Wednesday, September 26, 2018

"Cousinne Lilly" - John Bertrand & Milton Pitre

Right before the Depression took hold, major recording labels wanted a piece of the action that Columbia had engaged in down in south Louisiana.  By the beginning of 1929, other companies like RCA, ARC and Paramount were busy hunting down Cajun musicians in the prairies and sending them to their studios up north.  Two of those musicians were John Homer Bertrand and Milton Pitre.  

La plus vielle de la bande, mais, c'est la plus vaillant,

C'est la plus contente, elle a les yeux canailles,

Mais, dis pas à ta mom, mais, j'ai goutté ton bec,

Mais, dis pas à ton pop, mais, si j'ai pas la bonne tête,

C'est la mienne, mais, au péril de la vie,

Chère cousinne, mais, donne-moi, donc, celle-là
Mais, si c'est pas celle-là moi, j'en veux pas du tout,
Petit galop, mais, pour la Pointe au Pin.

John Bertrand

Bertrand was a blacksmith from the area around Opelousas known as Prairie Ronde.  Together with Milton Pitre, they traveled to Chicago, IL and recorded "Cousinne Lilly" (#12725).   It's most likely that John was singing about the courtship, and eventual marriage, of his brother Eddie to their second cousin, Lillian Joubert.   In the song, he repeats the same verse, changing the placement of the line "petite galop" from the end to the middle.  A "petite galop", or "small gallop", refers to the typical three-beat gait of a horse; also known as a canter. 

The oldest of the group, well, is the most sociable,

She's very calm, she has mischievous eyes,

Well, don't tell your mom, well, I kissed your lips,

Well, don't tell your dad, well, unless you don't have a good mind,

She's mine, well, bet your life,

Dear cousin, well, give her to me, that one,
However, if that one's not mine, I don't want anything,
Let's canter, well, to Pine Point.

Given the lack of Paramount's Cajun releases found in Louisiana, it seems the company missed out on an opportunity.   It's quite possible that Paramount failed to adequately distribute the bulk of this music in the south and struggled to improve sales.  Nevertheless, "Cousinne Lilly" remained a popular tune throughout the Cajun prairies and by 1964, fiddler Adam Hebert scored one of his most well-known versions for Swallow records entitled "La Pointe Aux Pins".

Crowley Daily Signal
Feb 22, 1929

  1. Lyrics by Stephane F

Release Info:
21076-1 Cousinne Lilly | Paramount 12725-A
21075-2,-3 (La Valse De) Miserable | Paramount 12725-B


Early American Cajun Music (Yazoo, 1999)
The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records: Volume Two, 1928-1932, CD G (Third Man, 2014)

Friday, September 21, 2018

"Apres Jengler A Toi" - Alley Boys of Abbeville

The Alley Boys represented one of the unique groups to come out of south Louisiana. Influenced by local jazz bands as well as Cajun instrumentation, their group formed when opportunities to play dances in Vermilion parish opened up.   As some of the musicians filled in with orchestras, these close friends decided they could create their own group.  All they needed was a name.  According to Lourse's daughter, Carolyn,
One of the Guidry's lived on a street called Franks Alley, and they'd practice at that location all the time.   Before long, they were calling themselves the Alley Boys.1  

Oh, chère, mais, quelle histoire, mais, ennuyante,

Après jongler, oui, z-à toi,

La vie est dure, mais, pas t'avoir, mais, c'est plus dur,
Mais, j'aimerais, oui, t'avoir, mais, avec moi.

D’après toi, quand je t'ai dis que je t'aimais,
Toi t'as dit, mais, la même chose,
Mais, aujourd'hui, t'es après écouter tous les conseils,
T'auras du regret pour tout ça, mais, toi tu fais.
Leleux Dancehall, 1938
Alley Boys of Abbeville
Lourse Touchet, Frankie Mailhes,
Murphy Guidry, Sidney Guidry

Together, the group consisted of Sidney Guidry on guitar, Murphy "Mule" Guidry on guitar, Lourse "Mockay" Touchet on steel guitar, and Frankie "Tee Tee" Mailhes on fiddle and vocals.   Although their guitarist Sabray Guidry helped form the band, they replaced him with Maxie Touchet on drums. They headed to Memphis, TN where the group recorded "Apres Jengler A Toi" (#05057), a tune based on J.B. Fuselier's "Chere Tu Tu". 

Oh, dearie, well, what a lonely story,

(I am) reminiscing, yeah, about you,

Life is hard, well, not having you, well, it's real hard,
Well, I'd like, yeah, to have you, well, with me.

According to you, when I told you that I loved you,
You told me, well, the same thing,
Well, today, you are listening to all the advice,
You'll regret all that, well, you've done.

