Saturday, July 29, 2017

"Ma Chere Basett" - J.B. Fuselier

My Dear Little Woman! From the mid-1930's, J.B. Fuselier was a leading fiddle pioneer of Cajun music.  The height of his success was in the Cajun stringband era, from 1935 to 1942.  During that time period, he and Preston Manuel recorded "Ma Cher Bassett" for Bluebird records.  Initially, Fuselier was the fiddler in Miller's Merrymakers, let by Beethoven Miller. But Fuselier's talent quickly had him leading the band, and when Miller left the group, the act's name changed to J.B. Fuselier and His Merrymakers.

Yeah man.

Chere catin, tu m'as dit tu m'aimais,

Aujourd'hui, moi, je peux voir c'est pas crai,

C'etat tous des accroires tu me faisais.

Yeah man.

Et, c'est la maniere, j'ai jamais pu te t'arreter.

Moi, je croyais dans mon coeur,
Que je t'avais avec moi,
Aujourd'houi moi je vois c'est une erreur.
Et, chere, j'ai jamais pu t'empecher.

Tu voudrais t'en revenir,
A ma maison, chere bassette,
Moi, je fais tout qu'est a faire pour toi-meme.
Desbra Fontenot, J.B. Fuselier, 
Norris Courville, Preston Manuel
Image courtesy of Johnnie Allan & the 
Center for Louisiana Studies, 
University of Louisiana at Lafayette

"My Dear Short Girl" is probably the most well known songs by Jean Baptiste Fuselier.   It was written for one of his wives, Regina Fontenot, and by far his greatest Cajun hit.1,2  Fellow musician Tonice Lafleur played with J.B. and recalled the song:
He named it after her.  I drove the car to Cottonport and he practiced it in the back seat of the car.3
Many numbers by Fuselier contained the words "Ma Chére" in the title such as "Ma Chére Catain", "Ma Chére Jolite", "Ma Chére Vieux Maison Suet", and "Ma Chére Bouclett" and "Ma Chér Joui Rouge".  "Chére" and "chér" itself is a corrupted form of the French word "chérie" which means "dear", commonly used as a term of endearment.   The vocalist is not quite identified however, J.B played the fiddle and Preston Manuel played guitar. Preston recalled the song:
We made "Chere Bassette, Ou Toi T'es" for his wife who was given this nickname because she was very short.3  
Dear doll, you told me you loved me,
Today, I can see it's not true,
It is all believed you did this to me.

And, it's always been this way, I never could stop you.

I thought in my heart,
That I had you with me,
Today, I see it's a mistake,
And, dear, I could never make you stop.

You wanted to come back,
To my house, dear short girl,
I'd do all that's necessary for you.

  1. The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Ann Savoy.
  2. Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux  
  3. Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule, Bill Burge
Louisiana Cajun Music, Vol. 3: The String Bands of the 1930's (Old Timey, 1971)
Cajun String Bands: The 1930s: "Cajun Breakdown" (Arhoolie, 1997)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Lanse Des Belaire" - Dennis McGee & Ernest Fruge

Much of Cajun before 1928 has been lost to time.  Until the first recordings, most of the old tunes were passed down orally and musicians would train each other on the old ballads they could remember.  Dennis Mcgee and Ernest Fruge' used their memories of these songs and recorded them during a session in New Orleans.  In late 1930, Brunswick became one of the last major labels to record Cajun music before the Depression took hold of record sales; releasing the song "Lanse Des Belaire" (#557).  It's as close as we are ever likely to get to the fiddle music heard before the accordion became prominent.

Bye bye cher tit monde pour toujours de mes jours,

J’m’en irai a la maison mon tout seul mon, jolie coeur.

Gardez donc mais ca t’as fait avec moi, joli coeur,

Malheureuse rappelle toi ca t’as fait avec moi, chere.

Rappelle toi ma cherie j’m’assisais mais dans le fenetre,
D’ma cuisine pour te voir passer, aussi bien.

J’ai coupe de la branche de mon murier, chere,
Pour te voir passer, chere, quand toi t’es parti.

Malheureuse chaque fois chere tu m’as fait rever a toi,
Déjà, j’le prends dur de t’voir, jolie coeur.

Tu connais le bon Dieu va t’punir pour tou ca,
Tu m’as fait faire, cherie malheureuse, chere tit black*.

Malheureuse, tu devrais pas faire mais tout ca,
Jolie tit blacko*, tu m’as tourne l’dos.

