait.

Hey, 'tit monde, rappelle toi tout les paroles

Toi tu m'dis y a pas longtemps,

Tu connais tu vas pleurer.

Hey, chérie, tu m'as dit pas c'est l'moment(?)
Si j'te vois(?) dans les misères
Par rapport à ces manières.

Hey, chérie, pas la peine tu te lamentes,
Pas la peine tu vas pleurer,
T'en revenir il sera trop tard.
Austin Pitre
The song has an eerie sound which may have been due to the combination of the condition of the accordion as well as the incorrect speed of the recording equipment.  Unlike much of Cajun music, the accordion sound resembles a concertina or carosel-style sound which seems too high in pitch for a standard diatonic of the era.   However, it is known that Austin had played many accordions throughout his career and this one could have been unique. 

Hey, it's a small world, sad honey, 

But you'll never forget

The misery you have given me.

Hey, it's a small world, remember your words,

You said it won't be long, 

You know you're gonna cry. 

Hey, honey, you said this isn't the time 
To see you in misery
Compared to your normal ways

Hey, honey, do not bother complaining, 
It's not worth you crying
When you come back, it will be too late.
Later, he would record with Miller again with the group Louisiana Rhythmaires led by Chuck Guillory on Miller's French "Hits" label.  Austin would go on to record for Swallow during the 1960s and 1970s.  He appeared at the 1973 and 1976 Smithsonian Festival of American Folk Life in Washington DC.  

  1. Blue Suede News, Volumes 37-45
  2. Ethnic and Border Music: A Regional Exploration by Norm Cohen
  3. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 4: From The 30s To The 50s (Old Timey, 1972)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Rosetta" - Sons of Acadians

Jazz influenced plenty of swing tunes in Louisiana.   This was one of many.  

In the 1930s, the string band Happy Fats and the Rayne-Bo Ramblers had recorded several western swing tunes for Bluebird.  Their fiddle player, Oran "Doc" Guidry would influence their sound in a 1936 recording session.

By September 5, 1939, Guidry left the group and decided to record for David Kapp, Decca's A&R man. Decca wanted them to take hillbilly songs and convert them to french songs. There, his group, Sons of Acadians, recorded 12 tunes, one of the songs entitled "Rosetta" (#17052).   Many of the members had also left Happy Fats' Rayne Bo Ramblers.  The song (pronounced "rose EE ta") was a cover originally recorded by jazz pianist Earl Hines in 1933 with his orchestra.
Daily Advertiser
Nov 1, 1939

Rosetta, ma rosetta,

Dans mon cœur, chère, y a personne autre que toi.

Tu m'as dit que tu m'aimais,

Quand même quitté pour t'en aller avec un autre.

T'as fait tout ma vie un rêve,
Près tu fais ça venir tout vrai.
Rosetta, ma rosetta,
Dis donc, chère, que moi j'suis le  seul pour toi.

T'as fait tout ma vie un rêve,
Près, tu fais ça venir tout vrai.
Rosetta, ma rosetta,
Dis donc, chère, que moi j'suis le  seul pour toi.

Warren Storm and Doc Guidry

Doc's version, sung in French, is a typical western swing tune backed by musicians, Roscoe Whitlow, distant cousin Sidney Guidry of the Alley Boys of Abbeville, and Nathan Guidry.  At some point, his brother Nason and cousin Ray joined the group.  Doc's swinging fiddle style really shines on this tune.  Listed as Dallas, TX, Doc's son would later explain the recording was actually done in Houston, Texas at the Rice Hotel.  

Rosetta, my Rosetta, 

In my heart, dear, there is noone other than you. 

You told me you loved me, 

Still, you went away with another. 

You've made my life a dream 
In almost everything you do, it comes true. 

Rosetta, my Rosetta, 
Tell me, dear, that I'm the only one for you. 
You've made my life a dream 
In almost everything you do, it comes true. 

Rosetta, my Rosetta, 
Tell me, dear, that I'm the only one for you. 

