Saturday, June 27, 2015

"Shoe Pick Waltz" - Amar Devillier

George Khoury spent the 1950s recording a slew of music from around south Louisiana, with a strange numbering scheme that criss-crosses two of his first labels: Lyric and Khoury's.  The only record on his single digit Lyric series included the song "Shoe Pick Waltz" (#1).  Amar "Ti-Frère" DeVillier and his band, the Louisiana Jambileers, recorded it at the KEUN Radio station in Eunice, LA in 1952, however, Khoury seems to have release it between 1953 and 1954. Either during this same year or earlier, Khoury used his 100 series for R&B artists such as Clarence "Bon Ton" Garlow.  His Lyric label would eventually have a 600 series, 700 series, and a 1000 series.

Devillier was born and raised on a farm in L'anse Meg, a rural area between Mamou and Eunice, La. His father died when he was a young boy and times were hard for his mother, Theresa and her children. Amar was forced to mature at a very early age to help support the family. It was a rugged life for the Devilliers, especially early on. The family had no electricity, running water or tractor until the 1950's.3,4    

Oh, tit fille, ton aller, tit monde,

Ton aller la bas à Choupique,

Oh, ye yaille, si j’peut voir m’a chere tit fille. 

Eh! Oh, tit fille!  Eh, hah!

Eh tit fille comment ces tu comme ça? 

Toi jolie, tit, tit fille,

À la train souffrir, assez noir.

Oh! Tit monde, hey, ma j’connais pas la pein,
Te dit ça, jolie tit fille.
Khoury's Record Store

Amar began playing in dance halls in the 1930's and 1940's and therefore was able to greatly supplement his income during the Great Depression. A prominent fiddler from Eunice picked up Amar in a car and would drive to a club outside of Cameron for $5. He played more frequently in the 1950's just about every weekend and sometimes during the week. He formed several bands that featured musicians such as Dennis McGee, Isom Fontenot, Eston Bellow, Joseph "Cabri" Menier, Ed and Bee Deshotels, Preston Manuel, and Harry Lafleur at times.3,4  

The choupique (pronounced "shoe pick") is a trash fish, known outside Louisiana as the bowfin, which isn't eaten much but can be found plentiful around Evangeline Parish, Louisiana. Choupique is also the name of a rural community north of Eunice, Louisiana, not far from a small stream called "La Coulée Choupique", in which the song refers.  According to Cyprien Landreneau, this waltz is over a hundered years old.  It was probably composed by a musician living on Bayou Choupique. The song features Devillier's harmonica accompaniment which wasn't all that common at the time.  Wallas Lafleur, who would later play drums for Shirley and Alphee Bergeron, sings and plays guitar.
Amar Devillier

Oh, little girl, go away, my everything,

Go over there to the Choupique,

Oh, my, to see my dear little girl.

Aye! Oh, little girl!  Eh, hah!

Eh, little girl, how come you act like that, 

You pretty little, little, girl,

I'm suffering, it's quite sombre.

Oh, my little everything, I know that it's no use,
To tell you this, my pretty little girl.
Nathan Abshire would use the name in a different tune recorded for Khoury around the same time called the "Choupique Two Step". Although George's recording activities went into limbo with the advent of rock n roll, he was to make a strong comeback at the end of the decade, not with Cajun music, but with a new South Louisiana sound: swamp-pop.

  1. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  2. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Cajun Home Music. FW02620_101 liner notes
  4. Discussions with Neal G
  5. Lyrics by Jerry M
Cajun Honky Tonk: The Khoury Recordings Vol. 2 (Arhoolie, 2013)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"Dragging The Bow" - Harry Choates

One of Harry Choates' best demonstrations of his talent was ability to show off his solo fiddle rides on certain tunes.   Here, in early 1948, he takes the opportunity with his band to record for Bill Quinn's Houston-based Gold Star label one of his more well known instrumentals called "Dragging The Bow" (#1343).

His band had shifted some players and by 1948, the group consisted of Pee Wee Maples on guitar, Red Fabacher on steel guitar, Junior Keelan on bass, Amos Comeaux on drums, and Johnnie Ruth Manuel on piano.  Throughout the song, you could hear him shift the attention to his friend Francis "Red" Fabacher by calling out his name.   Red had earlier worked with his brother Joseph in the group called Jolly Boys of Lafayette. He met Harry around the time both were helping Happy Fats during the early 1940s.

