Monday, December 30, 2019

"Te Petite" - Harry Choates

In the late 1940s, Jimmy Mercer of Paris, TX had created a new label called "Cajun Classic" in the hopes of getting Harry Choates to record for him.  By 1947, he made good on his promise and coaxed Harry to head there with his band and record several tunes, one of which was a traditional Cajun tune called "Tip-E-Te Tip-E-Ta Ameon" (#1006) for his Cajun Classics label.  The song known as "T'es Petite et T'es Mignonne" was an old Cajun tune, first recorded by the Fawvors in 1929.  Mercer and Harry had the song sung as a duet by his band members-- banjoist Joe Manuel and his guitarist Esmond "Eddie" Pursley.  The band rounded out with Ronald Ray "Pee Wee" Lyons on steel guitar, B.D. Williams on bass and Curzy "Porkchop" Roy on drums. 

Daily World
Aug 12, 1948

T’es petite et t’es mignonne,

Et galeuse, cherie, j’t’amie quand même,

Ah, mais ouais, la belle, chérie, se pas la belle, 

Ah, mais ouais, la belle, chérie, 

Vous allez et laver. 

T’es petite et t’es mignonne,

T'es trop galeuse, cherie, pour faire ma femme
Ah, mais ouais, la belle, chérie, se pas la belle, 
Ah, mais ouais, la belle, chérie, 
Vous allez et laver.

T’es petite et t’es mignonne,
Et galeuse, cherie, j’t’amie quand même,
Ah, mais ouais, la belle, chérie, se pas la belle, 
Ah, mais ouais, la belle, chérie, 
Vous allez et laver. 

T’es petite et t’es mignonne,
Et galeuse, cherie, j’t’amie quand même,
Ah, mais ouais, la belle, chérie, se pas la belle, 
Ah, mais ouais, la belle, chérie, 
Vous allez et laver.

After Gold Star's producer Bill Quinn accidentally found out about this session, the two producers settled on an arrangement.  Harry Choates had been playing with his Melody Boys for quite some time and the following year, in 1948, he and the Manuels were touring around east Texas and south Louisiana. That year, they re-recorded the tune "Te Petite" (#1343) for Gold Star records.   It featured a young pianist by the name of Johnnie Ruth Smyrle, sometimes listed as "Johnnie Mae", from San Angelo, Texas. 

This would be the last recording with his original group involving the Manuels. According to researcher Andrew Brown, rumor abound that Harry had an affection for Joe's wife Johnnie.  They had been touring through Texas and at some point, a band member caught the couple in the midst of "private relations".  This caused an immediate breakup of the band including, allegedly, the dissolving of Joe and Johnnie's marriage.  Many would never play with Harry again. 

Johnnie and Harry

To make matters worse, back in Louisiana, Choates’s wife was three months pregnant with their daughter, Linda. Despite the difficulties of his own making, in April 1947, Choates and Johnnie Manuel booked a month long engagement at Dessau Hall in Austin, Texas. By May or June, he had a show on KWBU in Corpus Christi. When Linda was born in September, Choates was still with Johnnie but it didn't last long.   According to bassist Grady "Tarzan" Mann, 
after a night of drinking, Choates grabbed the electric guitar and his dark side appeared:
One time we were playing at Dessau Hall.  [Choates] always liked for me to be right up there beside him with that upright bass.  Johnnie told him, "Are you gonna play for the people, or are you gonna play for Tarzan?"  And he turned around and knocked her clean off that piano stool!.1,2,5  

Choates turned to the crowd and stated, "That's all right, folks.  We just had to get some things straight around here."5  

You're small and you're cute,

And shabby, dearie, I like you anyways,

Ah, well yeah, pretty girl, dearie, she's not beautiful,

Ah, well yeah, pretty girl, dearie, 

You go and wash up.

You're small and you're cute,

You're too shabby, dearie, to be my wife,
Ah, well yeah, pretty girl, dearie, she's not beautiful,
Ah, well yeah, pretty girl, dearie, 
You go and wash up.

