Tuesday, May 28, 2019

"Saturday Night Special" - Sundown Playboys

Reaching outside of the boundaries of early Cajun music, we visit the interesting story of the last Cajun recording pressed on 78 RPM.  It was done so by none other than the British rock group The Beatles on their Apple Records label.   So, how did this recording get pressed so late by a rock group un-affiliated with Cajun music?

The Sundown Playboys was a group started by Lionel Cormier in the 1950s.  The group continued to play until Lionel died of a heart-attack on stage in 1971.  Accordion player Pat Savant eventually joined the band and briefly knew Lionel; having met him only twenty minutes before the veteran played his last song.  

Oh, 'tite fille, moi'je connais heir soir,

Je partis d'a où j'etais,

Pour te joindre, jolie chère.

Oh, ye yaille, la promesse j't'ai mal y fait,
Les memes mots qu'j'ai dit à une,
Je les dis à une et l'autre. 

Oh, tite fille, vingt ans moi je connais,
Moi je vais dire à cette heure,
La parole pour réparer.

Oh, ye yaille, il a dit, jolie cœur,
Pour demande des pardonnances,
Il connait il a près mal faire. 
Sundown Playboys
Sep 26, 1972

Before long, Pat was leading the group in local dance halls. A sophomore at a Lake Charles Catholic high school, he was given a chance to fill Cormier's shoes; while he was a novice in the frenzied atmosphere of Cajun dance halls, he became, at the age of 15, a Sundown Playboy.2  Only a school kid at the time, Savant was a young accordion prodigy, meeting Lionel Cormier minutes before he died.  So he was rather surprised when he was invited to step in and fill Lionel’s big shoes.5  He and his group including Lionel's son, Lesa Cormier on drums, Wallace "Red" Touchet on fiddle, Darrell Higginbotham on voclas and guitar, Danny Cormier on bass and Larry Miller on steel, landed four songs on tape at Swallow studios for their next release 45 release.

After a recording session with Floyd Soileau at Swallow Records, Pat Savant was in the record shop talking with another teenager about the group's latest recording efforts when the other youngster wondered aloud what the attitude of the famous Beatles would be towards this style of French music.6  Pat, known to be an aficionado of all things British, convinced Lesa and Swallow records producer Floyd Soileau to send a copy of the 45 RPM with a letter to George Harrison of The Beatles in 1971.1  He also noticed that the record bins in K-Mart were filled with Apple product, so he mailed a copy of the single addressed ‘The Beatles, London, England’.5   According to Darrell's son David, 
Pat sent a copy of the recording to the Beatles' George Harrison as a joke. The joke turned out to be on Pat because George Harrison sent a letter back asking for permission to release it on the "Apple label".

Oh, little girl, I know last night,

I left from where I was,

To return to you, pretty girl.

Oh, ye yaille, the promise I poorly made to you,
The same words that I said to one person,
I say them to one and another.

Oh, little girl, twenty years old, I know,
I'm going to say right now,
Words to make amends.

Oh, ye yaille, he has said, pretty sweetheart,
Begging for forgiveness,
He knows he's doing something wrong.

Sundown Playboys

According to legend, George Harrison heard the record and loved it.  Apple Record's A&R manager Tony King wrote back within two weeks to say that Apple would put out the single over the pond.5,6  The response came as a surprise to everyone.  According to Floyd Soileau,
It was a typical French group from Lake Charles, typical record, there was no big thing about it.  Even when I had a call from Apple's New York office, I still couldn't believe what was happening.  I have a back-page ad they ran in Billboard,.  I've got the sample promotion kit 'Back to Mono' with the 78 copy and the 45 copy and the promo stuff they had inside.  And I love to tell the story because it's one of the carziest things that can happen in this business.4  

In the summer of '72 Apple released the same recordings that Swallow had already pressed the "Saturday Night Special" and "La Valse de Soleil Couché (The Sundown Waltz)" in both the U.S. and Europe.  It was pressed as a promotion on 45RPM and surprisingly on 78RPM as part of Apple's short-lived novelty "Back to Mono" campaign.  Though Apple bought a full back page ad in Billboard, the record did not receive the wide airplay that it reportedly had in Europe,2 but was used in the movie Sister, Sister in 1988.3  Later, the recording was released on the CD "Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records." 