Red Fabacher, Ronald Ray "Pee Wee" Lyons,
Johnnie Ruth Smyrl, Harry Choates,
Amos Comeaux, Curly Maples
Originally recorded by Henry Hartley and the Travelers as "Raggin' The Fiddle", it's a cover of the famous western swing player Curt "Dott" Massey's 1935 Vocalion recording called "Draggin’ the Bow".  Most likely, Harry picked up the tune while playing with Shelley Lee Alley & his Alley Cats, given they recorded the tune in 1938 as "Alley Cat Stomp".  Harry had previously recorded it with Happy Fat's Rayne-Bo Ramblers in 1940 for Bluebird and their subsidiary Montgomery Ward label, calling it "Lake Charles Shuffle". The song title refers to the action of a smooth fiddle player.  While the phrase has mysterious origins, it most likely refers to a player's ability to keep the bow constantly on the strings, while moving from string to string, in one sweeping fashion. 

Goldstar would end up selling the masters to Pappy Daily's "D" records which re-released the song (#1024), sometimes changing the name slightly, such as "Draggin The Fiddle" (Starday #273, D 1023)  and "Drag That Fiddle" (Starday #258).

Harry's lifestyle was erratic.  According to Red:

I drank when I was on the bandstand, but [Harry] drank all day long.

Daily Advertiser
Feb 19, 1941

  1. Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost By Tony Russell
Fiddlin' country style (Melodisc, 1961)
Harry Choates ‎– The Fiddle King Of Cajun Swing (Arhoolie, 1982, 1993)
Harry Choates - Jole blon: The Original Cajun Fiddle of Harry Choates CD (D, 1999)
Cajun Fiddle King (AIM, 1999)
Devil In The Bayou - The Gold Star Recordings (Bear Family, 2002)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

"T'Est Petite a Ete T'Est Meon (You Are Little and You Are Cute)" - Dudley And James Fawvor

Dudley Eraste Fawvor, guitarist, and James Henry Fawvor, Jr., fiddler, were two musicians from Cameron, LA who joined other Cajuns recording music for Columbia/Okeh.  In 1928, Dudley and James Fawvor recorded two proto-swing Cajun numbers, one entitled "T'est Petite A Ete T'est Meon (You Are Little and You Are Cute)" (#90005), in French to accommodate their audience even though they did not speak the language.  Although their French was admittedly limited, the duo negotiated a record deal with a Columbia executive while acting as guides during a duck hunting expedition near their home in Grand Chenier, a coastal hamlet just across the Texas line.  The songs would be apart of Columbia's new interest in field recordings of the Cajuns.  

T’es petite, t’es meon,

Trop galeuse mais j’t’amie quand meme,

T’es petite, t’es meon,

Trop galeuse pour faire ma femme.

Oh la belle, t’es pas lavé,

Oh, la belle, tu peux aller t’laver,

Oh, la belle t’es pas lave,

I’ faudra oublier la belle, tu peux aller t’ laver.
The song is based on melody that folklorist Irene Whitfield recalled in 1939 as "La Valse de la Grand Chenier".  The word "galeuse" is an Cajun word to signify looking dirty or shabby. Given the strong similarities between Cajun swing and Western swing, it would be difficult to believe that the Fawvors' choice involved stylistic motivations at all. This contrasts with today's Cajun music when sung in French in that it would be difficult to argue that this choice involves accommodating an audience of mostly English monolinguals—although it is possible that musicians are targeting a select group from within the audience.
Dudley Fawvor

You're small and you're a sweetheart,

You're too shabby, but, I like you anyways,

You're small and you're a sweetheart,

You're too shabby to be my wife.

Oh, girl, you're not clean,

Oh, girl, you can go wash up,

Oh, girl, you're not clean,

I have to forget her, girl go wash up.

