Saturday, February 24, 2018

"Shamrock Waltz" - Nathan Abshire

Nathan Abshire was a musician that helped ressurect the Cajun accordion after WWII.  He recorded for George Khoury in Lake Charles for years between 1949 and 1957.  Eventually, Khoury—who was also now recording rhythm and blues and country music—shifted Abshire to the Lyric and then the Khoury imprint. Abshire recorded for Khoury until 1956, cutting several classics including “La Valse de Holly Beach,” “Musical Five Special” “Lu Lu Boogie” and “Shamrock Waltz.” Abshire didn’t record in the late 1950s, but he and Pine Grove Boys stayed busy, working for several years at the infamous Shamrock Club in Lake Charles. His melody, previously recorded by Lionel Cormier as the Welcome Club Waltz, was an ode to this popular dancehall.

Tu m'a quitté, pour t'en aller,

T'en aller au Shamrock,
Tu connais ça t'as fais,
Avec moi il y a pas longtemps.

Ils rappelle, tout ça t'as fais,
Ça fais moi (z)avant d'partir,
Tu connais j'ai pris ça dur,
Pas connais, tu vas te voir.

Milton Vanicor recalls that, while he was playing with Iry Lejeune, many times Nathan Abshire and Dewey, after playing at Jones Bar north of Lake Charles, would come to the Shamrock Club in north Lake Charles and play until 1:00 a.m. The two groups would join in a jam session everyone enjoyed.3 Around 1965, Jo-El Sonnier moved to Lake Charles from his Acadia Parish home and played with Robert Bertrand and the Louisiana Ramblers at the Shamrock.  The place featured other Cajun musicians such as Phil Menard and Bobby Leger.4  They played the Shamrock Club, the hot-spot at the time, as well as other local clubs.”2  Bands that were featured at the Shamrock advertised via radio many times from the dancehall's stage with a live performance.4  One local remembered it most out of all the other clubs:
I believe the Shamrock was the very largest. The walls breathed in and out on Friday and Saturday nights at that place.
Shamrock Club
Larry Miller, Cleveland "Cat" Deshotel,
Nathan Abshire, Thomas Langley,
Jr. Benoit

Photo from the Johnnie Allan Collection
Center for Louisiana Studies
University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Celebrating his success at the club, Nathan recorded one of his last songs for Khoury in Lake Charles in 1956 known as the "Shamrock Waltz" (#652).  It's possible the vocalist is drummer Thomas Langley, but it's unclear.  He had Junior Benoit on guitar, possibly Cleveland Deshotel on either fiddle or bass, and either Darius LeBlanc or Jake Miere on steel guitar.
You have left, you went away,
You went away to the Shamrock,
You know what you've done,
With me, over there, not long ago.

They remember, all that you've done,
That was done to me, before leaving,
You know I took it hard,
Don't you know, you're going to see.

By the mid-1950s, many Cajuns had relocated from Southwestern Louisiana to points as remote as New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Morgan City, Houston, Beaumont and even California in search of employment. They enjoyed their newly found wealth, but they still loved their food, culture and music. As a result Abshire and the Pine Grove Boys started traveling to dances far from home.  Eventually Khoury began recording rhythm and blues and country music, however, kept his music store open for business.  As far as the building, patrons had fond memories of the place:
Parking was tight. The club was a long narrow building parallel to the highway. On the other side was a chain link fence about 3 or 4 feet from the building. On the other side of the fence was a grave yard. People would say "When I die I won't have far to go".5
In 1968, Nathan used the title "Shamrock" for a fast accordion-driven instrumental, similar in feel to the better known "Zydeco Sont Pas Sale". 

