A unique window into the world of Cajun music between 1928 and 1965. Compiled histories from websites, books, news articles, liner notes, and interviews. Most come from my personal 78 collection. Also covering Creole, Cajun-Country, and Cajun swing.
It's one of Jean Baptiste Fuselier's more obscure tunes. Not to be confused with Lawrence Walker's "Mamou Two Step", this tune was recorded among a slew of string band songs during the later part of the Cajun string-band era. Misspelled version of "Tit Mamou", "Two Step De Te Momou" (#2079) was an ode to the town of Mamou, Louisiana, not far from where J.B. was living. The small group consisted of Fuselier on fiddle and vocals, Preston Manuel on guitar, and probably M.J. Achten on guitar.
Oh chère, moi, je m’en vas dans ‘tit Mamou,
C’est pour voir, oh yaille, les jolies p‘tites filles.
Ohh, comment je vas faire là béb?
Oh chère, comment tu crois je peux faire?
Tu m’as quitté, moi tout seul, à ma maison, jolie.
Ohh ye yaille comment tu veux que je faire, jolie,
Ohh dans ma maison, jolie?
Crowley Daily Signal Nov 18, 1949
One of the best-known lineups of the Merrymakers consisted of J.B. on fiddle, Desbra Fontenot on steel, Norris Courville on drums, and Preston Manuel on guitar. Fiddler Varise Connor knew J.B. fairly well and played with him often, but after the Depression, money became an issue. He recalled:
Back then, the Great Depression was so bad that they couldn't pay us enough to play dances. You weren't guaranteed a fixed price, you had to play for a certain percentage of the money paid at the door. I worked hard all the time, all the time. When I stopped playing dances, that's when I started my saw mill. I told J.B. "If you want to play your life for nothing, go ahead. I quit."2
Crawford Vincent sometimes sat in on the drums after J.B. moved to Lake Charles.1
One of the earliest Cajun recording artists covering one of the most well recognized melodies in the area. The tune was recorded by white fiddler Dennis McGee and black accordionist Amédé Ardoin in New Orleans in November of 1930. The pair would play for dances in both white and black communities. Originally recorded for Brunswick (#559) in 1930, it was re-issued in 1943 as part of their "Collectors Series" (#80083). Also listed as "One Step a Chaumont", Ardoin's voice is sturdy and direct, yet permeated by sadness. According to author Nate Knaebel, when at its most forlorn, it creates a stirring juxtaposition with the peppy instrumentation beneath it, while never encumbering the forward drive of the song.5
Daily Advertiser May 17, 1947
O, maman, catin,toi, comment je vas faire ?
Na porte o je vas, mon coeur me fait du mal, jolie.
O, dis, ouais,tite fille,toi comment je vas faire
O,ouais, a me fait de la peine, j'oubliais, a toi t’après me faire.
O, moi, j'aurais le courage, ouais, de pas me promener, jamais,
Dabord tes misres tu me fais, je crois pas je merite, catin.
O, mais, toi, catin, toi, ouais, quand je vas chez toi, toi.
Ta mom est jamais, jamais, donc, sa tis fait, tite fille.
Rappelle, donc, toi, catin, tite fille, quand j'etais chez toi,
Le dimanche, aprs midi, a pas eu la peine, a me dire bonsoir et s'en aller.
The song refers to a girl in which the lover realizes "it's over". He infers that her mom is "never satisfied". Although the song's name directly translates to the English word "camel", author Raymond Francois notes that Chameaux is a family name around Basile, Louisiana.1 Ardoin occasionally used people names in his song titles, which could be the basis for the girl in this song. McGee recalls:
Amede and I worked together. We worked for the same people. We were both sharecroppers. He played the accordion and I played the fiddle. And the boss like music, so at night he would have us get together to play some. I would play the fiddle and Amede woiuld play the accordion and we would both sing. Oscar Comeaux was the boss's name. He lived in Choupique. He really like our music. That's when Amede and I started playing together. We kept on playing together after that.3
Eventually the song would become "Lake Charles Two Step", done by Nathan Abshire, Sidney Brown, Bois Sec Ardoin, Lawrence Ardoin, and many others. Jimmy Newman renamed it as the "Fais Do Do Two Step" however musicians like Chuck Guillory and the Balfas kept the original name.
Oh, mom, little doll, how will I handle this?
No matter where I go, I'm heartbroken, little doll.
Oh, say, yeah, little girl, how will I handle this?
Oh, yeah, it made me sad, forgotten, after you did this.