You're small and you're cute,
And shabby, dearie, I like you anyways,
Ah, well yeah, pretty girl, dearie, she's not beautiful,
Ah, well yeah, pretty girl, dearie, 
You go and wash up.

You're small and you're cute,
And shabby, dearie, I like you anyways,
Ah, well yeah, pretty girl, dearie, she's not beautiful,
Ah, well yeah, pretty girl, dearie, 
You go and wash up.

Harry Choates, Johnnie Ruth Smyrle Manual,
Joe Manuel

Other family members dispute the relationship rumors, stating Johnnie loved Harry like a brother and that they stayed friends until his death.   Choates didn’t worry too much about switching band members, as the Golden Triangle—the area of Texas just across the Sabine River from Louisiana where he spent most of his timewas jumping with musicians.   Eventually, he'd record with other groups and form other bands including one with tenor banjoist and Port Arthur resident Ivy Gaspard.   According to Gaspard,
This area was a hotbed of good musicians.  You had as many good musicians here as you had anywhere.4  

Often times when he found himself broke, Quinn would have him sit in for a session, regardless if he needed him or not.   Sadly, many of those impromptu session recordings never materialized. 

Te Petite (1947) - Gold Star

  2. Devil In The Bayou - The Gold Star Recordings by Andrew Brown.  Liner notes.
  3. Image by Museum of the Gulf Coast
  5. All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music By Michael Corcoran

Release Info:
Je Pasa Durvant Ta Port | Cajun Classics 1005
Tip-E-Te-Tip-E-Ta Ameon | Cajun Classics 1006

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

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

"La Valse A Austin Ardoin" - Amede Ardoin & Dennis McGee

A distinctive accordion player, an emotional singer and a legendary songwriter, Amede Ardoin is one of the most important progenitors of both Cajun and Creole music. His family were huge influences on his music.  His cousin Bois Sec Ardoin's first music lesson was playing triangle behind Amede--the whole time watching his cousin and learning his tunes, telling him, "It won't be long before I catch up with you."  It was this close knit family, and the loss of his loved ones, that stirred the emotions of this creative musician later in his life. Author and poet laureate Darrell Bourque explains: 
When Amédé was nine months old, his father was killed in an accident. The story goes that his father and mother owned a very successful farm at the time and had earned enough to buy land. Supposedly, they had a 120-acre plot of land, with his father often hauling meat to various places. Apparently, as he was hauling meat across a wooden bridge, his wagon fell into the bayou, and he was killed.1  

Donc, bye-bye, je m'en vas mes parents,

Moi, je m'en vas, c'est rapport à la catin,

Donc, jamais j'aurais crû fallait je m'en vas,

Moi, tout seul et la quitter derrière,

'Gardez-donc, aussi loin, crois vous-même, moi, je suis après aller,

Moi, je la quitte, jamais encore je vas la rejoindre.

Donc, bonsoir, bonsoir, mes parents,
Je suis orphelin, il y a, beaucoup des années,
Mais, il faut je prends mes misères comme ça vient,
Mes parents, il y en a pas un qui veut me voir,
Quand je suis malade, il faut je vas chez les étrangers,
Ça pris eux-autres pour me soigner dans ma souffrance.

O, yé yaie, toi, petite fille,
Je serais curieux te rejoindre, quand même, une autre fois,
Pour moi être capable te dire comment dur ça c'est être orphelin,
"Tite fille, marie-toi, quand toi tu seras capable.

