Friday, June 28, 2019

"Lawtell Waltz" - Harry Choates

One of the earliest independent labels to appear on the Texas and Louisiana music scene was Gold Star records.  Owner and producer Bill Quinn knew how to get talent: pay them well and they'll come to you.  He paid $100 and $200 per side and of course this was a great attraction for many a wandering minstrel.1   Harry Choates' band was no exception.  After recording successfully with Bill Quinn at his studio, he was invited again in 1947 with his band.  Although Harry got paid handsomely, his band members recall getting paid with a Mexican dinner.  With Reagan Parchman on steel guitar, possibly Junior Keelan on bass, Amos Comeaux on drums, and Johnnie Manuel on piano, they recorded the tune "Lawtell Waltz" (#1335), named after the small town of Lawtell, Louisiana. 

Oh malheurese, moi j'connais, mais, m'a soûler,

Oh, mais, chère 'tit fille, mérite pas ça, pour quoi, 'tit fille.

Oh, malheurese, tu connais, tu même-toi, chere,
Oh, mais, moi j'connais-z, (a) pauvre vieux nègre, a pas longtemps.
Amos Comeaux, Junior Keelan, 
Harry Choates, Johnnie Manuel, 
Ronald Ray "Pee Wee" Lyons, unknown
Bear Family Records

Like most small companies, Bill could not afford much publicity and promotion and all his shipments went out C.O.D. which explains the relatively poor distribution of the label.   It was a real "down home" operation, often even some of the acetate masters would not come out of the electroplating tank, something went wrong, and Bill explains many of the missing numbers in his catalog by this electro-chemical fail. 

Oh my, I know, well, I'm getting drunk,

Oh, well, dear little girl, don't deserve that, oh why, little girl?

Oh, my, you know, yourself, dear,
Oh, well, I know, (your) poor old man, not long ago.

The Shreveport Times
Aug 1, 1951

In later years, Bill would record other blues artists around the Texas area, but many were small-time musicians.  In the case of a record by a new artist, Bill would press maybe 100-300 copies and include a few with each shipment to distributors, but if there was not such of a response, he would never press any more.  Many specific Gold Star discs are almost impossible to find for this reason.1


Release Info:
1335-A Bayou Pon Pon | Gold Star 1335-A
1335-B Lawtell Waltz | Gold Star 1335-B

Harry Choates ‎– The Fiddle King Of Cajun Swing (Arhoolie, 1982, 1993)
Devil In The Bayou - The Gold Star Recordings (Bear Family, 2002)

Monday, June 24, 2019

"You're Small And Sweet" - Segura Brothers

One of the earliest Cajun musical families was the Segura family of Delcambre where two brothers, Dewey and Edier, learned to play some of the earliest Cajun melodies.   During the 1920s, Dewey's parents raised their children near a bayou known as the Petite Anse Canal, not far from the local dance-halls.   Dewey's mother not only played the accordion, but also knew the secret of making moonshine in the cornfield.  To accommodate their income, she would sell the liquor at the local dance halls, keeping a wary eye out for the "revenues". She taught Dewey how to play the accordion as well as make liquor.1  

Toi, petite, t’es mignonne,
Si aimable, t’es trop canaille, malheureuse.

Quoi j’ai fait à ton papa,
Pour être puni aussi longtemps,
Lord, Lord, c’est dans la maison,
Je peux p’us revenir icitte.

En demander à ton papa et ta maman,
Pour t’amener avec ton vieux nègre, malheureuse,
Papa dit "non", chère, maman veut pas,
Parce que ma robe est pas jolie,
(J’après mourir)*, quoi moi, je vas faire, mais, d’être toute seule?