Oh, I have the courage, yeah, not to walk away, ever,
The first time you made me miserable, I don't think I deserved this, little doll.
Oh, however, you little doll, yeah, when I go to you,
Your mom never, never satisfied, so it's over, little girl.
Remember, little doll, little girl, when I was home,
On Sunday afternoon, there was no trouble, I had to say good night and leave.
Musician, Joe Hall, explains to author Sara Le Menestrel that musical differences between Cajun and Creole styles are impossible to characterize, arguing that the songs are the same, while qualifying one specific tune, "One Step du Chameau" as "pure Creole".4
Cajun and Creole Music Makers By Barry Jean Ancelet
Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music: Categories, Stereotypes ... By Sara Le Menestrel
Find: Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 1: First Recordings - The 1920's (Old Timey, 1970) I'm Never Comin' Back: The Roots of Zydeco (Arhoolie, 1995) Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005) Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005) Mama, I'll Be Long Gone : The Complete Recordings of Amede Ardoin, 1929-1934 (Tompkins Square, 2011)
Nathan Abshire lived most of his early life in a small town north of Gueydan called Riceville. After the war, he was approached by members of the Pine Grove dancehall house band, known as the Pine Grove Boys. The accordion was back in the limelight and the owner, Quincy Davis, thought the addition would be good for business in his clubs. By 1949, he was recording in the radio stations in Lake Charles under the direction of Virgel Bozman and George Khoury. In 1950, Abshire moved to Basile, located on the Louisiana prairie on Highway 190:
“What brought me here to Basile was music. You see, I came to play seven nights a week at the Avalon Club here in Basile. So my wife and I took this little house, and we’ve lived here ever since. We know lots of people here, and lots of people come from all over to visit.”
Nathan would play most of his nights at this club and adopted the name, the Musical Five. According to author Lyle Ferbrache, there were other clubs that had a long history in southwest Louisiana, and a few were older, but arguably none of them quite had the Avalon's pedigree. Leo Soileau, Happy Fats, Harry Choates and many others had all be featured at the Avalon during the peak of the string band years. It was a place owned and managed by a rough and tumble "colorful and bombastic owner", John Quincy Davis.2
Quincy Davis (right)
Davis served in the navy during WWI but got into trouble, serving a prison term. Legend has it that he escaped from Angola the first time, only to be recaptured after a statewide manhunt. By 1937, he had converted a large, narrow barn in Basile into the Avalon Club. Davis was a big man and if a fight broke out, it didn't take long for both parties to be outside.2 According to fiddler Will Kegley's daughter:
If Quincy got real mad, he would grab the troublemakers, knock their heads together, and run or drag them out the door.2
Hé, tite fille, rappelle-toi ça t'as fait,
Ouais z'avec moi, 'tit monde, il y a pas longtemps,
Et tant qu'à toi, 'tit fille, je veux pas de toi.
Hé, 'tite fille, moi j'ai été chez ton papa,
C'est pour demander, catin, ton mariage,
Mais, c'est trop dur, catin, pour toi, te marier.
Nathan's group played six out of seven days, alternating between both Quincy Davis’ clubs in Lake Charles, the Crystal Grill and the Broken Mirror in the evening, and on KPLC radio for a daily broadcast in the daytime. By the time they recorded "Avalon Waltz" (#631) in 1953, his band contained Ernest Thibodeaux on rhythm guitar, Atlas Fruge steel guitar, Jim Baker on bass guiter, possibly Shelton Manuel or Ozide Kegley on drums, and Will Kegley or Cleveland "Cat" Deshotel on fiddle. It was a rendition of Joe Falcon's 1934 "Le Valse De Mon Reve".
Pervis Clement, Ronnie Goodreaux, Nathan Abshire Ernest Thibodeaux (guitar on right, out of sight)
The Avalon was successful partially because Davis had crafted it, and the surrounding buildings, into a tourist attraction in which music was only one aspect.2 According to Bernella Fruge:
He had a zoo by the Avalon. He had buses coming in. A lot of buses from Opelousas, New Iberia, Mamou. Buses that would bring people from the country to the Avalon club. And his club had a restaurant, a saloon... the zoo had monkeys, snakes, I think one tiger...right on the side of the building.2
Hey, little girl, remember what you've done,
Yeh, with me, little everything, not long ago,
And as for you, little girl, I don't want you.
Hey, girl, I've been to your dad's place,
It's to ask, little doll, your hand in marriage,
Well, it's too hard, little doll, for you to get married.