During his campaign, Jimmie Davis had Doc play music at his campaign rallies, including the 1959 and 1971 primaries.   Because of Doc's popularity, he used his music as a representative of the local area, even playing on the Louisiana Hayride and Grand Ole Opry during the 1950s.   Later, he joined the group Happy, Doc and the Boys and they would be the first to record for J.D. Miller's Fais Do Do label at Cosimo Matassa’s New Orleans studio.  

In the 1960s, Doc played with Vin Bruce for Swallow Records and then with Dewey Balfa and Rufus Thibodeaux in the 1970s. 

  1. Cajun and Creole Music Makers 
  2. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  3. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  4. All Music Guide to Country: The Experts' Guide to the Best Recordings in ... edited by Michael Erlewine
  5. Musiciens Cadiens et Créoles - Rigide / the Makers of Cajun Music By Barry Jean Ancelet
  6. Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule
  7. Louisiana Music: A Journey From R&b To Zydeco, Jazz To Country, Blues To ... By Rick Koster
  8. Louisiana Hayride : Radio and Roots Music along the Red River: Radio and ... By Department of Music Agnes Scott College Tracey E. W. Laird Assistant Professor
  9. The Fiddle Handbook By Chris Haigh

"La Chanson du Mardi Gras" - Clément Brothers

The Cajun Mardi Gras Song, known in Cajun French as "La Danse de Mardi Gras" or "La [Vieille] Chanson de Mardi Gras," is a mainstay in Cajun Mardi Gras celebrations, and an important piece in the repertoire of any traditional Cajun Music band. It is perhaps the oldest song in the Cajun repertoire and the key song for the rural "courir de Mardi Gras", an event covered by plenty of other websites.

As is the case with most traditional folk songs , not many specifics are known about the history of the song. It is generally posited, though, that the melody is much older than the lyrics, as its modal sound and melodic form are indicative of old Breton (French Celtic) melodies, which could've easily been brought along by the Acadians through their journey from France to Canada to Southwest Louisiana. The lyrics are clearly more recent, though also likely well over 100 years old, and are not fully standardized -- different groups will sing them with slight variations.  The tune is played in a minor mode not generally found in other Cajun music.
Eunice Mardi Gras, 1919
Courtesy of City of Eunice

Author and historian Dr. Barry Ancelet explains that in the early 1950s, a group of cultural activists in the Mamou area, under the leadership of Paul Tate and Revon Reed, undertook to revive the traditional Mardi Gras run.  They sought guidance from older members of the community who remembered running Mardi Gras and even remembered the words of that community's version of the traditional Mardi Gras song.
Oster in New Orleans, 1958

The first of these versions to be recorded seems to be by different people, including Bee Deshotels, Terry Clement and Austin Pitre, during field recording sessions.  These sessions, recorded by folklorist Dr. Harry Oster, were done between 1956 and 1959 around Mamou and Eunice, Louisiana. Clement's version would be released in 1957 as field recordings on Oster's own Louisiana Folklore Society label.  Bee Deshotels would be accompanied by Angelus Manuel and Savy Augustine during Mardi Gras, February, 1958.  When Oster recorded the song, dance tunes had become largely the province of the older members of the community; many of their children and grandchildren were drawn, as were their peers elsewhere, to commercial, popular American culture.  According to Rocky Sexton:
[the Clement version] is a combination of the Tee Mamou/Lejeune Cove song that then shifts into the tune of the Big Mamou Mardi Gras song at certain points. The lyrics are a combination of Tee Mamou/Lejeune Cove with a little of Big Mamou lyrics thrown in. The song also has some improvisation in the lyrics. I'm pretty sure that is the case with the part about the whiskey and the Mardi Gras being hungover.12

Mardi Gras, ayoù tu viens, tout le temps l'autour la fin l'hiver,

On vient de l'Angleterre, ouais, mon cher, ouais, mon cher.

On vient de l'Angleterre, tout le temps l'autour la fin l'hiver.