  3. Louisiana Fiddlers by Ron Yule
  4. Cajun Dancehall Heyday by Ron Yule
  5. Discussions with Jerry M
Nathan Abshire & the Pine Grove Boys - French Blues (Arhoolie, 1993)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"Paroi Acadia Breakdown" - Leo Soileau

Leo Soileau was one of the giant figures in Cajun music history. His early recordings from the late 1920s are both powerful and emotive, and rank among the all-time classics of Cajun music. Great contributions to his music were made by legendary Cajun musicians and singers Mayeus LaFleur and Moise Robin.2  The bandleader prided himself on his diverse repertoire that catered to the ethnically diverse audience between southwest Louisiana and east Texas.1 Acknowledging the difference between country and Cajun:

It's more music to it--to me. You can play in different keys. That French music, it's just the one...just like that rock n roll.1

In the 1935 recording was done in Chicago, IL as his Four Aces Leo with Bill ‘Dewey’ Landry on guitar, Floyd Shreve on guitar, and possibly O.P. Shreve and Johnny Roberts on either drums, bass, or rhythm guitar.  The instrumental is a slower version of the Breaux recording of "Vas Y Carrement", better known "Step It Fast". 

For unknown reasons, Decca chose to market this for the French speaking market as well as the English speakers as well.   On their original release, the song is listed as "Pario Acadia Breakdown" (a mixture of French-English title referring to Acadia Parish) and on the re-issue, they gave it a new catalog number, renaming it to "Arcadia County Breakdown".  Oddly enough, the word parish is replaced with county and Acadia is misspelled. The same was done with the records flip-side recording: "Les Blues De La Louisiane" or "Louisiana Blues" respectively. 

Rayne Tribune
Oct 29, 1937

  1. Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  2. Leo Soileau - The Early Recordings of Leo Soileau CD.  Liner notes.
Release Info:
C-9975-A Les Blues De La Louisiane - Decca 17009 A Montgomery Ward M-4485
C-9988-A Paroi Acadia Breakdown - Decca 17009 B Montgomery Ward M-4485

C-9975-A Louisiana Blues - Decca 5116 A Montgomery Ward M-4485
C-9988-A Arcadia Country Breakdown - Decca 5116 B Montgomery Ward M-4485

Leo Soileau & The Four Aces (BACM, 2020)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"La Valse De Gueydan" - Leo Soileau

Old melodies such as "Jolie Blonde" were popular tunes that Cajuns picked up and learned during the turn of the century.   Melodies such as this one found it's way into pockets of isolated populations where unique names were given to the songs.  Leo Soileau's group took the original Breaux recording of "Ma Blonde Est Partie" and changed it slightly, giving it a new name, "Le Valse De Gueydan" (#2086). After the Hackberry Ramblers recorded the same tune in the same swing style as "Jolie Blonde", many musicians would later simply refer to Leo's version as "Jolie Blonde" as well.

In 1935 in New Orleans, Leo Soileau had his Three Aces group record the tune on Bluebird records under the watchful eye of Eli Oberstein.  The song was an ode to the small Cajun town of Gueydan.  While his Three Aces were fairly constant, occasionally Leo had other members record with him as well.   According to Happy Fats, Tony Gonzales was on drums and Bill Landry or Floyd Shreve was on guitar.  However, Preston Manuel recalls Sam Baker on drums and Jerry Baker on guitar.

Eh, jolie, moi je m'en vas dans grand Gueydan,

C'est pour voir, ma jolie petite fille,

Jolie cœur, je peux pas venir.

Eh, jolie, pourqoui-donc, mais, tu fait ça,

Avec ton vieux nègre, jolie petite fille,

Pourquoi-donc mais tu fais ça avec ton nègre?

Tu m’as laissée dans les misères,
Mais, jolie fille, pourquoi-donc,
Tu fait ça avec ton vieux nègre,
Et jamais j'avais cru quoi j'ai vu.

Tu ma dit, jolie fille.
Leo Soileau and the Three Aces
Floyd Shreve, Tony Gonzales, Leo Soileau, and Dewey Landry 5

Not to be confused with John Bertrand and Milton Pitre's recording of "Valse de Gueydan" or Amede Ardoin's "La Valse de Gueydan", it's the version of the melody in which most believe influenced Harry's famous 1946 recording of "Jole Blon".  After his father's death, around the late 30s, Choates joined Soileau's group on guitar and second fiddle for Leo's Aces with Joe and Abe Manuel, and Francis “Red” Fabacher. A great innovator in Cajun music, Soileau mentored Choates, who learned many of Soileau's stage tricks.   During Harry's time with Soileau's group, he was exposed to their song "La Valse De Gueydan".  

According to Happy Fats:
Harry had first performed the tune in Soileau's band but on his Gold Star recording he stepped up the key from G to A.  