The Clement Brothers, who also recorded for Khoury at the same time as Nathan, loved Nathan's playing and went to the Avalon almost every week-end to hear him play and sit in once in awhile. His Avalon Waltz can be found in the melody of Austin Pitre's "Redell Waltz". Ironically, while visiting an inmate at Angola, Davis suffered a massive heart attack and did in the place that once held him captive.2
Singer and guitarist Cleoma Breaux is remembered today for two major contributions to Cajun music. First, she and spouse Joe Falcon were responsible for the first recording ever made of Cajun music. In New Orleans in 1928, the couple recorded the song "Allons à Lafayette" for Columbia. Second, she was one of very few women of her day to perform Cajun music on-stage. The setting of a dancehall was considered improper, and a strong chance existed that a woman who sang there would be seen as immoral. Breaux overcame the stigma, possibly due to the fact that she mounted the stage with a man -- her husband -- at her side.1 By 1936, the group consisted of her husband Joe Falcon playing the accordion and family friend Moise Morgan playing the fiddle.
Oh jeune fille, vient mettre ta meilleure robe,
On va aller prendre après de toi pour s’en aller loin,
On va s’en aller si loin, si loin comme mon cœur,
Rappelle-toi ça je t’ai dit, on va s’en aller si loin.
C’est pas la peine que toi tu t’ennuies,
On va s’en aller, ouais, à la maison, ouais béb,
On va s’en aller à la maison pour longtemps, petite fille,
C’est pas la peine que toi tu t’ennuies, mais ouais, chère petite fille.
Hé petite fille, oublie-donc pas, ouais chère,
Ça t’as fait ouais, il y a pas longtemps, oui béb,
Tu connais je méritais, oh, pas tout ça tu m’as fait,
Oublie-donc pas ton pauvre vieux nègre, oh ye yaille, ouais, malheureuse.
Gulf Coast Lines (Frisco)
While it's unsure the reason she chose the name "Frisco" for the song, it's most likely an ode to the rail line that ran from New Orleans to Brownsville, Texas which included passing along present-day HWY 190. Small branches fed to stations in Eunice, Crowley and Lafayette. The Gulf Coast Lines were chartered as subsidiaries of the Frisco Railroad. The system became independent in 1916 and was purchased by the Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1925.
Oh young girl, just put on your best dress,
We're going to get you to get away,
We'll go so far, so far my sweetheart,
Remember that I told you, we'll go so far away.
It's not worth it, since you're bothered,
We're going to leave, yeh, to the house, yeh baby,
We're going to go home for a long time, little girl,
It's not worth it, since you're bothered, well yeh, dear little girl.
Hey little girl, do not forget, yeh dear,
That happened to you, not long ago, yeh baby,
You know I don't deserve all that you've done to me,
Do not forget your poor old man, oh ye yaille, yeh, oh my.
Frisco Depot New Orleans, 1908
By the 1930s, Eunice, Crowley, and New Orleans all had Frisco rail depots. It's quite possible Cleoma took this exact rail line to New Orleans that year to record this tune. It could could easily have been on this railroad trip to the Decca session in which she wrote the lyrics to this song. However, there's another probable origin to the song. Frisco was also the name of a rough and tumble area south of a small town in Louisiana called Port Barre. It was where dancehalls and saloons dotted the street and could easily have been a place where Joe and Cleoma played music.
Columbus Fruge recorded with his accordion for RCA Victor in 1929. There, he recorded a song as an ode to the the Bayou Teche. Jimmie Rodgers, the Blue Steele orchestra, and other stars were present in the auditorium when Columbus was told that it was the time for his recording. His method for recording preparation was unique. He asked for a heavy board to be placed on the floor underneath his feet so he could keep time by pounding his foot on the wooden board. Pretty soon, Columbus signaled that he was ready to begin, and when the recording machine's red light came on, he began playing and stomping his foot.4 The Bayou Teche is an old river that runs alongside the swamps of the Atchafalaya and drains into the Gulf of Mexico. "Bayou Teche" (#222184) talks about misery of a lover asking his love interest to leave her parents, settle along the bayou and make a home. Many Acadians eventually found their home along the bayou and made a way of life farming it's fertile banks.
Si t'aurais volu m'écouter, chèrie,
Toi tu s'rais, c'est là-bas, au Bayou Teche avec ton neg, cherie.
T'as écouté ton papa et ta maman, chère,
Les embarase de ton papa et ta maman, chère.
C'est la cause, ye yaille, que t’es pas avec ton neg,
Aujourd'hui, ye yaille.
