Tuesday, October 29, 2019

"The Death of Oswald" - Dixie Ramblers

The popular Lafayette-based Cajun string band group called the Dixie Ramblers had a large popular following in the mid 1930s.  They played in dance halls such as the Four Corners in St. Martin Parish, the O.S.T. and the Wagon Wheel hall in Acadia Parish, Sydney Duhon's hall and Esta Hebert's hall in Lafayette Parish.   But by 1935, their accordionist Octa Clark had moved on and the rest converted to a country string band.  The group was invited to a recording session for RCA's Bluebird records in New Orleans where they recorded a song written by pianist Lester Lalonde entitled "The Death of Oswald" (#2181).   The 1936 English guitar song, recorded by Willie Vincent on guitar and vocals, Jesse Duhon on guitar, Hector Duhon on fiddle, and Hector Stutus on fiddle, was an ode to the murder of a Louisiana man.

The story of Oswald entered into the local repertoire and the song's importance highlights one of the "few event songs" in the early Cajun music era.   It seems that in December of 1934, Cecilia native Oswald Devillier Jr. was killed by a beating after attending a dance near his home.1,2   According to records, Oswald was "beaten with posts" by the six accused men.3   Articles tell of the grand jury action which found a true bill against three of the men and a no-true bill against the other three who were allegedly involved in May of 1935.  Three men, Eugene Dupuis, Bennett Talley and Simon Guidry were sentenced to hard labor in Angola.3  
Teche News
Dec 22, 1934

I once had a true pal named Oswald,
A boy with a heart made of gold,
Whenever his honor was at stake,
He fought like a man brave and bold.

One evening he took out his sweetheart,
A wagon club dance was his goal,
But fate had a point in Nina’s Grand Point,
A tragedy cruel and cold.

A mug pulled a long white new saber,
Caused trouble among friends and foes,
He somehow perceived the danger,
For home he decided to go.

Three hostile men prompted by liquor,
They lay in wait for their prey,
I closed my eyes to the slaughter and cried,
Was far too atrocious to say.

For long weeks and cold in deep slumber,
You, neither mother nor friend,
His sweetheart at his bedside kept praying,
Good God, won't you please save my man.

His eyes fast and firmly towards heaven,
His hands became stiffen and cold,
He passed with a sigh to his maker on high,
He fought like a man brave and bold.

What alcohol do to good people,
In pain it will leave you torn,
A good man of fortune may bolster,
And wake up behind prison bars.

Dear Oswald, in your place in heaven,
Down as to where your killers now hide,
May they be forgiven by God and by man,
They were friends of yours and of mine.

Daily Advertiser
May 20, 1936

The following year, the Dixie Ramblers began advertising their new song.     As Lalonde's song became increasingly popular, word reached the accused murderers upon their release from prison.  However, the three inmates didn't take to kindly to the song written about their exploits and any future publicity was quickly extinguished.  Fiddler and Rambler front man Hector Duhon explained to folklorist Nicholas Spitzer,
They had got out of the pen and they came to the dance one night and told us, "Don't play that number if you want to stay here tonight!"4  

Both Hector Stutes and Lester Lalonde would leave the band and join Clovis Bailey's Southern Serenaders in the late 1930s.

  1. Teche News (St. Martinville, Louisiana) 22 Dec 1934
  2. Teche News (St. Martinville, Louisiana) 10 Oct 1984
  3. The Daily Advertiser (Lafayette, Louisiana) 23 May 1935
  4. Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  5. Lyrics by Jeremy R

Release Info:
BS-99220-1 The Death Of Oswald | Bluebird B-2181-A
BS-99218-1 Lalita | Bluebird B-2181-B

Friday, October 25, 2019

"Dans La Platin" - Happy, Doc and the Boys

After the wartime sojourn with Leo Soileau and Harry Choates in Lake Charles, Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc had been invited to tour with top singing cowboy star Tex Ritter, playing Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and even Hollywood. When he returned home, jobs were hard to find, until he teamed up with Doc Guidry for broadcasting and recording. He recalls:
It got kinda tough playing dances and playing the guitar.  Doc Guidry was a very good violin player, very good fiddle player, I thought he would add a little to it so I got Doc.1

Tu fais pitié, mignonne, de quoi t'as fait, chérie,

Un partir, catin mais, au si loin, jolie,

Tu viens pas, mais, dans le platin, mais, pour asteur.