Dennis McGee
The Cajun french word l'anse can mean cove or a "bend in the river" or "bend in the tree line".  Belaire is a small Cajun village outside of Ville Platte, Louisiana. It consisted of a few small farms on either side of a winding dirt road that snaked across a wide prairie. Belaire Cove was a place where families and friends relied upon each other for survival; a place where everyone knew everything there was to know about one another.   The song carries a dark history. "Lanse Des Belaire" tells the story of a murder in Eunice.  A woman had the branch cut off her mulberry tree so she could see her lover ride by.  She had her husband murdered so she could be with her lover.5   

Bye bye, dear little everything, forever,

I'm going to my home all alone, my pretty sweetheart,

Listen up, well, what you've done to me, pretty sweetheart,

Oh my, remember what that you've done to me, dear.

Remember, my dear, I used to sit, well, by the window,
From my kitchen, I would see you pass by, as well.

I cut the branch of my mulberry tree, dear,
To see you pass by, dear, when you, yourself, left.

Oh my, everytime, dear, you make me dream of you,
I'm already taking this hard, seeing you, pretty sweetheart.

You know the good Lord will punish you for that,
You made me that way, dear, unfortunately, dear little dark girl.

Oh my, you should not have done all that,
Pretty little dark girl, you turned your back on me.

Dennis' use of the word "black" could either be mistaken for a different word or it could be another common example of Dennis mixing English with French.  "Chere 'tit noir" rarely refers to a black girl but more along the lines of a dark-haired beauty, similar to the same context as "jolie blonde".   Brunswick mistakenly lists the song containing an "accordion", however, Fruge', neighbor and friend, accompanies Dennis' vocals and fiddle playing creating a unique blend.  It would later influence Iry Lejeune's "Waltz Of The Mulberry Limb". 

  1. Eunice By Alma Brunson Reed
  2. Country Music Originals : The Legends and the Lost: The Legends and the Lost By Tony Russell
  5. Dennis McGee ‎– The Complete Early Recordings
  6. Photo by James P
  7. Lyrics by 'meloderon'
The Early Recordings Of Dennis McGee: Featuring Sady Courville & Ernest Fruge (Morning Star, 1977)
Dennis McGee ‎– The Complete Early Recordings (Yazoo, 2006)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Les Blues De La Louisiane (Louisiana Blues)" - Leo Soileau

Recorded in Chicago, IL, "Les Blues De La Louisiane" (#17009) has to be the bluesiest song Leo Soileau had during his decade of recording.   The instrumental allowed Leo to sit back and let his fiddle shine only accompanied by a simple guitar rhythm. 

For unknown reasons, Decca chose to market this for the French speaking market as well as the English speakers as well.   On their original 1935 release, the song is listed as "Les Blues De La Louisiane" and on the re-issue, they gave it a new catalog number, renaming it to "Louisiana Blues".  The same was done with the records flip-side recording: "Pario Acadia Breakdown" or "Arcadia County Breakdown" respectively.  While Leo played the fiddle, his backup guitarist could have been either Bill "Dewey" Landry, Floyd Shreve, or Floyd's uncle Olaf Perry "O.P." Shreve or Johnny Roberts, all who have played guitar with Leo at some point during this time.

Rayne Tribune
Sep 17, 1937

By the late 1930s, Leo had quite recording his group and took work playing in bars along the silver strip of Highway 90 playing in several dancehalls.  He even joined a group called the Daylight Creepers lead by Papa Cairo and backed by Bill Redlich, Erby Thibodeaux, and featured a guitar-playing new-comer to the Cajun music scene: J.D. Miller.   Miller would go onto be a key figure in the resurgence of Cajun music recordings after the war. 

Leo Soileau: Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 7 (Old Timey, 1982)
Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)
Leo Soileau & The Four Aces (BACM, 2020)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"Since The Age Of 14" - Joe Manuel

Joe Manuel and his brother Abe Manuel became one of the early Cajun string band groups before WWII.  Their father, Adam Manuel, was an accordion player who taught his sons some of the early Cajun songs he had learned. They had their first stint working alongside Leo Soileau's group and meeting people like Harry Choates, particularly in places like the Avalon Club in Basile.1  However, Joe's major claim to music was his beginnings playing guitar with Leo's contemporary, Harry Choates.   He recorded with Harry from 1946 to 1948, singing and playing banjo.  His wife, Johnny Smirle Manuel, played piano.

Depuis l'âge de quatorze ans,

Moi, j'ai roulé manche à manche,

(Avec) ma jug au plombeau,
Oh, mais, malheureuse.

Eh, 'tite fille, 
Le soleil après se coucher,
Mon cheval, il est p'us là,
Et parti à Grande Chenière.