Moi j'connais tu vas pleurer, t'lamenter, ye yaille,
Pour les miseres toi t'as après faire avec ton vieux neg, chere.
J'su parti m'en aller pour te quitter toi tout seule
Dans les chemins à la traîne avec ta valise, ye yaille.
Battle of Bayou Teche
The Acadian people first settled along this stream when transported to Louisiana, navigating it in light boats called pirogues. But the name is still shrouded in mystery. Bayou Teche is described by Raymond Francois as a "long, sluggish meandering stream" whose name comes from a Choctaw Indian word meaning "big snake." However, Teche river historian Shane Bernard believes this myth is outdated, claiming the local Indian tribes had other words for 'snake'. Since the early 18th century the word had taken root and changed spellings across maps of both the French and the Spanish. In his book about the bayou, he states:
Noting the similarity of Techas (and its alternate spellings) to Teche (and its alternate spellings), I propose that Spanish explorers named Bayou Teche for the Mexican province of Texas. . . . [It] does not seem far-fetched to imagine the Spanish naming a major Louisiana bayou the Techas (Texas), which in time morphed into Teche. . . . [but] Barring discovery of a “smoking-gun” document, we may never know the actual origin of the word Teche.2
Columbus "Boy" Fruge
In Fruge's song, he uses the phrase "ye yaille". "Yaille" is a word that doesn't translate well or at all. It's possible origin is from the Spanish phrase "ah ya yaille" loosely meaning "Oh! Wow!" Sometimes it comes out as an exuberant yell. Other times, it conveyed a mixture of surprise, reproach, and resignation. During the entire session, alongside Cajun musicians Leo Soileau, Moise Robin, country yodeler Jimmie Rodgers and Victor engineer Ralph Peer, Fruge belted out four songs, during which he accompanied himself by stomping on a wooden lumber boards scrapped from a Coca-Cola crate.3
If you would have listened to me, dear,
You are going over there, to the Bayou Teche with your old man, dear.
You heard your dad and your mom, dear,
The kisses of your dad and your mom, dear.
It's the reason, ye yaille, which you're not with your old man,
Today, ye yaille,
I knew you were going to cry, you mourned, ye yaille,
For how miserable you are with your old man, dear.
I'm leaving to go to leave you all alone,
Along the road on the run with your suitcase, ye yaille.
Crowley Daily Signal Nov 23, 1929
In the early part of the 18th century, Spain considered everything west of the Mississippi River to be Texas, including much of present-day southwest Louisiana. It seems that many of the locals used the word 'Teche' as a marker for where Spanish lands were claimed. However, the name lost it's meaning and by the 20th century, it had become a historic waterway for many of the Cajuns living along it's banks. According to Fruge, who lived along the Bayou Teche, he continued living a simple life after the isolated recording session.
I made the record and with the money that Frank gave me, I came back to Arnaudville, got married and bought some furniture for my house. I've been living in Arnaudville ever since.4
Austin Pitre (pronounced ‘Pete’) was a stellar musician, mainly because he was the stuff of legends. He drew capacity crowds at clubs, not only with exhilarating dance music but also with flamboyant showmanship. When he wanted his crowd to go bonkers, he played the squeezebox between his legs and behind his back and head, long before Jimi Hendrix ever thought about doing that with a guitar. He was also known to be the first accordionist to play standing up without using a strap, which requires great physical strength. When it’s Pitre’s turn for a ride, he comes barreling in authoritatively with clean, precise playing.1,2
Hé, p‘tite fille, gardez-donc, que toi t’as fait,
Ouais, malheureuse, tu connais pour toi-même,
Quoi toi t’as fait, p‘tit monde, tu vas pleurer.
Hé, bébé, tu m’as cassé dedans mon cœur,
Ouais, malheureuse, par rapport à tes moyens,
Ouais, que toi t'es tout le temps après rouler.
Hé, petite, rappelles-toi tous les bons temps, chérie,
Ouais, moi je t’ai fait et les paroles, moi je t’avais dit,
Ouais, il a venu ce jour, tu m’as tourné ton dos.
Hé, p‘tite fille, rappelles-toi la vérité,
Ouais, malheureuse, les misères tu m’as fait,
Ouais, les chagrins, que toi tu m’as mis dans.
Hé p‘tit monde, par rapport à tes moyens,
Ouais, je peux pas vivre, catin, sans prier,
Ouais, je peux pas dire, catin, tu me tournes ton dos.
Church Point News May 15, 1951
Austin played throughout south Louisiana, including the Green Lantern in Opelousas and around the small town of Redell, in which he used to title his "Redell Waltz" (#1019). Pitre and the Evangeline Playboys are exemplary on standards and signature originals alike, a few of which were strategically christened after dancehalls.