Eh, pretty, I am going to big Gueydan,

It's to see my pretty little girl,

Pretty sweetheart, I can't return.

Eh, pretty, why have you done that,

To your old man, pretty little girl,

Why have you done that to your man?

You left me in misery,
Well, pretty girl, why have,
You done this to your old man,
And I never thought I'd see that.

You told me, pretty girl. 
The Three Aces' efforts were well received in the Cajun community.  Their version of the popular waltz was an instant success that prompted Bluebird to issue the record twice in their 2000 Cajun series.4

  1. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  2. Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings, Volume 2 By Steve Sullivan
  3. Label scan by University of Louisiana at Lafayette Cajun and Creole Music Collection - Special Collections
  4. Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  5. Country Music Originals : The Legends and the Lost: The Legends and the Lost By Tony Russell
  6. Lyrics by Smith S
Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 3: The String Bands Of The 1930s (Old Timey/Arhoolie, 1971)
Jole Blon - 23 Artists One Theme (Bear, 2002)
Cajun Louisiane 1928-1939 (Fremeaux, 2003)
Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)
The Beginner's Guide to Cajun Music (Proper/Primo, 2008)

Friday, February 9, 2018

"Marie Buller" - Cleoma Breaux

Recorded in the summer of 1928 in New York, Cleoma Breaux's singing and guitar work took center stage once again during her performance of the driving valse à deux temps "Marie Buller" (#40502).  Her nasal vocal delivery, though at an uncomfortably low key for the singer, represented the first session to feature prominently a female Cajun vocalist.2 The melody has a slight similarity to her brother's recording of "Ma Blonde Est Partie" a year later.

The song is named after what was once a notoriously violent oil-field community, north of what now is called Mire/Bristol area, called Marais Bouleur.1,5   It lays about a mile from Lafayette Parish and across the road from the Acadia Parish line.  It was already a tough area when the discovery of oil compounded the problem by attracting Anglo-American drillers and roughnecks from Texas and Oklahoma.3  Breaux and Falcon frequented dancehalls in the area which were rough places to play. 

Tu m’as pris dans les bras d’ mon papa, 

D’ ma maman, tu m’as promis,

Je te soignais comme l’enfant de la maison,

Et c’est toi t’as pris, m’quitter moi toute seule.

Mon dieu sait y a pas eu qu’toi dans l’pays,

Mais y a eu qu’toi qu’mon petit cœur désirait d’avoir,

Pourquoi-donc j’ai écouté les conseils, tous les conseils de les autres,

Bon dieu sait j’lui dis toi,

Mais tout ça, ça t'après faire.

Tu voudrais t’en venir avec moi,
J’t’attendrai pour qu’tu sois qui m’appelle,
Bon dieu sait y a pas eu qu’toi dans le pays,
Mais y a eu qu’toi qu’mon petit cœur désirait d’avoir,
Ecoute pas tous les conseils,
C’est juste toi qu’moi je voudrais avec moi.

According to Rev. Donald Hebert, the name Marais Bouleur stems from a story about a horse name "Bouleur" who liked to roll in the mud of the swampy wetlands.  The swampy area, or "marais", remains wet most of the year.4  However, according to author Mary Alice Fontenot:
Some years ago, George Buller, at that time president of the St. Landry Police Jury, told me that his family name was once spelled "Buhler".  One of his ancestors, he said, owned a large tract of marshy land near Rayne, hence the name Marais Buhler, or Buller.  This sounds like a logical explanation, since the name Buller (or Buhler) would be pronounced "Bou-leur" by the Acadians.
Cleoma Breaux and Joe Falcon

An abundance of ruffians in the nearby Marais Bouleur made it virtually impossible to keep a dance hall open for any length of time (despite the best efforts of club owner Sully Babineaux and others), so folks from that area frequently came to Esta Hebert's hall in nearby Ossun and to Gérald Forrestier's hall in Vatican.  Referred to as "no-man's land", lawmen such as Martin Weber and Joe Hanks became famous for their unwavering maintenance of order in the dance halls around Marais Bouleur.3  

According to author Chere Dastugue Coen:
Weber had a habit of announcing his rules once at the beginning of the dance: No fighting, drinking, smoking, spitting, cussin, or wearing of hats in the hall.  If anyone had to fight, drink, smoke, spit, cuss, or wear a hat, he should go outside.  Mr. Weber did not repeat his rules.  He had a hardwood stick and used it liberally to break up fights and take off hats.3

Even some of the bad local men would make their presence known:
Supposedly some of these Marais Bouleur guys would do was wear a red handkerchief... the bandanna, such that when they would walk in a place, you'd say "Uh oh!".6  

You took me from the arms of my dad,

From my mom, you promised me,

I was treating you (well), like a child of the house,

And you took me, then left me all alone.