(Tu) m'fais de la peine, chérie, il y a pas longtemps, jolie,

Tu m'a laissé, catin, tu fais pitié, jolie, 

De partir, mais, au si loin avec un autre.

Toi vieille femme, chérie mais, t'en vas pas, chère mignonne, 
M'a laissé, catin, pour z-un autre, chérie,
Tu m'a laissé pour t'en aller dedans le platin.

Fais de la peine, chérie, de quoi pleurer, mignonne,
(Tu) m'a laissé, chérie, moi tout seul, catin,
Pour t'en aller avec un autre, mais, malheureuse.
Johnny Redlich

In 1947, Happy would record the tune as simply "Dans La Platin" (#1005) on J.D. Miller's Feature records at Miller's brand new studio in Crowley, Louisiana.  While some today use the word "platin" to refer to a low lying area, at the turn of the century, Cajuns referred to a "platin" as a small circular pond, of which there were thousands on the prairies.3  It was similar to either a "marrais" or "meche". 

The melody evolved from the popular Dennis McGee song "Ma Chere Bebe Creole" recorded in 1929.   Joe Falcon would later record it as "La Nuit De Samedi".  It featured Johnny Redlich on vocals, brother of Hanks and "Dago" Redlich, the latter better known for having originally owned the Viking and Chamo label in the 1960s.  Bradley "Sleepy" Stutes, who had joined Happy's group years earlier, can be heard on steel guitar.  Quite possibly it's not Doc Guidry on fiddle for this song but Johnny's brother Hank Redlich on fiddle.  While many know Hank from his guitar playing years, Hank's name is called out during the song for his fiddle solo.   In fact, his family recalls some of his great talented playing:
Hank Redlich

Around 1948, Hank came in 2nd place in a fiddle contest with Harry Choates.  They judges called both of them at least six different times.  They couldn't decide who was the winner.2  

It's pitiful, cutie, what you've done, dear,

Leaving, little doll, well, so far away, my pretty,

You're going to go, well, to the lowlands, well, now.

(You) made me feel sorry, dear, over there not long ago, my pretty,

You left me, little doll, feeling pitiful, my pretty,

Leaving, well, far away with another.

You, old woman, dear, well, I'm not going, dear cutie,
Left me, little doll, for another, dear,
You left me to go away to the big lowlands.

Felling sorry, dear, I have cried, cutie,
(You) left me, dear, all alone, little doll,
For you went away with another, well, oh my.

Cheese Reed calls it "'Tit Canard Mulet" on his Arhoolie album. The Balfa Brother do it on Cajun Music from the Southwest Prairies on Rounder, field recordings around 1964 for Ralph Rinzler and Newport.  

  1. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  2. Discussions with Donnie R
  3. Cajun Sketches From The Prairies Of Southwest Louisiana by Lauren Post
Release Info:
New Jolie Blond | Fais Do Do F 1005-A
Dans La Platin | Fais Do Do F 1005-B

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

"Chere Meon" - Jimmy Choate

Jimmie Choate was born in Bancker, Louisiana, not far from Abbeville.  He grew up playing music at an early age, similar to many of his siblings.   Although a distant cousin to the more well known Harry Choates, Jimmy was known to pattern himself after the western swing star during the 1940s.  

Oh, mais, chère mignonne, mais,  (re)gardes-donc bien, mais, quoi t'es après faire,

T'es après m'quitter pour t'en aller, mais, aussi loin, chère,

Moi j'connais, 'tite fille, jour à venir, chérie, 

J'vas revenir, pourquoi, pour toi, pour ca t'as fait.

Oh, Mr. Lyons.