Daily Advertiser
Aug 26, 1932

By the time Amédé was a teenager, he was beginning to play music. The loss of his father and the care his elderly mother required was too much to handle, according to his cousin "Bois Sec" Ardoin,
Amede's mother was poor and old, too.  He tried to help a little bit after he was big enough, but after somebody found an accordion for him, he'd go and play. He didn't help his mama no more.  He stayed with the white people.2  
After his mother passed away in the 1920s, Amede moved into the home of his brother Austin.  For the rest of his days he would sing of his life as an orphan.2  By 1930, he traveled with fiddler Dennis McGee, recorded a song about his troubles, and named it "La Valse A Austin Ardoin" (#576).  The recording contains an eerie sound that wasn't present to listeners until modern times.  According to producer to Christopher King and author Amanda Petrusich,
Listen very carefully to "La Valse A Austin Ardoin".  When the accordion break occurs between the vocals, you can hear him humming--like a Glenn Gould--type sound.  Amédé Ardoin is giddily humming along with himself, doubling the melody, goading it forward.4  
Austin Ardoin

So, bye-bye, I'm leaving my family,

I'm going to go, it's because of the pretty doll,

So, I never thought I'd have to leave,

I'm all alone and leaving her behind,

So look here, (going) so far away, believe it yourself, I'm going, 

I'm leaving her, never again to rejoin her.

So, good evening, good evening, my family,

I've been an orphan, over there, for many years,

Well, I must handle my miseries as they come,

(Of) my family, there is no one who wants to see me,

When I'm sick, I have to go to strangers,

It takes them to heal me in my suffering.

Oh, ye yaille, you little girl,
I would be curious to join you, in any way, one more time,
For me to be able to tell you how hard it is to be an orphan,
Little girl, get married, when you, yourself, are ready.

 Daily Advertiser
Jul 30, 1931

He and McGee quickly became known and respected not only by the Creole community, but by the white Cajun community. Amédé had three recording sessions, in 1929, 1930, and 1934.  His catalog is probably about 34 or 35 songs, which undoubtedly represents a very, very small volume of the overall repertoire that he had.1  

  2. The Kingdom of Zydeco By Michael Tisserand
  3. Mardi Gras, Gumbo, and Zydeco: Readings in Louisiana Culture edited by Marcia G. Gaudet, James C. McDonald

Release Info:
NO-6718-A La Valse A Austin Ardoin | Brunswick 576 Melotone M18050
NO-6717-A Amadie Two Step | Brunswick 576 Melotone M18050

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)

Friday, December 20, 2019

"Gabriel Waltz" - Happy, Doc And The Boys

From 1946 to 1959, J.D. Miller released all forms of French language records, from the beautiful fiddle and guitar records of Oran 'Doc' Guidry and Leroy 'Happy Fats' Leblanc to the raucous recordings of Robert Bertrand and the Lake Charles Playboys.  It was between 1946 and 1948, when Miller decided to work with Happy Fats and record some of the first Cajun-country music after WWII.  Miller recalls:
We founded the M&S Electric company and we were doing industrial work on the rice mills.  All of it was heavier-type work, industrial and commercial.  I rented a building to house our company, but it was such a large building it looked bare with what we had invested.  There was so much room, I took an idea to put a little music and record shop in it.3 
So we bought a few records and a guitar or two...strings.  We put in a few records and the jukebox owners started buying records from my store.  Many of the customers, because they were predominantly Cajun at the time, wanted Cajun records.  They had a couple of Harry Choates records on the market and few other things, but apart from that, try as hard as I could, I couldn't obtain any.  So I got the idea I'm gonna make some, and I didn't know where to turn to go to a studio. Then I found they had a studio in New Orleans, the only studio in Louisiana: Cosimo Matassa's.3
J.D. Miller

Miller went to Cosimo Matassa's fledgling J&M Recording studio in New Orleans between 1946 and 1947 and recorded singer Happy Fats with fiddler Doc Guidry and singer Louis Noel.  Happy told radio interviewer Dave Booth:
We did a French thing and a country thing.1 

Gabriel avais de mon parrain,

Madeleine, c’était ma marraine,

Gabriel, il était pas beau,

Madeleine, elle valait pas mieux.

Gabriel avait de beau chapeau,
Madeleine avait (z)un beaux souliers,
Gabriel avait de beau chapeau,
C’est dommage il avait pas de calotte.