The Sundown Playboys became a major influence on the Smiths’ lead singer Morrissey, who included their single on his 2003 release Under the Influence, explaining in the extensive liner notes that the shock of “Saturday Nite Special”’s never-before heard sound had haunted him for years without any context or reference point, and without even knowing the name of the song or the band, he’d remembered the tune after hearing it only four times!5 Because of the scarcity of the 78RPM pressing (some estimates place it as low as 150 pressings), the value of a copy can reach in to hundreds of dollars. 

  1. http://www.offbeat.com/music/pat-savant-self-titled-mte/
  2. http://www.hechicero.com/louisiana/sundownplayboys.html
  3. http://www.downtowncajunband.nl/sitewillem/Acadiana%20Gateway/music/lcormier.htm.html
  4. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  5. Eclectic Company Meet The Sundown Playboys By Leslie Berman
  6. Daily World (Opelousas, Louisiana) 26 Sep 1972, Tue Page 7

Saturday, May 25, 2019

"Hudson Breakdown" - Cleveland Mire

The Jolly Boys was a group created by Cleveland Alphonse Mire from Bosco. A contemporary of Aldus Roger, together, they both headlined some of the same dance halls, festivals, and even had radio shows on KLFY.  With Mire on accordion, his accompanying musicians varied throughout the years with Theo Dugas on fiddle, Johnny Credeur on guitar, Willie Porterand on drums, and Louis "Blackcat" Domingue on steel guitar.  Sideman guitarist and vocalist, Roy Morgan, spent many years with the band as well as guitarist L.J. Daigle. 

Hé, tite fille, tu connais, mais, hier au soir, 

Tout partout où mo(i) j'ai été pour, t’étais pas là,

Hé, 'tit cœur, tu connais j'ai pris ça dur, 

Pris ça, mais, assez dur que moi j'alle à la maison.

Hé, petite, quand même tu veux, mais, t'en revenir,
'Garde à toi, mais, j'veux plus te voir à la maison mais-avec moi,
Oh, 'tit cœur, tu connais c'est toi la cause,
Si moi et toi on est si loin de toi, mais, malheureuse.
KLFY Lafayette, LA
Theo Dugas, Cleveland Mire, Bill Corcoran
Roy Morgan, David Roger, Willie Porter

The song is based loosely on Joe Falcon's "Au Revoir Cherie".   However, it would be Iry Lejeune's "Evangeline Special" which really made the melody shine.   Steel guitarist Black Cat Domingue ran the local Hudson auto dealership in Lafayette.  According to family, Cleveland loved his Hudson automobile, however, he always complained about how it broke down.   When the vehicle died upon arriving at the studio, out of frustration, Cleveland cleverly renamed the tune "Hudson Breakdown" (#1033).

Hey, little girl, you know, well, last night,

Wherever I was, you weren't there,

Hey, little sweetheart, you know I took it hard,

Took that, well, hard enough that I'm sitting at home.

Hey, little one, anyway you want, well, you can come back,
Look at you, well, I don't want to see you at home anymore, but with me,
Oh, little sweetheart,  you know that you're the cause,
Such that me and you are so far, (so far away) from you, well, it's terrible.
Daily Advertiser
Mar 11, 1955

Recently, in 2014, an archive tape of the band playing at the Reno Club in Kaplan during the 1950s surfaced.   It is the earliest known video footage a Cajun band.  You can see all the band members of the Jolly Boys early on.  The tape is part of the Louisiana Dancehalls research project at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

  1. "Acadian All Star Special" by Bear Records
  2. Lyrics by Stephane F
Release Info:
Prison Waltz | Feature F-1033-A
Hudson Breakdown | Feature F-1033-B

Acadian All Star Special - The Pioneering Cajun Recordings Of J.D. Miller (Bear, 2011)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"Vieux Airs (Old Tunes)" - Joe Falcon

"Your Kiss Is Sweet".   This vieux air, or "old tune", was one of many Cajun instrumentals passed down to the later generations of Cajun musicians.   Like the recording's flip-side, the song had it's origins in 19th century Cajun folk life. Musicians like Joe Falcon practiced their instruments using these songs during their early years. In fact, Joe recalls his very first paid opportunity:
I had just took my accordion when I left with my sister with the horse and buggy to go to the dance.  And when I got there, [Oneziphore Guidy’s] band didn’t show up. So he asked me, ‘How about you coming in and playing my dance? I’ll pay you. I said, ‘Oh, no. I just play like that, for fun.’  He said, ‘Come on. I ain’t go no music’. So I got up on the band stand and I started playing, and I played until twelve o’clock, and at twelve o’clock he come there and he paid me four dollars. Boy, I mean, I was glad with them four dollars.1  