Oh, mais, rappelle-toi de ça t'as fais, mais, z-avec moi,
Moi j'connais, il y a pas longtemps, mais, chère mignonne,
Tu connais, chère, moi j'peux plus te revoir,
Tu connais pour ça t'as fais, t'as pas bien fais.

Daily Advertiser
Apr 20, 1949

Quick to latch on to the success of Harry, Jimmie and his brother Pete decided to make a music career and they had qualms about marketing their name for their own success.  In 1948, Jimmy formed a group with himself on fiddle, his brother Charles "Pete" Choate on bass, Ronald Ray "Pee Wee" Lyons on steel guitar and Blackie Dartez on guitar and vocals.  Together, they recorded "Chere Meon" (#1009), an adaptation of the 1929 Joe Falcon recording "Aimer Et Pedre", for J.D. Miller's new record label Fais Do Do Records. 

Oh, well, dear cutie, well, so pay good attention, well, of what you're doing,

You're leaving me to go, well, so far away, dear,

I know, little girl, coming back one day, dearie,

I'll return, why are you doing that?

Oh, Mr. Lyons.

Oh, well, remember all that you've done, well, with me,
I know, over there, not long ago, well, dear cutie,
You know, dear I'll never see you again,
You know why you've done that, you've not been good.

  1. Acadian All Star Special - The Pioneering Cajun Recordings Of J.D. Miller.  Liner notes.
  2. Lyrics by Stephane F

Release Info:
Chere Meon | Fais Do Do F-1009-A
Petite Negress | Fais Do Do F-1009-B

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

"Valse des Vachers" - Dennis McGee & Ernest Fruge

Waltz of the Cowboys!  It was during this period, just after the turn of the century, that the stock repertoire of Cajun and Creole music took shape, based on a blend of influences from French, Acadian, Spanish, German, Native American, Scotch-Irish, Anglo-American, and Afro-Creole traditions.  "Valse des Vachers" (#15848), for example, recorded in 1929, is a bluesy description of the life of a cowboy sung in French to the tune of an Old World mazurka.2,3  According to record producer Christopher King:

This is essential since mazurkas, polkas, gallopades, varsoviannas,  and cotillions held a strong place in the early Cajun fiddle and dance repertoire but became less popular with the introduction of the diatonic accordion.1  

Malheurese, j'attrape-moi mon cable et mes éperons,

Pour moi aller voir à mes bêtes,

Mon cheval est selle, c'est malheureux de m'voir,
M'en aller moi tout seul ma chérie!

C'est malheureux de m'voir m'en aller au si loin,
Moi tout seul pour trouver que' chose que j'peux pas,
Perdu mais dans l'bois, malheureuse.

(Dit) 'bye-bye,' chérie, ma chérie, chère,
Dans les chemins, chère, moi tout seul, yaille,
Comment je va' faire, malheureuse, yaille?
Toujours, moi tout seul, malheureuse, chérie.

Ma chérie, viens-donc me r'join', chère!
Au si loin que moi j'sus de toi, belle!

Welsh, LA, 1915
Courtesy of 
Louisiana Sea Grant Digital Images Collection

Cajuns in the prairies had a strong relationship with cattle culture, specifically working alongside black Creole cowboys.  Creole cowboys helped manage thousands of cattle in pre-Louisiana Purchase days of southwest Louisiana and led cattle drives to keep New Orleans fed.  Cowboys found themselves moving their livestock from San Antonio and Dallas to Opelousas and further to New Orleans.   Following an ancient cattle trail along a highway known as the Old Spanish Trail, both Dennis McGee and Ernest Fruge recorded this song in New Orleans in 1929. Some musicians sing about going out to find their belle instead of bêtes.  

Oh my, catch me my rope and my spurs,

For I'm going to go see about my cattle.

My horse is saddled, it's sad to see me,
I'm going all alone, my dearie.

It's sad to see me going away so far,
I'm all alone to find something that I can't have,
Lost, well, in the woods, oh my.

Say "bye bye" dearie, my dearie, dear,
On the roads, dear, i'm all alone, yaille,
How will I handle this, oh my, yaille?
Always, I'm all alone, oh my, dearie.