Quand, moi, j'étais petit,
Mais, moi je braillais pour les patates,
Asteur, moi, je suis grand, 
Mais, moi, je brailles pour les veuves.

Eh, p'tite fille,
Toi, t'après m'quitter,
Moi, je mérite pas ça
oh, mais, malheureuse.

Oh that sounds good,
Come in ((boys??)...

That's pretty.

Quand, moi, j'étais petit,
Mais, moi je braillais, mais, pour les patates,
Asteur, moi, je suis grand, 
Mais, moi, je brailles, mais, pour ces veuves.

Eh, p'tite fille,
Toi, t'après m'laisser,
Moi, je mérite pas ça,
oh, mais, malheureuse.
B.D. Williams, Ralph Richardson, Abe Manuel,
Lenny Benoit, Pop Benoit, Joe Manuel 1
Courtesy of Ron Yule

However, after a falling-out with Harry, the group fell apart, and Joe went on his own forming his Melody Boys during the 1950s.   Once formed, the group would record an old Cajun tune called "Since The Age Of 14" (# 102) on Eddie Shuler's Folk-Star label. His brother, Abe Manuel Sr., toured alongside Lefty Frizzel around Nashville.  Manuel's tune was a play on Leo Soileau's "Quand Je Suis Bleu".  It was a song borrowed from the lyrics of Dennis McGee's 1930 recording of "Les Blues Du Texas" and captured by Alan Lomax in 1934 as "Depuis L'âge de Quinze Ans" during a field session.  The French word 'manche' translates directly to 'handle' or 'sleeve', however, in this context, the unique Cajun phrase "manche à manche" is understood to mean "from road to road", alluding to someone wandering around aimlessly, like a hobo.

Since the age of 14,

Well, I have rambled,

From one road to another,
(With) my pommel jug,
Oh, well, oh my.

Hey, little girl,
The sun has gone this evening,
My horse, he's no longer there,
And I am leaving for Grande Chenière.

When I was small, well,
I would beg for potatoes,
Now, that I'm grown,
Well, I beg, well, for the older women.

Hey, little girl,
You, yourself, have left me,
I don't deserve that,
Oh, well, oh my.

When I was small,
Well, I would beg, well, for potatoes,
Now, that I'm grown,
Well, I beg, well, for the older women.

Hey, little girl,
You, yourself, have left me,
I don't deserve that,
Oh, well, oh my.

Grande Chenière is a small villiage in south Louisiana located in Cameron Parish situated on the Mermentau River.  While the name directly translates to "oak grove", in Louisiana, the term "chenière" applies to a ridge of relatively high ground surrounded by swampland and covered with oak trees.2  "Les veuves" directly translates to "the widows", but in Cajun French, it often refers to lonely, single, and often older women.  By the 1950s, Leo's tune became Elise Deshotel and Dewey Balfa's "La Valse De Bon Baurche".  Manuel's tune is not to be confused with Dennis McGee's "Two Step De La Ville Platte", more commonly known as "Depuis L'âge de Quinze Ans". 

  1. "Cajun Dancehall Heyday" by Ron Yule
  2. Louisiana Place Names: Popular, Unusual, and Forgotten Stories of Towns ... By Clare D'Artois Leeper
  3. Lyrics by Jordy A and Stephane F

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"Alberta" - Walker Brothers

By 1935, small acoustic accordion-based ensembles began to give way to more substantial string-based orchestras.  Lawrence Walker and Nathan Abshire, a pair of experimental accordionists who would become two of the leading proponents of the pot-WWII dancehall sound, recorded the clearest example of the shift to Cajun swing on the Bluebird record label.3  

In 1935, Lawrence recorded his version of the song "Corina, Corina", in English, entitled "Alberta" (#2199) in honor of his daughter Alberta.   Originally a Leadbelly song called "Roberta", it was also covered by the Mississippi Sheiks.  Lawrence joined his brother Elton Walker on violin, with  probably Junior Broussard on guitar, and possibly Aldus Broussard or Norris Mire on guitar.  According to producer Chris Strachwitz:

It is well known among jazz musicians in New Orleans.  I think it is a jazz tune with a Cajun accent.   This belongs to both black and white tradition in the South and was first popularized on record by the Mississippi Sheiks in the late 1920s.  Perhaps it was a popular tune long before then.  The accordion on this performance seems to show strong [Creole] Cajun influence and I think Lawrence Walker probably learned it from a [Creole] Cajun performer.1

Lawrence Walker, Lena Mae Menard Walker,
Alberta Walker, unknown

"Corina" was a "blues with a touch of jazz and a flavor of hillbilly" that by the 1930s was widely popular among blues and hillbilly artists, who also recorded the arrangement under the titles "Alberta" and "Roberta". The tune later became a fixture in the Western swing repertoire largely through the popularity of Bob Wills.3   Author Ryan Brasseaux writes:
In essence, "Alberta" can be equated with the Breaux family composition "Ma Blonde Est Parti" because both tunes describe an inconsolable man lamenting about the impenetrable boundaries that separate the protagonist from his belle.3

Alberta, Alberta, where have you been so long,
Alberta, Alberta, where have you been so long,
I ain't had no lovin', since you've been gone.