Good God knows there's no one other than you in the countryside,

Well, you were the only thing my little heart desired to have,

So why did I listen to the advice, all the advice of others,

Good God knows I told you,

Well, all that, that you've done.

You want to come with me,
I will wait for you, for you are calling me,
Good God knows there's no one other than you in the countryside,
Well, you were the only thing my little heart desired to have,
Don't listen to the advice of others,
It's just (that) I'd like you to be with me.
It wouldn't be until the 1940s before the first dance hall, Chez Petit Maurice, was able to remain open in the area.3  As far as the song is concerned, the reasoning behind Cleoma's title is unknown, however, it seems it has very little to do with the reputation of the area.  She sings about a common Cajun theme of being left alone, begging for the lover's return.  Over time, the Cajun term to refer to people that caused problems, kidnapping, and stealing, were called  "Marais Bouleurs".

  1. "Louisiana Women: Their Lives and Times" By by Janet Allured and Judith F. Gentry
  2. "Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music" by Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  3. "Cajun Country (Folklife in the South Series)" By Barry Jean Ancelet
  4. Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana By Chere Dastugue Coen
  5. Discussions with Jerry M
  6. "Looking For Trouble". David Brasseaux.  (
  7. Lyrics by Stéphanie D

Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 1: First Recordings - The 1920's (Old Timey, 1970)
Cajun Origins (Catfish, 2001)
Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)
Cajun Dance Party: Fais Do-Do (Legacy/Columbia, 1994)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

"La Breakdown A Pete" - Hackberry Ramblers

The Hackberry Ramblers were a western-swing group that employed Cajun French lyrics in many of their tunes.  The group, named after the town of Hackberry, Louisiana, started with Luderin Darbonne and Edwin Duhon.  Later in 1933, as their popularity spread, new musicians were added. The Ramblers began regular radio broadcasts, driving from Hackberry to radio station KFDM in the old Majestic Hotel in Lake Charles to make early morning broadcasts.1

According to the recollection of Crawford Vincent, the first drummer to be employed by a Cajun band, the Ramblers played their first club dance in the Blue Andrus Dance Hall in late 1933. They were applauded.  In 1935, the Ramblers moved to Crowley, which was centrally located to the spots across south Louisiana and east Texas where they were being booked.1
Pete Duhon, working as electrician

By 1937, the group had changed and added Claude "Pete" Duhon Sr. to the band's mix.   In 1938, the lineup changed.  Lennis Sonnier got married and was replaced by Floyd Shreve.  Luderin hired Floyd's brother, Danny Shreve shortly afterwards.  Crawford Vincent notes that the Shreve Boys had played with Leo Soileau previously and were good musicians.  Both were local boys who joined by the Ramblers first bassist, Claude "Pete" Duhon, a Crowley native.2  They entitled the instrumental song "La Breakdown A Pete", likely as an ode to their bass player.   

Hackberry Ramblers
Minus Broussard, Crawford Vincent,
Luderin Darbone, Jack Theriot

Pete had come to Luderin, wanting to learn an instrument and begin playing in the band.  So Luderin helped him after he had bought a bass fiddle for $15.00 from a local black man.2  Pete played with the group while working as an electrician in Vermilion parish.  However, this session would be their last before WWII, and the last recordings of Pete completely.   Luderin got married and moved back to Hackberry, and suddenly, their recording career would cease.  

Luderin speculated on why Bluebird Records never called them back:
I suppose they couldn't find me.2 

  1. "Hackberry Ramblers Making music since 1933". DON KINGERY. American Press, Friday, September 24, 2004
  2. Discussions with Ron Yule
The Cajuns: Songs, Waltzes, & Two-Steps (Folkways, 1971)