Ta maman, mérite etre content,
'Vec une corde là, oh, la corde au cou,
Tu connais, chère, la corde au cou, c’est dur pour moi,
Que toi tu est dis t'abandonner, c'est mieux d’avoir la corde au cou.
Dewey and Edier Segura

He, his brother Eddie and a local guitarist named Didier Hebert traveled to New Orleans at the end of 1929 to catch a Columbia recording session where other Cajun musicians such as Dennis McGee and the Amede Ardoin were lined up.  The Seguras recorded an old Cajun tune about a lover commenting on a love interest's desperation entitled "You're Small And Sweet" (#40512).  Not to be confused with the 1928 Fawvor Brothers's title  "T'Est Petite a Ete T'Est Meon (You Are Little and You Are Cute)", a different tune that would become the standard for future generations. Attributed to "E. Segura", it's believed the company mistakenly left off Dewey's name.  In the song, he refers to "la corde au cou", or "rope around the neck", however, the phrase signifies extreme frustration, more closely aligned to a person being "at the end of his rope."

You're small, you're cute,
Even though friendly, you're too mischievous, oh my.

What did I do to your dad,
To be punished for so long?
(Lord, Lord, in that house,
I can't come back here.)

Ask your dad and your mom,
To bring you to your old man, oh my,
(Your) dad says "no", dear, (your) mom doesn't want to,
Because my clothes aren't nice,
(I'm dying), well, what am I going to do, but to be all alone?

Your mom, deserves to be happy,
With a rope there, oh the rope around my neck,
You know, dear, the rope around my neck, it's hard for me,
That you have said you've abandoned me, it's better to have the rope around my neck. 

In 1949, Cajun music was back in demand.  Dewey started a full-time band, The Delcambre Playboys, where they group played around Vermilion Parish dance-halls such as The Blue Moon in New Iberia, the Grand Terasse near St. Martinville and the Rock-A-Bye Club in Forked Island.  Dewey always insisted his family come see him play.  He stated: 
If my family don't come, nobody else is going to come.  They'll think I'm not good.1  

  1. Discussions with Lorraine S D
  2. Lyrics by Stephane F and Jordy A

Release Info:
W111392-2 Rosalia | Columbia 40512-F
W111393-2 Your Small And Sweet | Columbia 40512-F

W111392-2 Rosalia | Okeh 90012
W111393-2 Your Small And Sweet | Okeh 90012


Cajun Dance Party: Fais Do-Do (Legacy/Columbia, 1994)
Les Cajuns Best Of 2002 Les Triomphes De La Country Volume 12 (Habana, 2002)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)

Monday, June 17, 2019

"Abbeville Breakdown" - Alley Boys of Abbeville

One of the last Cajun string bands to record before the war was the Alley Boys of Abbeville.  Their band leader, Sidney Guidry, started playing music at eight years of age and became a self-taught rhythm guitarist, vocalist and songwriter. By the age of 13 he was a professional musician. During the 1930’s he worked with the Alley Boys in Abbeville, LA and later played with Doc Guidry and the Sons of the Acadians. 

The Alley Boys of Abbeville, an accordion-less group of youngsters who recorded once for Vocalion, composed of Frankie "Tee Tee" Mailhes on fiddle and vocals, Sidney Guidry on guitar, Lourse "Mockay" Touchet on guitar,  and Murphy "Mule" Guidry on guitar. Together, the group recorded a self-entitled instrumental, based on the small town of Abbeville, Louisiana, called "Abbeville Breakdown" (#05168) in 1939. 
Sidney Guidry

It was a rendition of a 1934 Joe Falcon tune entitled "Au Revoir Cherie" and resembled J.B. Fuselier's 1938 "Redell Breakdown" even closer.   It would later become one of Iry Lejeune's most iconic songs--the 1948 recording of "Evangeline Special".

Always pushing the envelope, Sidney developed a rudimentary sound system in 1939 powered by an automobile battery. Also in 1939 Sidney Guidry had a weekly radio show on KVOL in Lafayette, Louisiana, a larger city north of Abbeville. After serving in the Marine Corps during World War II, Sidney returned to full-time performing for a couple of years after the war.