Cleoma Breaux and Joe Falcon

By the summer of 1928, his recording "Lafayette" was on area record store shelves when he and Cleoma Breaux were requested to hop on a train to New York City where they recorded "Vieux Airs (Old Tunes)" for Columbia Records  (#15325).  Like many of the recordings Joe made, the titles were lost to time.  Columbia recording engineers insisted the songs have names.  Many times, Joe had to create a name on the spot, hence, "Vieux Airs".  In some cases, he was encouraged to name the song after a location he was familiar with back home.  During a later recording session, he explains he had to create his own lyrics to these melodies,

The number was there but I had to make up the words.  Like "Osson", it was the name of a little town, but you just have to find a name to put on the record.  It's an old two-step.2  

By the time they got back, the buzz about his recordings had reached fever pitch and he no longer needed to work in the fields.  The dance halls were now prime places to make a living and their music career had officially kicked off. The song didn't gain much traction between the 30s and 50s, until Joe Bonsall recorded it as "Ton Bec est Doux" in the 1960s.   Later recording artists have resurrected the song, but the added lyrics are more recent. 

  1. Lauren Chester Post Papers, Mss. 2854, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi. Valley Collections
  2. http://arhoolie.org/joe-falcon-interview/

Release Info:
W146906-1 Vieux Airs (Old Tunes) | Columbia 15325-D
W146909-2 La Marche De La Noce (Wedding Marche) | Columbia 15325-D

CAJUN-Rare & Authentic (JSP, 2008)

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

"Fais Do Do Two Step" - Jimmy Durbin

Some of the earliest Cajun string band music were still being recorded in the early 1950s.   Bands like Chuck Guillory and Jimmy Newman were latching onto the style, sometimes landing large recording contracts with MGM, Decca, and Columbia.   Around this same time, one would gather that a certain Jimmy Durbin lead a group of Cajun musicians backed by Chuck Guillory's band members and recorded "Fais Do Do Two Step" (#1008) for J.D. Miller's Fais Do Do label.  It was a version of Amede Ardoin's "One Step de Chameaux".   

Misspelled "fias", it was an ode to the common Cajun house dance event known as a "fais do-do".   Literally meaning "make sleep", the word "do" became a shorted form of the French word "domir" (to sleep).   In the same manner a mother was tell a child "beddie-bye" in English, legend has it that mothers who attended these dances with their children, tried to quickly get their babies to sleep in the back room, less their husbands be caught dancing with someone else!

Oh, ma jolie fille, 'tit fille, m'fais pas ça,

Cherie, ma jolie cœur, 'tit fille m'fais pitié,

Oh, ma malheureuse, tit fille, m'fais du mal, 
Eh, ma ça ta fais ton nègre, il y a pas longtemps.

Chérie, mais, j'vas mourir, 'tite fille, mais, ça me va pas,
Tite fille, auprès de toi, chérie, mais, que j'vas voir,
Eh, mais, malheureuse, m'j'connais te m'fais pitié,
Chérie, t'es, joli cœur, tite fille, tu me fais du mal.

Jimmy Newman, Curzy Porkchop Roy,
unknown, Papa Cairo, unknown,
Herman Durbin

Image courtesy of Johnnie Allan Collection, 
Center for Louisiana Studies, 
University of Louisiana at Lafayette

It would seem that Chuck's band had this recording led by a man named Jimmy Durbin.  Except, there's one problem: there was no such person as Jimmy Durbin!  In a strange identity crisis, no one has been able to determine who this person was, leading to several theories. The name is most likely Miller's attempt at listing Jimmy Newman and his regular piano-playing sidekick, Herman Durbin, together.  Instead of Benny Fruge on piano, it could very well be Herman with Miller attempting to list them as "Jimmy & Durbin". 

Author and producer of the Acadian All-Star box set, Lyle Ferbrache explains:

For some reason when JD released the record, he put the name "Jimmy Durbin" on the record.  Shelton Manuel had no idea why.  As far as I can tell there us no Jimmy Durbin.  J.D. did things that sometimes made no sense.1

Oh, my pretty girl, little girl, don't do that to me,

Dearie, my pretty sweetheart, little girl, make me pitiful,

Oh, my unfortunate little girl, that hurts me,
Hey, that was done to your man, over there not long ago.