Gabriel avait de beaux souliers,
Madeleine avait (z)un beau chapeau,
Madeleine avait (z)un beau chapeau,
C’est dommage il avait pas de calotte.

Gabriel avait de belle calotte,
Madeleine avait (z)un beau chaussette,
Madeleine avait (z)un belle chaussette,
C’est dommage il était déchiré.

Gabriel avait de beaux souliers,
Madeleine avait (z)un beau chapeau,
Madeleine avait (z)un beaux souliers,
C’est dommage c’était des "tennis shoes".

Louis Noel

It turns out they recorded six songs total, one of them being "Gabriel Waltz" (#1000).  It was an old French folk ballad, associated with children's nursery rhyme.  The 1947 melody has origins in Leo Soileau's 1937 "Valse D'Amour", with the smooth fiddle rides by Oran "Doc" Guidry.  In addition was Happy Fats on guitar, Jack Leblanc on guitar and Dalton Delcambre on steel guitar.  To round out the group, Happy picked up a budding guitarist from St. Landry parish known as Louis Noel.   Louis' daughter recalled: 
Louis decided to give up farming and try his luck as a musician.  He landed a spot at KSLO in Opelousas.  He did some "hand me down" songs like "La Cravat" and "Gabriel Waltz".4

Miller's early releases had the letter 'F' in the catalog number to signify a French recording, specifically Cajun French, while the letter 'E' signified and English recording, specifically a country song.   Therefore, Miller's early pressings contain multiple uses of numbers.

Crowley Daily Signal
Oct 13, 1949

Gabriel was my godfather,

Madeleine, she was my godmother,

Gabriel, he was not handsome,

Madeleine, she was no better.

Gabriel had a nice hat,
Madeleine had nice shoes,
Gabriel had a nice hat,
It's a shame, he had no overshoes.

Gabriel had beautiful shoes,
Madeleine had a nice hat,
Madeleine had a nice hat,
It's a shame, he had no overshoes.

Gabriel had a nice cap,
Madeleine had nice socks,
Madeleine had nice socks,
It's a shame, they were torn.

Gabriel had beautiful shoes,
Madeleine had a nice hat,
Madeleine had nice shoes,
It's a shame, it was tennis shoes.

In 1957, Bobby Bourke from Avery Island would record the tune during a field session for the Ethnic Folkways Library's I. Bonstein.   Later, Austin Pitre's "Valse d'Amour" would re-issue the melody and Nathan Abshire would rework the tune as "Gabriel Waltz" later.

  1. Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge By Martin Hawkins
  2. Yé Yaille Chère! by Raymond Francois
  3. Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock 'n' Roll Pioneers By John Broven
  4. Discussions with Karl W
  5. Lyrics by Marc C
Release Info:
La Cravat | Fais Do Do F-1000-A
Gabriel Waltz | Fais Do Do F-1000-B

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

Sunday, December 15, 2019

"Tran La Ezy (Drag It Easy)" - Musical Four Plus One

Traîne-la Aisée!  Musical Four Plus One had been one of many Cajun music groups around the mid 1950s to play and record around the Lake Charles area. Their recording of "Tran La Ezy" (#609) was a cover of Leo Soileau and Moise Robin melody popularly known as "Easy Rider Blues" recorded in 1929.   Leo recalls the song,
That was, that was popular down here, boy.  Very, very good.1 

Eh, chère, mais, quoi t'as fais avec moi hier au soir, 
Eh, 'tite fille, mais, quoi t'as fais avec moi hier au soir, 
Tu m'as quitté pour un autre, c'est pas la peine tu viens, je veux plus te voir,
C'est pas le peine jamais tu viens, je veux plus te voir, ah négresse.

Eh, chère, mais, rappelle-toi d'ton pauvre vieux nègre,
Eh, 'tite fille, mais, rappelle-toi d'ton pauvre vieux nègre,
Tu t'en vas avec un autre, cher bébé, c'est pas la peine, je p(l)us te voir,
C'est pas la peine, je p(l)us te voir, yaille.