Release Info:
MEM-12-1 Abbeville Breakdown | Vocalion 05168
MEM-15-1 Je Vous T'Aime Lessair Pleurer (I'll Never Let You Cry) | Vocalion 05168

Cajun Vol. 1 Abbeville Breakdown 1929-1939 (Columbia, 1990)
American Roots - A History Of American Folk Music (Disky, 1999)
Les Triomphes De La Country Music (Habana, 2002)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)
Music Inspired By Oh! Brother, Where Art Thou? (Not Now, 2007)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

"Hathaway Two Step" - Nathan Abshire

"Hathaway Two Step" (#103) is one of the more obscure Nathan Abshire instrumentals from his earliest post-war years.  The recording's location is not known, but believed to be done in Lake Charles like many of his earlier O.T. sessions with record producer Virgil Bozeman and George Khoury.    Their business contemporary, record producer Eddie Shuler, had met Nathan early on while Shuler was touring with his own band. 

I went out there to Midland, where Nathan was from at that point. He was living somewhere around Midland. I played in a club out there in Midland. I already had a record out on Iry LeJeune at this point. They had this guy that wanted to sit in with my band because I had a a popular string band. I said, "Well what is his name?" They said, "His name is Nathan Abshire". I said, "What does he play?" "He plays the accordion." I said, "Oh, one of them things, huh?" He came in and, man, them people just went crazy over that thing.1 
Nathan Abshire

The 1949 song is based on a 1929 recording by three obscure musicians named Harrington, Landry & Steward, entitled "Le Stomp Creole", a song that some consider a one-step.  The melody resembles is a slow, modified version of Joe Falcon's "Fe Fe Ponchaux", not all that different from Bixy Guidry's "I Am Happy Now".  Hathaway is a small town in Jeff Davis Parish; a locale attributed in other Abshire songs such as the "Hathaway Waltz".

Record producer Bob Tanner had started Hot Rod Records briefly before he began his TNT label.   We do know Eddie Shuler had recorded his own songs and chose to issue them on Tanner's TNT label.  Eddie recalls:

I sent them to Tanner. He wanted a Cajun record.  I let him have the other stuff to get him to put out a record on "Eddie Shuler". He put out the Cajun stuff and the Eddie Shuler stuff. 1
Crowley Daily Signal
Jul 26, 1969

Quite a bit of this recording's history is lost.  Nathan's band had Atlas Fruge on steel guitar, either Wilson Granger or Will Kegley on fiddle, and maybe Earl DeMary on guitar with possibly Elridge "Coon" Guidry on bass.  It's quite possible Bozeman and Khoury recorded Nathan in 1949 but Bozeman released it at Tanner's plant after their split in 1950 (maybe as late as 1953). One lingering question remains: Is it possible that Shuler actually recorded Nathan's band without Virgil and Khoury; releasing it for Tanner to press it in San Antonio?   It seems highly unlikely.  

  2. Image by Bill McClung
Release Info:

HR 103(1) Chere Te Mon | Hot Rod 103
HR 103(2) Hathaway Two Step | Hot Rod 103

Cajun Honky Tonk: The Khoury Recordings Vol. 2 (Arhoolie, 2013)

Friday, June 7, 2019

"Point Clear Blues" - Columbus Fruge

In 1928, Victor successfully tried their hand at marketing and recording Cajun music to the country. With the success of selling these recordings to eager buyers in south Louisiana, they turned again in 1929 to Leo Soileau to bring in a new batch of old songs along with a few new accompanying musicians such as young St. Landry accordionists Moise Robin and Columbus "Boy" Fruge.  The trio, along with their sponsor and Opelousas jewelry store owner Frank Dietlein, left for Memphis, TN in 1929 by train and together they recorded several songs for Victor's Ralph Peer A&R representative. According to Deitlein*,
In the grand ballroom in the Claridge Hotel, where the Victor company did their recording, the four of us entered and were greeted by a fellow by the name of Ralph Peer. I believe that he was president of the Southern Music Publishing Co., which specialized in recording Southern folk songs.  When we walked in, we were introduced to the late Jimmy Rodgers, whose records at the time were selling by the thousands.  Blue Steel, a noted orchestra leader at the time, was leading his band while recording the favorite tune of the day, "Girl of My Dreams."*1  
Claridge Hotel
Memphis, TN