Mardi Gras, quoi porte tu sont, tout le temps l'autour la fin l'hiver,

On porte les jogues d'whisky, ouais, mon cher, ouais, mon cher,

On porte les jogues d'whisky, tout le temps l'autour la fin l'hiver.

Mardi Gras, quoi faire t'es saoul, tout le temps l'autour la fin l'hiver,
Est ce que d'le jug est vide, ouais, mon cher, ouais, mon cher,
Parce que d'le jug et biere, tout le temps l'autour la fin l'hiver.

Mardi Gras, tu semble malade, tout le temps l'autour la fin l'hiver,
Est-ce qu'on sue du trop, ouais, mon cher, ouais, mon cher,
Parce qu'on sue du trop, tout le temps l'autour la fin l'hiver.

Mardi Gras, quoi t'as besoin, tout le temps l'autour la fin l'hiver,
Donne-nous des grands poules grasses, ouais, mon cher, ouais, mon cher,
Donne-nous des grands poules grasses, tout le temps l'autour la fin l'hiver.

Mardi Gras, t'es vient de faire, tout le temps l'autour la fin l'hiver,
On faire un grand gumbo ouais, mon cher, ouais, mon cher,
On faire un grand gumbo ouais,  tout le temps l'autour la fin l'hiver.

Mardi Gras, ayoù tu viens, tout le temps l'autour la fin l'hiver.....
Cajun Mardi Gras, 1935
Ray E Babineaux, Cleobule Thibodeaux
Louisiana and Lower
Mississippi Valley Collections,
LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, LA

The song features a call-and-response set of lyrics, where someone questions their manners and the participants try to explain why. 

Mardi Gras, where do you come from, always around the end of winter,

We come from all over the land, yeah, my dear, yeah, my dear,

We come from all over the land, always around the end of winter.

Mardi Gras, what are you carrying , always around the end of winter,

We carry jugs of whiskey, yeah, my dear, yeah, my dear,

We carry jugs of whiskey, always around the end of winter.

Mardi Gras, why are you drunk, always around the end of winter,
It's because the jugs are empty, yeah, my dear, yeah, my dear,
Because the jugs are empty, always around the end of winter.

Marid Gras, you are sick, always around the end of winter,
It's cause we're sweating too much, yeah, my dear, yeah, my dear,
Because we're sweating too much, always around the end of winter.

Mardi Gras, what do you need, always around the end of winter,
Give us a big fat hen, yeah, my dear, yeah, my dear,
Give us a big fat hen, always around the end of winter.

Mardi Gras, what've you come to do, always around the end of winter,
We made a big gumbo, yeah, my dear, yeah, my dear,
We made a big gumbo, always around the end of winter.

Mardi Gras, where do you come from, always around the end of winter...

The Clément Brothers, composed of Terry on accordion, Purvis on violin, and Grant on guitar, created some of the first swamp pop music after WWII. Early on, their father, Laurent would play violin.  The band members fell in love with the music of the late Cajun French musician, Nathan Abshire, and patterned their music after his. They found his music exciting, smooth and very different from any others.  They organized their first band, Terry Clement & His Rhythmic Five, in 1949 and recorded 2 songs for J.D. Miller: "Diggy Liggy Lo" and "Le Valse De Te Maurice".   Later, the Clement brothers, brother-in-law, Ronald Goodreau, and pianist, Everett Daigle formed a band playing country and rhythm and blues music.  They would also be recorded by Jack Bond.

However, the most iconic version of the Mardi Gras song would be recorded during a field session between 1964 and 1966 by the Balfa Brothers and released on Miller's Kajun label (#502), "The Mardi Gras Song".   The recording, with Nathan Abshire and Dewey Balfa, involves using a pair of coconuts to simulate the sound of galloping horses.  The Balfas would enter the Swallow studio and record the song again between 1973 and 1974, "La Danse de Mardi Gras", and since then, the song has flourished.  Their version is probably the most popular and commonly sung during the Mardi Gras season.  Here's that version:
Les Mardi Gras s'en vient de tout partout
Tout le tour autour du moyeu
Ça passe eine fois par an 
Demander la charité
Quand même si c'est une patate
Une patate et des grattons