I met Alberta, way across the pond,
I met Alberta, way across the pond,
Didn't write me no letters, you didn't care for me.

Alberta, Alberta, tell the world "Adieu",
Alberta, Alberta, tell the world "Adieu",
Just a little bit of lovin', let your heart be true.

Alberta, Alberta, where have you been so long,
Alberta, Alberta, where have you been so long,
I ain't had no lovin', since you've been gone.

Lawrence Walker transformed the Cajun accordion style by adding strong elements of swing to his playing. This transformation is revealed in this Bluebird recording.  Even so much that James Hancock (a Joe Davis pseudonym) had taken out a copyright to what he called Lawrence's "Alberta Blues".2

  1. Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 2 The Early 30s.  Chris Strachwitz.  Liner notes.
  2. The Melody Man: Joe Davis and the New York Music Scene, 1916-1978 By Bruce Bastin
  3. Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  4. Lyrics by Jerry M

Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 2: The Early 30s (Old Timey/Arhoolie, 1971)
Cajun Louisiane 1928-1939 (Fremeaux, 2003)
I Saw The Light (Blues People 1934 -1935) (Blues Classics, 2015)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

"La Nouvelle Marche De Marris" - Happy Fats

The New Wedding March.   The song has it's origins in colonial French Louisiana and folklore connects it to the old Acadian ancestors in Europe.  Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc, with Willie Vincent on steel guitar, teamed up with the Guidry brothers, Ray on banjo, Nathan on bass and Doc on fiddle, to cover a Cajun classic tune called the Wedding March.   Happy took the song, which was first recorded by Joe Falcon as "La Marche De La Noce", and created a fiddle-led string band version, entitled "La Nouvelle Marche De Marris" (#2057).    The 1938 Bluebird recording session was held at the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans.

One old convention still found in south Louisiana is le bal de noce, or wedding dance, often held in a dancehall.  In the old days when people were poor, the owner paid the wedding couple ten or fifteen dollars to have the adance at his hall, and charged fifteen cents entrance fee.  During the first song, "La marche des maries", the newlyweds link arms and, followed by the wedding party, walk around the dance floor at least twice.  Then they dance the first waltz. Afterwards all dance, and every man present is expected to dance with the bride and pin money on her veil.1

(Je vas) te prendre dans mes bras pour toujours, ma tite fille,
(Je vas) te soigner et t'aimer pour toujours, jolie fille, malheureux,
Mais, aujourd’hui, tu me promets de m'aimer, pour toujours,
Moi j'connais ce promis, c'est pour vrai.

Mais, aujourd’hui, tu me promets de m'aimer, pour toujours,
Moi j'connais ce promis, c'est pour vrai.

Happy Fats recalled these wedding dances and how different they were from regular dances:
Now they were different when there was a wedding dance, a bal de noce.  They had a wedding dance, the wedding couple and their attendants would come in, and they had possession of the floor for the march.  They'd make a march around the hall a couple of times, the music they'd play would be the wedding march, and the first tow dances were theirs, just them and their attendants.  And they'd dance a waltz and a two-step, then their mothers would come in.2

In 1936, folklorist Lauren Post remarked about Acadians and their wedding dance:
The bal de noce followed and the wedding crowd augmented the regular Saturday night group of dances.  The big crowd, the wedding, and the festive spirit all combined to make the dance a memorable one, and many an Acadian housewife takes pleasure in recalling so many present that they could not all enter the fais-do-do.3

(I'll) take you in my arms forever, my little girl,
(I'll) care for you and love you forever, pretty girl, oh my,
Well, today, you promised you'll love me, forever,
I know that this promise, it's for real.

Well, today, you promise you'll love me, forever,
I know that this promise, it's for real.