The group couldn't contain their excitement and memories of their shenanigans in the hotel remained with Robin:
Leo Soileau and "Boy" Columbus Fruge were the others on the trip. I'll never forget while we were in the hotel in Memphis, [Frank] told me that there was a long distance call for me from Mr. John Speyrer in Leonville. Latter, I found out that it was Leo Soileau in the next room who had disguised his voice by speaking with a towel over the phone mouth piece.4   

Mais, chère 'tite fille, mais, chère 'tite fille, comment ton nègre va faire,
L'hiver est là, l'hiver est là, ton nègre a pas de couverte.

Moi l'aime les filles, moi l'aime les femmes et moi l'aime les plus belles veuves.

Moi l'aime cousin, moi l'aime cousine et moi l'aime la bonne cuisine,
Moi mange des dattes, moi boire 'tit verre, tout ça, ça coute (pas) rien,
Moi, tout le monde, lundi matin, moi tout manière malade,
Va prendre le verre, mais, pauvre 'tit monde, l(u)i verse d'la limonade.

Ton nég(re) est malade!

Columbus "Boy" Fruge

Pointe Claire is a small community in St. Landry parish along HWY 347, between Leonville and Arnaudville, not far from where Fruge and Robin lived.  However, when Peer and the other Victor engineers heard the name of the song, they wrote down "Point Clear Blues" (#22206), sometimes known as "Chanson de Limonade" or "Mon Cher Cousin".  On his second attempt at recording the song, the three recording engineers got out some cotton which they put in their ears.  They, apparently thought that the stomping and the accordion music was too loud.2  By the 1940s, it became other tunes such as Jimmy Choates' "Petite Negress" and Leroy Broussard's "Lemonade Song".  For years, Leroy claimed he wrote the tune, however, Moise Robin, who was there during Fruge's session, knew better.
I went to Lafayette one night and met Leroy Broussard at a saloon while at the bar drinking a few beers. He came over and introduced himself. I was glad and we started a good conversation. He said, "you made some records?"  "Yes," I answered, "and you too?" Leroy said, "Yes, I made Passe Moi Le Verre De Lionade."  "Aw, " I said, "It's not you who made that; it's [Columbus] 'Boy' Fruge who made that in 1929."  But Leroy said, "I tell you it's me who made the record."  I told him, "You're wrong!"  He got angry.  I said, "Okay, but someday I might find 'Boy' Fruge's record , and even if I have to go to your home, I'll find out where you live and I will show you that it's not you who made that record.3  
Clarion News
Sep 12, 1929

Well, dear little girl, well, dear little girl, how will your man do this,
Winter is here, winter is here, your man doesn't have a blanket.

I like the girls, I like the women and I like the most beautiful widows.

I like my cousin, I like my other cousin and I like good food,
I eat dates (nuts), I drink a little glass, all that, it costs nothing,
I, with everyone, Monday morning, I'm sick all the way,
Go take the glass, well, poor little fellow, he'll pour the lemonade.

Your man is sick!

  1. Daily World (Opelousas, Louisiana) 28 Oct 1965, Thu Page 4
  2. Daily World (Opelousas, Louisiana) 13 May 1971
  3. "Ye Yaille Chere, Traditional Cajun Dance Music" by Raymond E. Francois.
  4. Daily World (Opelousas, Louisiana) 08 Nov 1967, Wed Page 4
  5. Lyrics by Stephane F and 'Hormisdas'
*NOTE: Although Frank Dietlein's recollection of event details are conflicting with Victor recording session documentation, a decision was made to leave the interview quote in the article without corrections.