Musical Four Plus One
Sidney Brown, Mickey Peshoff, Eddie Duhon
Crawford Vincent, and Cleadis Mott

By 1951, the group consisted of Ellias Thibodeaux on accordino, Eddie Duhon on vocals and fiddle, Cleadis Mott on electric guitar, Charles Delaney on rhythm guitar, Eldridge ‘Coon’ Guidry on bass, and Clifton Newman on drums.  Some bigger names went through the band including Sidney Brown and Crawford Vincent, who replaced Thibodeaux and Newman respectively.2   

Hey, dear, well, why did you do that to me, last night,
Hey, little girl, well, why did you do that to me, last night,
You left me for another, it's not worth you returning, I don't want to see you anymore,
It's not worth you returning, I don't want to see you anymore, ah naughty woman.

Hey, dear, well, remember your poor old man,
Hey, little girl, well, remember your poor old man,
You're going away with another, dear baby, it's not worth it, I'll never see you, 
It's not worth it, I'll never see you, yaille.

Cleadis Mott, Charlie Delaney

The misspelled title of the French saying "traîne-la aisée" can be directly translated to "drag along easily" but leans more with the meaning of "take it easy",  "ride easy", or to "casually ride along", hinting at the connection to the original melody.   Although, Eddie Duhon, the vocalist, changed the lyrics considerably, his fiddle rides followed the exact pattern Leo had laid down back in 1928.  

  1. Leo Soileau interview with Chris Strachwitz
  2. Cajun Honky Tonk: The Khoury Recordings, Volume 1.  David Sax.  Liner notes.
  3. Lyrics by Stephane F

Release Info:
Chere Ami Waltz | Khoury's 609-A
Tran La Ezy | Khoury's 609-B

Chere Ami Waltz | Lyric 609-A
Tran La Ezy | Lyric 609-B

Cajun Honky Tonk: The Khoury Recordings, Volume 1 (Arhoolie, 1995)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

"La Valse De Rebot" - J.B. Fuselier

J.B. Fuselier was a slender and probably fairly shy man, who had joined young guitarist, Beethoven Miller by the mid-1930s, in the band known as Miller's Merrymakers.   Fuselier never gained the wide popularity of Leo Soileau or Luderin Darbone (of the Hackberry Ramblers) but his classic way of playing Cajun fiddle and his emotional singing style made him locally well liked. J.B. Fuselier influenced many of the musicians who followed him and he continued to play and record until after World War II.1  

Hier au soir, j'ai bu du bon whisky, 

J'ai bu du bon tout(e) la nuit, oui, ça fait de la peine.

Oh jolie, mais, donnez (premier*-donc), chere coeur,
L’était criminelle, mais, (quant meilleur)* pour moi-même.

Oh, aujourd'hui, m'en vais la captiver, 
Écoute, viens voir ton nég, malheureux.

Daily World
Oct 8, 1944

"La Valse de Rebot" (#2055), sometimes referred to as the "Drunkard's Waltz", seems to be an alternate take to Joe Falcon's "Madame Sosthene".  While Preston Manuel filled in on rhythm guitar, Beethoven Miller's banjo can be heard quite distinctly, filling out the melody in the same manner.  Preston recalls:
We made four recordings per session. Bluebird record's Eli Oberstein from New York would call us.  Then we'd go to the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans.  We'd make records there.2   
A ribote (mis-spelled here as "Rebot") is a drunken spree.   In Cajun French, the common words used for "drunkard" are usually either soûlard or bambocheur, however, a habitual drunkard is referred to as a riboteur.

Last night, I drank good whiskey,

I drank well all night, yes, it's been painful.

Oh, pretty girl, well, give me the best, dear sweetheart,
It was criminal, well, saving the best for myself.

Oh, today, I'm going to charm her,
Listen, come see your man, oh miserable one.