After the wedding, gaiety prevailed.  There was a wild and joyful procession back to the bride's home with the newlyweds buggy--drawn by the fastest horse around.  The fathers rode in the second buggy also with a fast horse, and others followed fast on their heels.  Men along the way often saluted the couple with shotgun lasts.  A sumptuous feast was laid at the bride's home and the size or importance of the wedding was sometimes judged by the number of cakes brought by the guests. Dancing lasted until daybreak, although the newlyweds had retired around midnight.4  

Other marriage customs existed.  One marriage custom observed in the remote marshes was "sauter le manche de balai", or jumping over the broomstick.   This allowed a young couple to marry without a priest, who might live far away.  "Witnesses" held the stick about a foot or so above the ground and the couple simply hopped over it together.  The couple was then wed and the merrymaking could begin.4   

Another custom determined who would boss the home.  Old people would get together to make quilts for the girl's trousseau.  When they were through, the boy would stand on one side of a quilt and the girl on the other.  A cat was placed on the quilt and the quilt was tossed into the air.  Whichever side the cat jumped to would determine the boss of the family.4 

  1. Cajun Dancing by Ormande Plater
  2. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  3. The Acadians of South Louisiana--Their Courtships and Weddings.  Lauren Post. Rayne Tribune.   May 22, 1936
  4. Cajuns Had Unusual Courtship Customs.  Crowley Post Signal. Jun 6, 1976
  6. Lyrics by Jordy A

Sunday, July 2, 2017

"Diséz Goodbye A Vôtre Mère (Tell Your Mother Goodbye)" - Dennis McGee & Sady Courville

Dennis McGee is one of the most revered fiddlers in Louisiana music history.  He studied and learned the fiddle from nineteenth century fiddlers and lived long enough to pass on extinct dance and fiddle styles. He was one of the first Louisianans to record extensively, not only with a fiddle band but also with an accordionist, either Amede Ardoin or Angelas Lejeune.   Extensively interviewed and studied, he lived to be part of the festival scene that arose in the 1970s, giving listeners and musicians alike a window into the south Louisiana music of a century ago.1  

Dis "bye bye" à tant qu’ tu as fait pour toujours,
Dis "bye bye" à ta maman pour le reste de tes jours, malheureux,
Gardez donc comment donc, comment j’vas faire, malheureux,
Dis adieu pour toujours, quitter toujours.

Gardez donc, comment donc moi j’vas faire, malheureuse,
Toujours donc moi tout seul pour toujours,
Dis adieu (z) à ta chère et vieille maman, malheureux, 
Viens donc, viens finir tes jours, neg’.

Comment donc que j’vas faire, moi tout seul,
Je suis tout seul, tout seul, malheureux je suis vaincu,
Gardez donc, jamais chère elle fait pas ça  avec ton neg’
Fais pas ça d'en pour lui tout seul, en mentant,
J’suis ton neg’, malheureux, c’est pour toujours, malheureux, 
Fais pas ça, j'suis ton neg mais, malheureux.

Dennis McGee & Sady Courville

Dennis claims that many of the tunes he remembered were passed down from his grandfather, himself remembering them as a child. According to record producer Chris King:
He, himself, learned from a man who was a hundred years old when McGee was just a boy. And this was at the turn of the century, so he was learning a repertoire and technique that was essentially 200 years old.2
One of them was "Diséz Goodbye A Vôtre Mère (Tell Your Mother Goodbye)", a common theme Dennis used about telling his loved one to leave her mother and father and come with him.  However, the love interest refuses and he laments on the pain he must suffer  all alone; blaming her for his misery.  It was recorded for Vocalion (#5334) records in New Orleans in 1929 on his first recording session alongside fiddler Sady Courville.

Say "Bye Bye" to your dad forever, 

Say "Bye Bye" to your mom for the rest of your days, oh my,
Look at how it is, how will I handle this, oh my,
Say goodbye forever, leaving forever.

Look at that, how am I doing to do this, oh my,
Forever, I'll be alone forever,
Say goodbye to your dearest old mom, oh my,
Come back, come live here to the end, my friend.

How do you handle being all alone,
I'm all alone, all alone, oh my, I am defeated,
Look at that, dear, she should never do that with your old man,
Don't do that to him, he's alone, just lying there,
I am your old man, oh my, it'll be forever, oh my,
Don't do that, I'm your old man, well, it's terrible. 

Young fiddlers like Mike Doucet, Al Berard, Dennis Stroughmatt, Tina Pilione and David Greely studied the music of McGee and included his songs, licks and style in their repertoires.1

  1.  Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule, Bill Burge
  2. Vinyl Asides Episode 8 - Christopher King
  3. Lyrics by Stephanie D


Dennis McGee ‎– The Complete Early Recordings (Yazoo, 1994)
Cajun: Rare & Authentic (JSP, 2008)
Cajun Swamp Stomp, Vol 1 (Lumi, 2012)
Cajun Music, The Pretty Girls Don't Want Me (Firefly, 2012)