Les Mardi Gras sont d'sus un grand voyage
Tout le tour autour du moyeu
Ça passe une fois par an 
Demander la charité
Quand même si c'est une poule maigre
Et trois ou quatre coton de maïs

Capitaine, Capitaine voyage ton flag
Allons chez l'aut' voisin
D'mander la charité 
Pour les'autres v'nez nous joindre
Pour les'autres vous v'nez nous joindre
Ouais au gumbo ce soir
1920 Eunice, LA

"Mardi Gras" (pronounced here as 'grahz') in this sense is a plural nickname referring to the actual participants in the courir event.   Dewey goes through an explanation and a simple rendition for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in 1977.
The "Mardi Gras" are coming from all over 
Together, we'll gather around
It happens each year
Ask for donations 
Even if it's a potato
A potato and pork rinds 

The "Mardi Gras" have made a long trip
Together, we'll gather around
It happens each year
Ask for donations 
Even if it's a skinny chicken 
And three or four corncobs

Captain, Captain raise your flag 
Let's go to the neighbor's and
Ask for donations 
For everyone else, come join us
For everyone else, come join us
Yeah, at the gumbo tonight

  1. Cajun Women and Mardi Gras: Reading the Rules Backward By Carolyn Ware
  2. http://worldmusic.about.com/od/northamerican/a/CajunMardiGrasSong.htm
  3. http://www.gumbopages.com/music/beau-notes.html
  4. Disenchanting Les Bons Temps: Identity and Authenticity in Cajun Music and Dance By Charles J. Stivale
  5. Ancelet, Barry Jean. 1989. "Capitaine Voyage Ton Flag": The Traditional Cajun Country Mardi Gras.
  6. http://www.arhoolie.com/cajun-and-zydeco/folksongs-of-the-louisiana-acadians-various-artists.html?sl=EN
  7. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  8. Roger D. Abrahams; Nick Spitzer; John Szwed; Robert Farris Thompson (2006-02-09). Blues for New Orleans: Mardi Gras and America's Creole soul
  9. Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues By Shane K. Bernard
  10. http://louisianafolklife.nsula.edu/
  11. http://www.wirz.de/music/osterfrm.htm
  12. https://folkways.si.edu/dewey-balfa/description-of-mardi-gras-ceremony-mardi-gras-song/cajun-music-instruction/music/track/smithsonian
  13. Discussions with Rocky S
  14. Lyrics by Carol B and Stephane F

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Two Step Du La Tell" - J.B. Fuselier and his Merrymakers

During the 1930s, a tenor banjo player named Beethoven Miller created the band called Miller's Merrymakers and they recorded in New Orleans. After Beethoven left the group, a Cajun fiddle player named Jean Baptiste Fuselier took over as bandleader and changed it's name to J.B. and the Merrymakers. 

Fuselier began playing the fiddle when he was five. In a 1937 interview, he claimed that when he started violin, he was too small to pick it up to play. He had to lie on the bed.  His cousin suggested that they sit him in a chair so he could hold the fiddle.  His fingers were so short at the time, he learned to play with only three finders and never learned to use his fourth finger during his career.  He recalls:
All that money I made, I made it with three fingers. I played my first dance for fifty cents.  The violin by myself.  A country dance in a house.  I was so hot.  The sweat was pouring in my shoes.  I was not quite ten years old.  That's the first time I got money to play. 
His most covered tune is one about his daughter Myrtle named "Chere Tout Tout", recorded in 1937. However, their signature tune would be recorded in 1938 entitled "Ma Cher Bassett" in New Orleans for Bluebird. He included guitarist Preston Manuel.
Quand même tu m’as quitté, 
Pourquoi j'suis mauvais,
C'est toi jolie tite fille,
C'est toi qui m’a quitté.

Hey ma chère mignonne,
Tout l’temps avec un autre(??),
Mais toi mais tu croyais,
C’est ça qui fait du mal(??).