Four months later, after their recordings came out, the interest must have been widespread with larger than expected sales.  The local paper claimed:
The records made by the Alley Boys are being sold like "hot cakes" in Southwest Louisiana.2  

  1. Discussions with Carolyn T S
  2. Abbeville Meridional.  Nov 18, 1939.
  3. Lyrics by Stephane F
Release Info:
MEM-3-1 Apres Jengler A Toi |  Vocalion 05057
MEM-14-1 Te Bonne Pour Moi Estere | Vocalion 05057

Cajun Vol. 1 Abbeville Breakdown 1929-1939 (CBS, 1990)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)

Sunday, September 16, 2018

"La Breakdown La Louisianne" - Walker Brothers

While Lawrence Walker garnered local fame in south Louisiana during the 1950s, very few recall his early career playing music both in Louisiana and in Texas.   In 1929, he was invited to record in a studio for the very first time.  Lawrence Walker was a man who "played" for a living ever since he was a child.  It was near the Texas border, in the little Louisiana town of Adgerly that Walker played for his first dance. He recalls:
I remember the chair was so high my father had to put a box under my feet and the accordion so big, it hid my face. My father did not want me to play before because I was too young.  It's a strain on the chest.3
Daily Advertiser
May 17, 1947

Tite fille, tu m'fais pitié de t'avoir après pleurer,
De t'voir après pleurer comme un pauve malheureuse, chère,
C'est moi, c'est moi la cause si ton cœur est si cassé,
Tite fille, prend-donc courage, prend pas donc ça si dur.

Tite fille, prend-donc courage puis vien toi avec moi,
Tite fille, mais, j'va t'soigner jusqua à l'jour de ta mort, chère,
Comment tu veux je fais, j'su'assez mais moi tour seul?
Tit fille, prend-donc courage, prend pas donc ça si dur.

Texas Centennial, 1936

Lawrence would always have an affection for the Texas people.  By 1929, Lawrence and his brother Elton headed to Dallas, TX for their very first session with Brunswick records.  There, they waxed "La Breakdown La Louisianne" (#381).  

Admiring the music of Texas, good friend and cultural folklorist, Dr. Lauren Post, became chairman of the Louisiana section of the National Folk Festival in Dallas.4 In 1936, it was the Texas Centennial celebration and the western swing craze of the 30s drew many Cajun musicians away from their own music and toward more Anglicized forms.2  That year, Lauren was called to create a group, which he called the "Little Acadian Band", to perform at the festival on multiple stages and at several key events.4  Walker said:
The little band was so different and proficient in its folk playing that it was popular wherever it played at the festival.1

Little girl, you made me pitiful when I saw you crying,
Saw you crying like a poor unfortunate one, dear,
It's me, it's my fault if your heart is broken,
Little girl, have courage, don't take it so hard.

Little girl, have courage then come with me,
Little girl, well, I'll take care of you until your dying day, dear,
How will I handle this, I am sorry but I'm alone?
Little girl, have courage, don't take it so hard.

In 1949, Nathan Abshire recorded the song as the "Iota Two Step".  As time when on, Walker played his accordion night after night, year after year. The strain of the accordion was such a burden, he had to wear a tight band over his chest for relief.3  Yet, he continued playing and recording until the 1960s.

  1. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  2. Southern Music/American Music By Bill C. Malone
  3. Lawrence Walker Interview.  Mona Mel Mouton.  Jan 18, 1968.
  4. Cajun Dancehall Heyday by Ron Yule
  5. Lyrics by Stephane F
  6. 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

Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 1: First Recordings - The 1920's (Old Timey, 1970)
Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

"Coosh Mal" - Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc

Happy Fats ran several radio shows during the 40s and 50s.  It created more demand for his music.   But by the 1950s, he was running his own TV show.   KADN and KLFY both aired his shows during the 1960s, including his popular show "Mariné".  According to Adam "Jack" Landry's son Morgan, both he and his father played with Happy on the show.
He played bass when I played with him at the dance hall. I know that he spoke very good French.  He always had something good to say. I never heard him say anything bad.  He loved to joke around.3  

Before his TV show however, his recording career was phenomenal.  His contracts with RCA Victor seemed to be never ending.  In 1946 he recorded "Coosh Mal" (#2034) with Francis “Red” Fabacher on lead guitar, Jimmy Gardiner on rhythm guitar, Giles ‘Candy Man” Castillo on steel guitar, Buel Hoffpauir on drums, and a fiddle player named Andrus "Uncle Ambros" Thibodeaux in New Orleans.   His song sings of a drunkard from Port Barre that flirts with all the women, but never amounts to much in life. 
Hé Couchemal, qui vient du Port Barré,
Oh Couchemal, il est tout le temps parlé, 
Hé Couchemal, il coursaille toutes les femmes,
Oh Couchemal, toutes les femmes lui regarde pas.