James Fawvor
Later, other musicians would put their own take on the song.  The following year, Eddie Segura and Didier Hebert used the title in their melody called "You're Small And Sweet".  In 1935, Leo Soileau traveled to Chicago with his Four Aces and recorded "T’Est Petite Et T’Est Mignonne [You Are Little And You Are Cute]".   Harry Choates recorded "Tip-E-Te Tip-E-Ta Ameon (You’re Cute And You’re Little) (T’Est Petite Et Mignone)" in 1947 and again in 1948 as "Te Petite".   During the 50s, Crawford Vincent recorded "Tippy Tee Tippy En".  In 1954, Link Davis, good friends with Choates, would also record "You're Little But You're Cute" for Okeh records.

  1. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music: By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  2. The Use Of Language In Cajun Music. By Josh Mcneill. Tulane University.  2014.
  3. Lyrics by Jerry M.
  4. Label scan by University of Louisiana at Lafayette Cajun and Creole Music Collection - Special Collections


Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 5: The Early Years 1928-1938 (Old Timey/Arhoolie, 1973) 
Cajun Louisiane 1928-1939 (Fremeaux, 2003)
Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)

The Best Of Cajun & Zydeco (Not Now, 2010)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"Quand Je Suis Bleu (When I Am Blue)" - Leo Soileau

After his attempt at Cajun music in the late 20s, Leo Soileau changed his style to fit the more popular Cajun swing music being influenced by Texas swing players.  Having a mix of people playing with him at different times, he renamed his Three Aces to Four Aces. Leo recalled learning the tune as a little boy from his fiddling father, Fabius Soileau.

Chère maman, quand je rêve,
Malheureuse, à toi c'est toi.
A l'âge de 15 ans, j'ai roulé,
Manche à manche, malheureuse.
J'connais, père et mère,
Plus personne pour m'aimer,
Plus ma femme pour m'ennuyer.
Toi tu m'as dit,
De t'espérer,
De père et mère, oui j'ai quitté.
Toi malheureuse,
Depuis à l'âge de 15 ans,
J'ai roulé manche à manche,
J'ai roulé ma bouteille.
Leo Soileau

By May of 1935, his drummer, Tony Gonzales, had left.  So, Leo picked up Floyd Perry's uncle, Olaf Perry "O.P." Shreve and Johnny Roberts on drums and bass, and the group headed to Chicago for a marathon recording session with Decca where they recorded "Quand Je Suis Bleu" (#17010). Quite possibly, Leo was inspired by the lyrics of Dennis McGee in his song "Les Blues Du Texas", although his melody is a direct copy of McGee's "La Valse Pènitentiaire". 

 However, it seems the Balfas may have used this melody for their recording of "La Valse Du Bambocheur" around 1951.  In Dewey's earliest days recording alongside Elise Deshotel, you can hear traces of the melody in his recording of "La Valse De Bon Baurche".  Tracy Schwarz mentions this is a very old tune, definately rare in modern day Cajun music. It's rich modal notes take it even one step farther back than many Appalachian mountain melodies that have become known all over the country.  It was this song that got the Balfas their recording contract with Swallow records.
Daily Advertiser
May 17, 1947

Dear mom, when I dream,
Oh my! It's you.
At age 15, I drove around,
Round and round, oh my!
I know this, father and mother,
There's noone to lover me,
My wife is bored of me.
You told me to wait for you,
Father and mother, I left.
You're miserable,
Since the age of 15,
I travelled round and round,
I travelled with my bottle. 
Lake Charles American Press
May 16, 1947

The band showed up in Chicago two months before New Orleans pianist Richard M Jones was recording his latest jazz tunes with Jones' Chicago Cosmopolitans in the same studio.  By August, Decca had fiddler and Shreveport native Leon "Lonnie" Hall travel to Chicago and do the same thing.   Louisiana music was hot and there was an interest in more of it.

By 1951, Joe Manuel and his boys re-recorded the tune with a string band sound entitled "Since The Age of 14". 

  1. Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule
  2. Smithsonian Folkways. Dewey Balfa.  Liner notes.
  3. Lyrics by Stephane F, Marc C, Jerry M, and Bryan L
Leo Soileau: Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 7 (Old Timey, 1982)
Various Artists - Cajun String Bands (Arhoolie, 2000)
Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)
The Best Of Cajun & Zydeco (Not Now, 2010)
The Cajun And Zydeco Collection, Vol. 1 (Rapier, 2014)
The Best Of Cajun And Zydeco (Doppal, 2015)