Si tu veux chercher(?),
Tu vas voir mais ton erreur,
Pour ça tu fais avec moi,
Mais moi j'mérite pas ça.

Toi mais tu voudrais,
Venir avec ton neg,
Et moi je suis content,
Te voir dans ma maison.

During that same session, they would record "Two Step du La Tell" (known as the Lawtell Two Step) for Bluebird (#B-2050). Lawtell is a small community in south Louisiana located on Hwy 190 which is known for its string of live music dance-halls, such as the Step Inn Club. The name was a combination of two early real estate businessmen in the area, J. G. Lawler and C. E. Littell. 

Nevertheless, you left me,

Why? I'm terrible,

It is you, pretty little girl,

It is you, who left me.

Hey my dear darling,
Always with another,
However, thinking of you,
That's what makes it hurt.

If you search within,
Well, you'll see your mistake,
What are you doing with me?
Well, I don't deserve this.

You, well, you want,
To come be with your boy,
And I'm happy,
To see you in my house.

In Sam Tarleton's interview, J.B. states:
When we'd go to New Orleans to make some records, part of the road was gravel, part of the road was dirt.  THe last time I went to make records in New Orleans, I had a Model A.  We went in a a Model A; four of us.
Preston Manual recalls:
We made four recordings per session. Bluebird record's Eli Oberstein from New York would call us.  Then we'd go to the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans.  We'd make records there.
When we'd make a record, the fellow would ask us, "Do you want to hear your voice back and see how it sounds?"  I'd say, "I'd be tickled to death to hear that!"  So he'd replay it and say, "That's perfect, but you'll have to cut another one because that one is ruined!" 
After Fuselier moved to Lake Charles, he joined Iry Lejeune and the Calcasieu Playboys after Wilson Granger had quit.  In 1955, Fuselier and Iry Lejeune were driving from Eunice, Louisiana, when his tire punctured. While changing the tire, a car hit Fuselier's car. Lejeune died instantly and Fuselier suffered injuries.

  1. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  2. Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule
  3. Lyrics by Jerry M and Marc C
Gran Prairie: Cajun Music Anthology, Vol. 3: The Historic Victor Bluebird Sessions (Country Music, 1994)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)

Monday, September 22, 2014

"Bayou Pon Pon" - Harry Choates

In 1929, commedian Walter Coquille created a 2-part series of recordings for Brunswick (#319) about an imaginary village, probably in Lafourche Parish, called Bayou Pom Pom (also spelled Pon Pon). In the diaglogue, he refers to himself as "Mayor of Bayou Pom Pom" and his stories made gentle but penetrating fun of Cajuns who found themselves confronted for the first time with the complexities of the modern world. 

By 1930, he even ran an article in the Houma Times with the headline proclaiming "Mayor of Bayou Pom Pom Will Speak In Houma". It detailed how an unknown man named Telesfore Boudreaux had accepted the invitation of the local chamber of commerce. Coquille would later record sequels entitled "Surprise Party of the Mayor of Bayou Pom Pom" and "Re-election Of The Mayor of Bayou Pom Pom".

The mythical town would find its way into the local music. Later in 1929, Angelus Lejeune would travel with Walter to New Orleans and record "Bayou Pon Pon One Step" for Brunswick (#370). This melody would be re-recorded many years later by groups such as Joe Bonsall. Coquille even recorded a 3rd part for Brunswick that day (#359) and several more later on. 

Yet, the title would be given to other melodies as well. In 1947, Harry Choates would record an old instrumental song called "Bear Creek Hop" in a western swing style he entitled "Bayou Pon Pon" for Goldstar (#1335). Yet again, the same title would be given to a melody written by Jimmie Davis for Hank Williams Sr. in 1951 on Decca (#46381) making it Decca's 3rd highest selling Country record in 1952. According to a collector of Cajun music, Marc Chauveau, there are least 46 different versions of the lyrics! Iry Lejeune recorded it for Ed Shuler and released it on Bob Tanner's obscure label called T.N.T. out of San Antonio, making it one of the hardest to find.