Release Info:
BVE-55541-2 Pleur Plus' (Don't Cry) | Victor 22206-A
BVE-55543-2 Point Clear Blues | Victor 22206-B

Sunday, June 2, 2019

"La Valse De Gueydan" - Amede Ardoin & Dennis McGee

Amede Ardoin’s specific sound is built around his masterful accordion playing — accompanied by fiddler Dennis McGee — and his heart-breaking hi-lonesome singing. The music is bright, jovial, celebratory, and perhaps best understood as dance music.  According to author Nate Knaebel, he considers Ardoin's music designed to get couples drinking, dancing, and generally carrying on. 
Like any kind of dance music, repetition is essential.You can’t find your groove without a groove. Whether or not Ardoin was thinking in those precise terms, he clearly knew it to be the truth.2  

Comment je vas faire, malheureuse,
Il faudra moi, je m'en vas,
Oh, catin, mais, ouais, t'es tout seule,
Mon, je connais, c'est pas ta faute,
C'est pas toi qui fait tout ça,
Oh, 'tite fille, toi, jamais tu brailles.

Fais pas ça, 'tite fille, fais pas ça t'après me faire,
Oh, catin, fait pas ça t'après me faire,
Donc, cependant, je t'ai rien fait,
Toi, aperçois, toi, tu me fais,
Oh, catin, toi, tu me fais autant do mal.

Toi, 'tite fille, catin, comment je vas faire, moi, je m'en vas
À la maison, catin, toi, jolie, dimanche au soir.
J'ai jamais d'agrément de rentrer, toi, et de m'assis
À la table pour moins manger quand t'as déjà venu faire, à rapport à toi.
Amede Ardoin

The 1929 title "La Valse De Gueydan" (#513) is an ode to the small town of Gueydan, Louisiana. An original melody in it's own right, it should not be confused with John H. Bertrand and Milton Pitre's "Valse De Gueydan", Happy Fats' "Nouveau Grande Gueydan", Leo Soileau's "La Valse de Gueydan" or Tan Benoit's later recording of "Gueydon Waltz".  No one argues the influence Ardoin had on codifying the Cajun sound and paving the way for the more blues- and R&B-inflected offshoot of zydeco.2  Fiddler Wade Fruge recalls a night when Ardoin was challenged by a rival player from the town of Breaux Bridge:
Ardoin started the dance by listlessly covering a couple of tunes, and then went outside and drank a half bottle of whiskey and returned to the dance.  My uncle [Arteman Bijoux Fruge] said he'd never forget that.  When he and Amede went back to play again, he took his accordion and opened the bellows up as far as they'd go.  Then he'd make it tremble, ...holding it all the way down to the floor, before they started to play.  Then, man! He said he got on that accordion!  Nobody could play better than Amede when he wanted.1

How am I going to do this (all alone), oh my,
I have to, I'm going,
Oh, pretty doll, well, yeah, you're all alone,
I know, it's not your fault,
It's not you that did all that,
Oh, little girl, don't ever cry.

Don't do that, little girl, don't do what you're doing to me,
Oh, pretty doll, don't do what you're doing to me,
So, however, I didn't do anything to you,
You see, you make me,
Oh, pretty doll, you, you make me hurt so much.

You, little girl, pretty doll, how am I going to do this, I'm going,
To the house, pretty doll, you, pretty one, Sunday night,
I never thought I'd be able to enter and sit down,
At the table to eat when you had already, it's all because of you.

  1.  The Kingdom of Zydeco By Michael Tisserand
  3. NOTE: The listing on Cajun Country, Vol 2 is mis-titled
Release Info:
NO-6721 Two Step D'Elton | Brunswick 513
NO-6722 La Valse De Gueydan | Brunswick 513

I'm Never Comin' Back: The Roots of Zydeco (Arhoolie, 1995)
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)