Hey, little girl, look at what you've done,
Yeh, oh my, you know yourself,
What you did, my little world, you're going to cry.
Hey, baby you broke my heart,
Yeh, oh my, because of your ways,
Yeh, you're always running around.
Hey, little one, remember all the good times, dear,
Yeh, I have and the words, I've told you,
Yeh, this day will come, you'll turn your back on me.
Hey, little girl, remember the truth,
Yeh, oh my, you've made me miserable,
Yeh, the sorrows, which you have put me in.
Hey, my little everything, because of your ways,
Yeh, I can not live, little doll, without praying,
Yeh, I can not say, little doll, you turned your back on me.
Originally recorded by Joe Falcon in 1934 as "Le Valse De Mon Reve", the melody can found in Nathan Abshire's "Avalon Waltz".
Cajun accordionist Lawrence Walker became well known in the 1930s both in Louisiana and in Texas, specifically Dallas. Walker's first encounter with travelling to Dallas would be for Brunswick records in 1929. There, he and his brother, Joseph Elton, recorded two sides, one being "La Vie Malheureuse" (#381). It contained similarities with Joe Falcon's recording "Poche Town". However, the music after 1930 began to change to the string sound. Contemporaries of Lawrence used the melody in their string band recordings, such as Happy Fats' 1935 recording of "La Valse De L'Amour" and Cleoma Falcon's 1936 recording of "Mon Favori". Even Walker's accordion finally succumbed to the flood of string bands during the late 1930s and early 40s.
Oh, pourquoi donc tu fais ça.
Tu connais j'mérite pas ça,
Ça t'as fait, joli cœur.
Oh, j'ai prié, j'ai pleuré,
Pour t'avoir plus personne,
Pourquoi donc tu viens pas?.
Oh, tous les soirs tu rouler,
Pour t'avoir plus personne,
Pour quoi donc ton tout seul.
Stephen Castille, Norris Mire, Aldus "Popeye" Broussard 1936 Texas Centennial Tryouts North Rayne Elementary 1,7
Folklorist Lauren Post gathered Lawrence for a Cajun music ensemble to be featured in that city. Though Lawrence was not a "full-bred" Cajun, he spoke Cajun French well and put together a group to travel back to Dallas.4 In 1936, he was featured at the National Folk Festival in Dallas, Texas, accompanied by the Broussard Family Band.1,6 His band won rave reviews and came in first place. It featured Aldus "Popeye" Broussard on fiddle, Sidney Broussard on fiddle, Junior Broussard on guitar, Norris Mire on accordion, and Evelyn Broussard on triangle and vocals. Joining them was Elemore Sonnier, a solo vocalist from Scott. These were the first appearances that brought Cajun music to the public's attention on a national level.1,3
Rayne Tribune June 26, 1936
Over the years there were many other contests where he was challenged by the various other accordion players. During these showdowns, the crowds were usually the judges. Lawrence always won. He was known far and wide as “King of the Accordion Players” at that time. He was also quite well known for his great showmanship with his instrument. It is said that he could completely captivate his audience in a way few accordion players ever have.5
Oh, why have you done that,
You know I don't deserve that,
That you've done, pretty sweetheart.
Oh, I've prayed, I've cried,
For you have no one,
So, why don't you return?
Oh, every night, you roam around,
For you have no one,
That's why you're all alone.
Despite his notoriety as a musician, Walker made the bulk of his living as a rice farmer until after World War II, when he returned to Louisiana and played in clubs throughout southern Texas with his band the Wandering Aces.2 Nathan Abshire used it in his "Iota Two Step" in 1949. Not to be outdone, Lawrence re-recorded the song as "Waltz of Regret" in 1955. By the early 1960s, Aldus Roger stepped into the J.D. Miller studio and took Walker's "La Vie Malheureuse" and renamed it "La Valse De Misere.
NOTE: The photo shown in this article has been historically mistaken as a photo of the Breaux brothers. This photo has been officially corrected in this blog.
NOTE: Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004) has both Brunswick 381 sides reversed.
Release Info: DAL-545 La Breakdown La Louisianne | Brunswick 381 DAL-546 La Vie Malheureuse | Brunswick 381 DAL-545 La Breakdown La Louisianne | Brunswick 80084 DAL-546 La Vie Malheureuse | Brunswick 80084 Find:
Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 1: First Recordings - The 1920's (Old Timey, 1970) Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)