By 1937, the influence of this "town" found it's way into the pop culture of the time. Even a grocery store in New Orleans called itself "Bayou Pom Pom Grocery". 

  1. Cajun and Creole Folktales: The French Oral Tradition of South Louisiana  edited by Barry Jean Ancelet
  2. Cajun and Creole Music Makers
  3. The History of Texas Music By Gary Hartman
  4. Handbook of Texas Music edited by Laurie E. Jasinski
  5. The Crawfish Book By Glen Pitre
  6. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
Harry Choates ‎– The Fiddle King Of Cajun Swing (Arhoolie, 1982, 1993)

"Guè Guè Solingaie" - Dr. James Roach


The first "Cajan" recording?

On January 22, 1925 in New Orleans, an "operatically trained physician from St. Louis, Missouri" named Dr. James Frederick Roach came to the Junius Hart Music Co. and recorded 2 songs for Okeh.  Roach was a socialite doubling as a part-time musician during frequent radio appearances in New Orleans. One of the 2 songs was an African Creole lullaby sung in English.  Originally from Missouri as well, Okeh's director of recordings, Ralph Peer, had traveled to New Orleans to record him during the session which ran from the 22nd to the 23rd.

The interest in these recordings don't become apparent until an archived article is discovered in "The Talking Machine World" magazine, Vol 21, Page 12, posted on July 15th, 1925, which makes the bold claim that one of these songs is "the first recording of a Cajan folk song".  The name is "Guè Guè Solingaie" (Song of the Crocodile).  On the record's flipside is Agnes' "Reflets Dans L'Eau".

Article about Roach's
This claim, if true, would make this recording the first recording of a Cajun or Creole song ever, depending on your point of view.    Experts do not believe this to be an authentic Cajun song.   We have no evidence that Roach, or his wife Agnes was of Cajun ancestry.  We have no evidence this song is of Cajun origin.  Therefore, the magazine's claim is dubious and probably just a marketing ploy.  The article text is below:

The first recording of a “Cajan” folk song for OKeh records has been made by the Hart Piano House, Southern jobbers for the OKeh line.
The “Cajans,” or Arcadians, have a type of music all their own. They are the descendants of the French colonists banished from Grand Pre by the British after the cession to England of some of the French holdings off the Canadian shore, near Newfoundland. These people have lived along the Louisiana bayous, weaving and spinning and raising the peculiarly tinted cotton made famous in the cloths they weave, and the dialect they speak and the songs they sing in the fields and over the cradles are heard only in the bayou country. As portraits of bayou life they are real poetry, connoisseurs say, telling stories of the strange water creatures that inhabit the bayous, and the uneventful life of the fisherfolk.
The initial record is “Gue gue Solingail,” or “Song of the Crocodile.” It is sung for OKeh by Dr. James F. Roach, a New Orleans non-professional, who is gaining a widespread reputation for amateur and radio appearances. The success of the first recording will mean, it is believed, further experiment along the same line and the introduction of typical Cajan music and dialect lyrics to many music lovers, via the talking machine.

The mystery deepens.  For some reason, Okeh never released these (as far anyone can tell).   According to blues author, Tom Tsotsi,  believes the recordings were supposed to be Okeh matrix 8887 through 8889, however, no information shows Okeh releasing them and no one knows why.   According to author Richard K. Spottswood, the Roach family released them with the label "Roach #1" and "Roach #2" independently on their own, probably with their own money. 

Author Kevin Fontenot states:

He did a session where he recorded some folk songs and opera pieces.  It is in English with a classical piano backup. We have a partial label shot as well. [It has an] Okeh label on the 78 with an overlaid "Roach".  We presented preliminary work on him at the International Country Music Conference and the Association of Recorded Sound Collectors.

This version, sung in English, has been recorded by others using French lyrics.

Gué-gué Solingaie,
balliez chimin-là,
M'a dis li, oui, m'a dis li, 
Calbasse, li connain parler!
Calbasse, il connain parler! 

Gué-gué Solingaie,
balliez chimin-là, 
M'a dis li, oui, m'a dis li,
Cocodril, li connain chanter! 
Cocodril, il connain chanter! 