Dearie, well, I'll die, little girl, well, I'm not going,
Little girl, with you, dearie, that I can see,
Hey, well, oh my, I know you made me pitiful,
Dearie, you are a pretty sweetheart, little girl, you've hurt me.
Regardless, the band was most of Chuck Guillory's backup group with Jimmy Newman on guitar, Shelton Manuel on vocals and fiddle, Francis "Red" Fabacher on steel guitar, Howard Thibodeaux on bass, Curzey "Pork Chop" Roy on drums, and either Herman Durbin or Benny Fruge on piano.   The record was recorded on a tape machine that J.D. had just started using and wanted to see if he could make a remote recording.  So, Miller and the band recorded the session at Benny's Fruge Piano House in Eunice about 1949.  It was recorded around the same time Nathan Abshire used the melody for his "Lake Charles Two Step".   Later, Chuck Guillory would record it as "One Step De Chameaux".   Generally, both songs are known as the same tune.  

  1. Discussions with Lyle F
  2. Lyrics by Stephane F
Release Info:
-A Drunkard Waltz | Fais-Do-Do F1008-A
-B Fais Do Do Two Step | Fais-Do-Do F1008-B

Acadian All Star Special - The Pioneering Cajun Recordings Of J.D. Miller (Bear, 2011)

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

"The Fifty Cent Song" - Louis Spell

Feature Records was created by Jay Denton "J.D." Miller in the late 1940s to market the music of south Louisiana.  Local groups around Acadia Parish approached Miller to record songs in his new studio in Crowley.  Native of Indian Bayou, the Spell family eventually moved to Crowley where Louis formed the French Serenaders.  According to his daughter Margie,
He picked up the accordion from my father-in-law, Ray Claby "R.C." Terro. My father-in-law could play a little bit.1   

How Louis teamed up with Feature record producer J.D. Miller is unknown however, Louis had a popular radio show at the time.  Margie stated,
He used to play on KSIG radio on Saturday mornings.1  

Crowley Post Signal
Jun 30, 1949

Moi et ma belle on a été au bal,

C'était-z un samedi soir,

Moi et ma belle on a été au bal,

C'était un samedi soir,

(O)n a revenu le lendemain,

Le lendemain matin z-au jour,

(O)n a revenu le lendemain,
Le lendemain matin z-au jour.

J'ai demandé si elle avait pas faim pour manger quelqu'chose,
J'ai demandé si elle avait pas faim pour manger quelqu'chose,
Répondu l'avait pas beaucoup faim, mais elle,
Aurait mangé quand même,
Répondu l'avait pas beaucoup faim, mais elle,
Aurait mangé quand même.

Quand j'ai mis mon cinquante sous (des)sus le comptoir,
Quand j'ai mis mon cinquante sous (des)sus le comptoir,
Massacré un coup d'poing, (il) m'a tiré dans la fenêtre,
Massacré un coup de pied, (il) m'a tiré dessus la rue,
Écoutez-donc, les bons conseils, prenez-un bon principe,
(A)llez jamais dedans un restaurant avec cinquante sous dans la poche.

French Serenaders
Elton Harrington, Tan Benoit
Louis Spell, Mabel Spell, poss. Phillip Abshire

Louis and his French Serenaders recorded "The Fifty Cent Song" (#1040) along with Clifton "Tan" Benoit, Elton Harrington, and quite possibly Phillip Abshire or E.J. "Nom" Abshire in 1950.  Louis' son Paul recalled the family mentioning how someone has tried to record the same song at that time.1  Frankie Mailhes, who had recorded the version back in 1938 as "Moi Et Ma Belle" with the Alley Boys, re-recorded the tune around the same time as "Mes Cinquante Sous" with Eddie Shuler's band.  

Me and my girl, we went to the ball,

It was a Saturday night,

Me and my girl, we went to the ball,

It was a Saturday night,

We came back the next day,

The next morning of the day,

We came back the next day,
The next morning of the day.

I asked if she wasn't hunger to eat something,
I asked if she wasn't hunger to eat something,
Said she wasn't very hungry, but she'd eat anyways,
Said she wasn't very hungry, but she'd eat anyways.

When I put my fifty cents on the counter,
When I put my fifty cents on the counter,
He massacred me, punched me, he threw me through the window,
He massacred me, kicked me, he threw me into the street,
So, listen to good advice, take this good principle,
Never go inside a restaurant with (only) fifty cents in your pocket.

  1. Discussions with Margie T and Paul T
  2. Lyrics by Stephane F
Release Info:
The Fifty Cent Song | Feature F1040-A
Lover's Waltz | Feature F1040-B

Acadian All Star Special - The Pioneering Cajun Recordings Of J.D. Miller (Bear, 2011)