Hé Couchemal, il aime bien sa bouteille,
Oh Couchemal, il pard par sa bouteille,
Hé Couchemal, il fait jamais à rien,
Oh Couchemal, il regarde pas trop demain.

Hé Couchemal, qui vient du Port Barré,
Oh Couchemal, il est tout le temps parlé,
Hé Couchemal, il coursaille toutes les femmes,
Oh Couchemal, toutes les femmes lui regardaient pas.
Teche News
Apr 11, 1947

It's possible that the title is an ode to rhythm guitarist Jimmy Gardiner that joined the band that year.  Sung by Francis "Daddy Red" Fabacher, he refers to man with mischievous ways, usually in a bad way.  Possibly related to the mythical creature, le cauchemar (bad sleep), the nickname was used when Happy's stage show performances included more novelty acts as well as music, such as comedic entertainment. 
Hey Couchemal, who's coming from Port Barré,

Oh Couchemal, he's always talking (flirting), 

Hey Couchemal, he's courting all the women, 

Oh Couchemal, all the women don't notice him. 

Hey Couchemal, he likes his bottle,

Oh Couchemal, he does not lose his bottle,

Hey Couchemal, he never does anything,
Oh Couchemal, he never looks to tomorrow.

Hey Couchemal, who's coming from Port Barré,
Oh Couchemal, he's always talking (flirting), 
Hey Couchemal, he's courting all the women, 
Oh Couchemal, all the women don't notice him.

But by 1947, Victor called it quits and he teamed up with a new group of musicians but kept Ambrose as his fiddle player.  Morgan recalls the TV show:
[The show was] very professional. Me and my dad drove to Lafayette, it was actually a bit on the outskirts from what I remember. I also remember standing on the side of the set watching the show as it took place while waiting for me and my dad to go up. There was a background set up, some bales of hay if i remember correctly, then there were the microphones, the cameras were set up some 30 feet, pretty close to it if not, from the band. The lights were not too bad from what I recollect. If memory serves me correctly, the fiddle player was Uncle Ambrose and he kicked of the show with the rooster call.3

Happy would travel to different towns around Lafayette, promoting not only his band but his TV show as well.   He would advertise his "Mariné" show on the side of a van.   He even released a self-entitled LP on Swallow Records in 1964 with the lead song being the "Mariné Theme".

  3. Discussions with Morgan L
  4. Lyrics by Jordy A

Release Notes:

D6VB 2985 Coosh Mal | Victor 20-2034-A
D6VB 2986 La Valse De Bosco | Victor 20-2034-B

Happy Fats & His Rayne-Bo Ramblers (BACM, 2009)
His Rayne-Bo Ramblers 1938-1949 (Master Classics, 2011)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

"Ce Pas La Pienne Tu Pleur" - Moise Robin & Leo Soileau

By July of 1929, Paramount Records heard about Columbia and RCA's success with recording Cajun material.  Their scouts contacted Leo Soileau about recording again, this time in Richmond, Indiana.  Although Soileau had lost his accordion playing partner after a barroom brawl, he teamed up with Arnaudville native, Moise Robin.  Paramount arranged a trip via train that summer to Indiana and the two recorded six songs at the Starr Piano Company Building at Whitewater Gorge Park.   Robin wrote many of his songs:

I made the songs myself, when I was young. My dances and my tunes and my songs. I would write in French and understand my own language, you see. So, I would compose my songs and write them down and practice them.2  

Oh, toi, 'tit monde, 'gardez-donc, malheureuse,

Toi, 'tit monde, m'fais pas ça, avec moi, chère.

Oh, malheureuse, 'gardez-donc, toi, tit monde,
Ayoù ma fille* aujourd'hui, c'est pour toi, chère.

Oh, viens-donc voir toi, tit monde, toi, yé yaille, chère,
Toi, 'tit monde, pas la peine, tu vas m'faire pleurer, chère.

Oh, toi, 'tit monde, tu fuis dedans les chemins,
Toi, 'tit monde, tu peux r(e)mercier ton papa.

Oh, toi, 'tit monde, m'fais pas ça avec moi,
Toi, 'tit monde, tu vas pleurer, toi, tit monde, chérie.
Starr Piano Company

Following the lead of other major labels, it seems Soileau and Robin were paid per session.   Borrowing Joe Falcon's "Aimer et Perdre" melody, Robin reworked the song into "Ce Pas La Pienne Tu Pleur" (#12908). Leo would later record the tune as a string band song entitled "La Valse de la Rosa" for RCA in the mid 30s. The money they received--a hefty sum around The Depression--encouraged the duo to continue recording two more times that year.  Moise recalls:

It was all steam trains.  They would pay all expenses, and the year was, in that time money, it was Depression, $25 each, to make that first record. And it was great for us, $25.  And the second time we got again, $50.2  

Oh, you little everything, so look at that, oh my,

You, my little everything, don't do that to me, dear.