  1. Arhoolie 7014 Liner notes
  2. Ye Yaille Chere by Raymond Francois
  3. Lyrics by Stephane F
Release Info:
BS-027847-1 La Valse De Rebot | Bluebird B-2055-A
BS-027848-1 Ponce A Moi | Bluebird B-2055-B

Cajun String Bands 1930's: Cajun Breakdown (Arhoolie, 1997)

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

"Personne M'aime Pas" - Leo Soileau

Leo Soileau was one of the pioneer fiddlers of recorded Cajun music. His recordings with the remarkable accordionist, Mayuse Lafleur, sold well locally, but some very traditional fiddle duets made with a cousin, Alius Soileau, did not sell as well. He also recorded a lot of blues and some jazzy numbers. As American pop music began making inroads into the prairies and along the bayous of Louisiana, Leo Soileau began recording songs in English, as well as country and pop songs translated into French! He was one of the first Cajun artists, along with the Hackberry Ramblers, to cross over and reach a wider English-speaking market, while keeping his young audience at home happy and dancing to the latest music.1  

Ouais, mais, personne pour m'aimer,
Moi, je connais, ouais, ça fait pas rien, ouais,
Oh, non, mais, personne m'aime pas,
Ouais, ça fait (rien), mon nègre, chère.

Moi j'suis orphelin, ni mère ni père,
P'us personne pour (m') soigner,
Hé oui, je prends ça dur, chère,
P'us personne, ouais, pour m'aimer.

Oui, oui, oui, mon nègre,
Oh, mais, 'garde-donc à moi-même, chère,
Oh, ouais, ça fait pitié, chère,
Oh, ouais, toujours, moi tout seul.

Leo Soileau and his Rhythm Boys, 1944.
George T-Chalk Duhon, Crawford Vincent,
Leo Soileau, D.W. Bollie Thibodeaux,
Desbra Fontenot

Courtesy of the
Johnnie Allan Collection
UL Lafayette Center of Louisiana Studies

Soileau's influences came from many different places. "Personne M'aime Pas" was a French take-off of the popular song "Nobody's Darling But Mine"  It must have been quite a sensation since Cleoma recorded the tune as "Pas La Belle De Personne Que Moi" that same year.  It was translated from the song by Jimmie Davis, "Nobody's Darlin' But Mine."  

His band consisted of Julius ‘Papa Cairo’ Lamperez on steel guitar, Floyd Shreve on guitar, Tony Gonzales on drums, and probably Harold ‘Popeye’ Broussard on piano. Together, they headed to Dallas, Texas in December of 1937 for one of his last recordings. 
Port Arthur News
Dec 3, 1944

Yeh well, nobody loves me,
I know, yeh, it doesn't matter, yeh,
Oh, non, well, nobody loves me,
Yeh, it doesn't matter, my friend, darling.

I am an orphan, neither a mother nor father,
No one, yeh, to look after me,
Hey yeh, I'm taking this hard, dear,
No one, yeah, to love me.

Yes, yes, yes my friend,
Oh well, look at myself, dear,
Oh yeah, it's pitiful, dear,
Oh yeh, always alone.

Soileau remained active in the early '40s, recording with Leo Soileau's Rhythm Boys. Dropped by Decca when the label decided to stop recording Cajun musicians at the beginning of World War II, the group continued to perform at the Silver Star Club in Lake Charles for eight years. Shifting to the Showboat Club in Orange, TX, the band continued to play together for another two years. Although Soileau and the group appeared frequently on the radio, they never recorded again. In the late '40s, Soileau left music to work with his brothers in a general contracting firm in Ville Platte. He died in August 1980.2 

  1. J'ai Ete Au Bal Vol. 1.  ARhoolie CD 331.  Liner notes.
  3. Lyrics by Jordy A

Release Info:

63069-A Personne N'Aime Pas | Decca 17042 A
63067-A Valse D'Amour | Decca 17042 B

Leo Soileau: Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 7 (Old Timey, 1982)