My dear, so come rejoin me, dear,
So far that I've been from you, beautiful one.

Dennis, like many fiddlers of traditional American music, liked to retune his fiddle for certain sounds.  On "Valse des Vachers", he uses the ADAD tuning so he can basically play the same thing on the high and the low strings.4  By the 1930s, it's influence would span to Leo Soileau's group where they picked up the pace, converted into a bluesy two-step and re-titled it "Le Blues de Port Arthur".   Other related songs are "My Rope and Spurs" by Adam Hebert and "Valse Du Passe" by Shirley Bergeron. 

  1. https://oldtimeparty.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/himself/#more-10194
  2. Cajun Country By Barry Jean Ancelet, Jay Dearborn Edwards, Glen Pitre
  3. Cajun Music and Zydeco By Philip Gould
  4. Dennis McGee ‎– The Complete Early Recordings.  Liner notes.
  5. Lyrics by 'Hornisdas'

Release Info:

NO-248 Valse des Vachers | Vocalion 15848
NO-249 Jeunes Gens Campagnard | Vocalion 15848

The Early Recordings Of Dennis McGee: Featuring Sady Courville & Ernest Fruge (Morning Star, 1977)
Times Ain't Like They Used To Be: Early American Rural Music. Classic Recordings Of The 1920’s And 30's. Vol. 8 (Yazoo, 2003)
Dennis McGee ‎– The Complete Early Recordings (Yazoo, 2006)

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

"Trois Jours Apres Ma Mort" - Soileau Couzens

Just as fiddler Leo Soileau was hitting his stride with accordionist Moise Robin in 1929, the partnership faded away.   Leo returned to his roots, establishing a contract with RCA Victor and convincing his talented cousin Alius Soileau to join him for a recording session in New Orleans.   Together, they were billed as the Soileau Couzens.   It was his first attempt at performing commercially as a fiddle duet.

Eh, toi, 'tite fille, 

Viens me rejoindre là bas à la maison.

Hé, dans trois jours après ma mort, 
Tu vas venir à la maison te lamenter de moi.

Hé, 'gardez donc, 'tit monde, 
Fais pas ça, ta maman va pleurer.

Hé, viens 'vec moi là bas, 
T'en vas dire à ta maman c’est pas rien.

Hé, toi, 'tite fille, 
Moi, je connais, tu ferais mieux pas de faire ça, yaie.

Leo Soileau

"Trois Jours Apres Ma Mort" (#22578), recorded by Leo and his cousin Alius on vocals, seemed to be a waltz-style version of the melody known as "Bayou Pom Pom".  Roy Fuselier remembered Alius' playing style,

When my brother got married, he stopped playing completely.  I got myself another player, one named Alius Soileau, a good violin player known in the territory, Leo Soileau's cousin.  He's an old violin player raised at Durald, near me.  Hey, he's a man who gives a good sound on the violin. Prettier than Leo.2   

Fiddler Canray Fontenot remembered both of them,
Alius Soileau, he could play the fiddle good, yeah. He was Leo's first cousin.  But, he just liked to play when he wanted to play. He'd come to the house, in the back of Basile.1   

Hey you, little girl, 
Come join me over there at the house.

Hey, in three days, after my death,
You will come to my house and you'll lament about me.

Hey, so look here, my little everything,
Don't do that, your mom will cry.

Hey, come back with me over there,
You are going to tell your mom it's nothing.

Hey, you little girl,
I know, you better not do that, oh my.

  1. http://arhoolie.org/canray-fontenot-interview/
  2. Ye Yaille Chere by Raymond Francois
  3. Lyrics by Stephane F
Release Info:
BVE-56502-1 Quand J'Ete Seul Hier | Victor 22578-A
BVE-56504-1 Trois Jours Apris Ma Mort | Victor 22578-B

Le Gran Mamou: A Cajun Music Anthology (CMF, 1990)
Cajun Early Recordings (JSP, 2004)