Gué-gué Solingaie,
balliez chimin-là, 
M'a dis li, oui, m'a dis li,
Pichou, li connain trangler! 
Pichou, li connain trangler!

Dr. James Roach, 1900
Dr. Roach was a medical surgeon that graduated from the Missouri Medical College in St. Louis in 1897 and practiced here.   He was the chief surgeon at the asylum.  He served overseas in France during WWI and later the Red Cross. He and his second wife, Agnes, moved to New Orleans, where he lived on Carondelet Street and worked at the US Public Health hospital.   He was classically trained operatic tenor from the New England Conservatory of Boston and may have studied in Europe.  By 1907, he was touring throughout the US with several other opera companies singing operas in both English and French.  By 1909, he stopped touring and became an instructor in Des Moine, Iowa and then Polytech College in Fort Worth, TX until about 1915 and returned to medicine.  During the mid 1920s, he still was singing radio broadcasts in New Orleans.

The song is actually a vernacular Afro-Creole song prevalent in the Crescent City area. It's considered one of the oldest Louisiana Creole folk-songs, similar to "L'Amours Marianne", "Suzette Chere", "Tan Patate La Tchuite", Momzelle Ze Ze", "Clementine" "Vous T'e In Morico" "Selim To Quitte La Plaine" and "Zozo Mokeur".13  Music writer Mina Monroe recalled hearing the song as a child from the domestics who worked on her family's plantation home in St. Charles Parish.  In a 1921 publication "Bayou Ballads", she states that the song is almost an incantation, in which the ending phrase of each couplet, 'li connain parle', is whispered in hushed tones.  In sort of weird lullaby, the little ones are urged to 'balie chimin-la', or to 'sweep the path clear'.  The 'path' being the tiny mind preparing for dreams.    A version of the song can be heard by the Kingston Trio, however, it's unknown if resembles Roach's recordings at all.

Dreamland opens here,
Sweep the dream path clear!
Listen, chile, now listen well,
What the tortoise may have to tell,
What the tortoise may have to tell!

Dreamland opens here,
Sweep the dream path clear!
Listen, chile, dear little chile,
To the song of the crocodile,
To the song of the crocodile!

Dreamland opens here,
Sweep the dream path clear!
Listen, chile, now close your eyes,
In the canebreak the wildcat cries,
In the canebreak the wildcat cries!

While this song is 3 years older than the official first Cajun recording, "Allons a Lafayette", being a Creole lullaby and having no ties to anything Cajun in origin, most believe this recording has little Cajun significance. However, even if it isn't the first Cajun recording, it is an interesting piece of Louisiana music history that almost no one knows about and it does excite the imagination.

  1. http://www.bluesworld.com/NODiscog.html
  2. Discography of OKeh Records, 1918-1934 By Ross Laird, Brian A. L. Rust, Brian Rust
  3. Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?: The Carter Family & Their Legacy in ... By Mark Zwonitzer
  4. http://adp.library.ucsb.edu/index.php/resources/detail/212
  5. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music: The Emergence of By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  7. Gronow, Pekka. 1982 Ethnic Recordings: An Introduction. Ethnic Recordings in America: A Neglected Heritage. Washington D. C.: American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
  8. Cohn, Lawrence. 1990 Cajun Vol.1.: Abbeville Breakdown 1929-1939. New York: Roots & Blues.
  9. Monroe, Mina, ed. Kurt Schindler, 1921 Bayou Ballads: Twelve Folk-Songs From Louisiana. New York: G. Schirmer, Inc.
  10. Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?: The Carter Family & Their Legacy in ... By Mark Zwonitzer
  11. 2010 ARSC Conference Recordings. A Cajun Music Mystery: Dr. James F. Roach, "Song of the Crocodile," and the First Commercial Recording of a Cajun Folksong.  Patrick Huber.
  12. The Ottawa Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) 20 Jul 1932, Wed Page 4
  13. The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) 02 Feb 1941, Sun Page 55