Oh, oh my, so look, you little everything,
Where are you today, my girl? I'm here for you, dear.

Oh, come and see, you little everything, yé yaille, dear,
You little everything, it's not worth you hurting me, crying, dear,

Oh, you little everything, you fled down the road, 
You little everything, you can thank your dad (for all of this).

Oh, you little everything, don't do that to me, 
You little everything, you're going to cry, you little everything, dearie.

  1. Photo by Chris Strachwitz
  3. Lyrics by Stephane F

Release Info:
G15345-A Ce Pas La Pienne Tu Pleur | Paramount 12908 A
G15344-B Je Te Rencontrais De Le Brulier | Paramount 12908 B

The Early Recordings of Leo Soileau (Yazoo, 2006)

Sunday, September 2, 2018

"La Valse De Bayou Chene" - Iry Lejeune

Iry Lejeune sang the story of his people, and made them remember who they were.1 The traditional Cajun music would resurface first in his recordings, a young accordion player and singer from the Pointe Noire area of Acadia Parish.  Iry Lejeune became a pivotal figure in a revival fueled by the return of homesick GIs seeking to soothe their soul.2

Iry, who drew heavily from the recorded repertoire of Creole musician, Amede Ardoin and who died at twenty-seven in a car crash in 1955, along with Ardoin is one of the most storied figures in Louisiana French music.3 One of many Ardoin recordings he resurrected was "Valse Des Opelousas" in which was retitled as "La Valse De Bayou Chene" named after a small bayou south of Welsh in Jeff Davis Parish.  After recording the tune for Eddie Shuler's Goldband records, it later became the "Duson Waltz" by Aldus Roger and much later, the "St. Landry Waltz" by Austin Pitre.

O, catin, comment tu veut que moi je m'en vais tout seul,
O, mon nèg, à pas être capable d'aller me rejoindre,
O, bébé, mon j'ai pris et je roulaillé,
Quo faire tit monde c'est dur comme ça d'être dans ma maison.

O, catin, tu m’avais dit que tu pouvais pas me marier,
O, d’autre que toi moi je va’s plaider à tes parents,
O, catin, t’as passé dimanche après-midi,
T’as passé pour me donner ta main, t’as parti en pleurant.

O, catin, c’est les dernières paroles que je veux dire,
Je savais c’est juste rapport à ta famille qui veut plus de moi,
Oh, ye yaille, c’est pas la peine que moi je reste comme ça,
Tout le temps dans les misères à pas être capable, être capable t’avoir.

At his home, he was accompanied by Milton Vanicor on fiddle and Eddie Shuler on guitar. Although venerated for his accordion skills, it is Lejeune's singing that draws the strongest superlatives from writers--that it can "bite and burn and blister the heart" and "encompassed all the pain, loneliness, and hardship of the isolated praire farmers".3  In 1955, leaving the Green Wing Club, he caught a ride home with Lake Charles fiddler J.B. Fuseilier.  As the two men were fixing a flat tire, another car plowed into them.  Fusilier lived but Iry was not so lucky.
Lake Charles American Press
Oct 9, 1955

If this young traditionalist had not appeared when he did, Cajun music would have drowned in the American melting pot of assimilation.1  The late Acadia Parish author Pierre Varmon Daigle wrote:

In [Iry's] music is all the cruel loneliness of our Cajun history.  Not only the loneliness at the time of our exile, but the later years of poverty...It's all there in the music of this almost blind man.  It's there like a dirge, as lonesome as the howl of a March wind around the house at night.  There is his greatness. The feeling , the heart of his music reaching like fingers to your heart.1

Oh, pretty doll, how do you want me to do this all alone?
Oh, my friend, you're not capable of going to join me,
Oh, baby, my I picked up and I roamed around,
What's done, my little everything, it's hard like that to be home.

Oh, pretty doll, you told me you could not marry me,
Oh, other than you, I'm going to plead with your parents,
Oh, pretty doll, you passed by Sunday afternoon, 
You passed by to give me your hand, you left crying.

Oh, pretty doll, this is the last words I want to say,
I knew it's just related to your family, who wants more from me,
Oh, oh my, it's not worth it, for me to stay like that,
Always in misery to not be able, to be able to have you.

  1. "Iry Lejeune rescued traditional Cajun music" by Gene Thibodeaux. The Church Point News.  Oct 11, 2008.  
  2. Cajun Music: Origins and Development by Barry Jean Ancelet
  3. Cajun and Zydeco Dance Music in Northern California: Modern Pleasures in a ... By Mark F. DeWitt
  4. Lyrics by Francis M

The Legendary Iry LeJeune (Goldband, 1991)
Iry Lejeune: Cajun's Greatest: The Definitive Collection (Ace, 2003)