Friday, October 4, 2019

"Saturday Night Waltz" - Harry Choates

Raised in a Cajun household at a time when many young Acadians didn’t learn English until they reached adulthood, those who knew Harry Choates have often stated that he spoke very little French, if any at all. When it came to singing it convincingly, however, he was a natural, and in the wake of “Jole Blon’s” success, most of the music he recorded was in the French style. For this reason, Choates is remembered primarily as a Cajun musician, when in fact, the music that he featured on dance jobs was almost exclusively western swing.1  Ivy Gaspard who had sung with the band in 1950 recalled,
Our band, during the time I played with Harry, was a western swing band that played French music. We played a lot more country and western than we did French.4  

Quoi t'as fais, mais-z avec moi, chérie,
Qui m'as laissé pour t'en aller avec un autre,
Oh, ça fait d'la peine, 
Ça fait d'la peine, tu m'as laissé, mais, pour un autre.

Moi j'connais, mais, quoi t'as fais,
Oh, quoi t'as fais, ça fais pitié,
Oh, mignonne, quoi t'as fais, mais, z-avec moi, 
Il y a pas longtemps, j'mérite pas ça.

Austin American
Jun 12, 1951

By this point, Harry was filling in as a side-show fiddler in the Austin-based band Jesse James and All The Boys.  But the relationship didn't last long.  Harry's carefree demeanor clashed with Jesse's clean cut stage presence and he left the group.  The Bob Tanner 1951 session at KCOR radio station in San Antonio seems to be done last minute, impromptu, not long before his death.  His Texas-based band consisted of Lucky Ford on guitar, Lloyd Baker on steel guitar, and Junior Keelan on bass. According to Baker, 
It was some of the worst playing I ever did, but Harry really liked what I did.  He drank a fifth of liquor, he said to keep his vocal cords open.  He was really hoarse. He drank that whole fifth of liquor, but it didn't faze him. He was a nice guy.  I really liked Harry.4  

Jesse James and All The Boys

His band remaining inconsistent during these later years, with long periods of time between recording sessions and performances.  Although he managed to re-join Jesse James' band again, there were several occasions when Harry would simply show up at at beer joint, and the house band would oblige and let him sit in.  It was during one of these appearances in Austin that Harry's amplifier caught fire.  Harry continued to play, sing and put out the fire on his amp all at the same time it did not seem to distract him as it would other musicians.  Harry was obsessed with his music; equipment failures and fires did not seem to faze him.2  

What have you done, well, with me, dearie,
Who has left me to go away with another,
Oh, that hurts,
That hurts, you left me, well, for another.

I know, well what you've done,
Oh, what you've done, that's pitiful,
Oh, cutie, what you've done, well, with me,
Over there, it won't be long, I don't deserve that.

By the time Tanner had gotten around to releasing the records, Harry had already passed away.  The label Allied was a name associated with Tanner that was most likely created just for Harry's pressings.  There's no surviving information on where the label name came from, other than Tanner using his address.   Given the label design, the iconic "waves" across the logo, it's clear they weren't pressed at his San Antonio plant but rather in Cincinnati.  According to researcher and author Kevin Coffey:

Allied, like several other labels that listed Tanner's address, was an independent with nothing to do with Tanner's own labels (Tanner, TNT). For example, Everstate, a label owned by John Currie/The Texas Top Hands, used the address. It was just Tanner's habit or policy or whatever to use the address for the labels he pressed (and in most cases, though probably not all, recorded).3

Saturday Night Special - 1951 - Allied

  1. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xdd03
  2. "Poor Hobo: The Tragic Life of Harry Choates: A Cajun Legend" by Tim Knight
  3. Discussions with Kevin Coffey
  4. Devil In The Bayou by Andrew Brown.  Liner notes.
Release Info:
101-1 Austin Special | Allied AL-101-A
101-2 Saturday Night Waltz | Allied AL-101-B

Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 4: From The 30s To The 50s (Old Timey, 1972)
Harry Choates: Five-Time Loser 1940-1951 (Krazy Kat, 1990)
Cajun Fiddle King (AIM, 1999)
NOTE: Krazy Kat #KK-CD 22 lists "Saturday Night Waltz" and "Austin Special" in reverse.