Wednesday, February 26, 2020

"Le Fille De St. Martin" - Happy Fats

Leroy "Happy Fats" Leblanc got his recording career started with the national record label known as RCA.  He turned professional when he was 14 years old and had been a musician most of his teenage life.  He got his first job playing with an accordion band that catered to country dances in the Rayne area.  His earnings, the, were "sometimes as much as $1.50 to $2 per night."1  He recalled:
In the early days, I played with a lot of well-known musicians.  Among them were Joe Fabacher, Joe Falcon, Lawrence Walker, Blackie Alleman, Lester Hoffpauir and many others.1  

Hillbilly singing was rapidly rising in popularity in the Depression days of the early 30s, but the majority of the music was played individually.  When Happy organized his band, it was one of the first all-hillbilly bands in the United States.1  

Je suis venu à Saint Martin pour voir les belles 'tites filles, 
C'est dommage (qu'elles) sont si canailles , (il) y a pas manière, (mon coeur)*.

'Gardez-donc, jolie 'tite fille, ça t'as fait avec moi,
Te connais, malheureuse, j'veux pas (ta coeur ca autant)*.

Je t'ai demandé si tu m'aimais, toi jolie 'tite fille,
Tu m'as dit "non", malheureuse, et ça, ça m'fais du mal.

Daily Advertiser
Jun 1, 1935

"Le Fille De St. Martin" (#2172) was an ode to a lover living St Martin parish.  Recorded in New Orleans in 1935, it's considered Happy Fats' very first professional recording he ever wrote.   It would kick off an almost 40 year recording career for the young hillbilly singer.  During the late 40s, songs such as this and Fuselier's "Lake Arthur Stomp" inspired other tunes like Floyd Leblanc's "Louisiana Stomp" and Harry Choates "Fa De Do Stomp".   However, the melody seems to be one of the founding sources for the zydeco song known as "Jolie Catin", later recorded by people such as Boozoo Chavis and John Delafose.  In the 1950s, Happy recalled those early years.  ,
The first song I ever wrote was called "La Fille De St. Martin".  Since then, I guess I've written about 150 songs all together.1  

I came to St. Martin to see the beautiful little girls,
It's a shame that they're so mischievous, there's no way, my sweetheart.

So look, pretty little girl, what you've done to me,
You know, terrible woman, I don't want your heart that much.

I asked you if you loved me, you pretty little girl,
You told me "no", terrible woman, and that, that made me sad.

Listed as the Rainbow Rambler String Band of Midland, he quickly acquired nearby Riceville native Nathan Abshire to accompany him on some of his earliest RCA recordings.  But soon after, he moved to Rayne and renamed the group Rayne-Bo Ramblers.  With Warnes Schexnyder on guitar and Norris Savoy on fiddle, he recalled,
It wasn't much of a band, as bands go today.  In fact, there were only three of us...Warnes Schexnayder who played steel guitar, Norris Savoy, who played violin, and myself.  But we played only hillbilly music, and I used to sing all my songs in Cajun French.  People seemed to like us.1  

  1. Interview with John Uhler.  1954.  CDS
  2. Lyrics by Stephane F

Release Info:
BS-94402-1 Le Fille De St. Martin | Bluebird B-2172-A
BS-94403-1 La Valse De L'Amour | Bluebird B-2172-B

Thursday, February 20, 2020

"Country Waltz" - Lawrence Walker

By the 1950s, it had been 15 years since Lawrence Walker had stepped into a recording studio.  No longer where the major recording labels, such as RCA and ARC, interested in his music.  It was during this time he got wind of an independent recording producer in Lake Charles who had made a name for himself recording the Cajun accordion music of Nathan Abshire.  It would be his first recording session since the 1930s and afterwards, his legacy would never be forgotten. 

Lawrence's path mimic'd the same one that Nathan had gone down.  Both were picked up briefly by RCA in the 1930s and both were dropped once the accordion was no longer in favor.  Since Lawrence was no longer playing with his brother as a duo, he formed a new group with Mitch David on fiddle, Valmont "Junior" Benoit on steel guitar and Simon Schexneider on drums.  Even Houston Fruge played with the band.  Together, they recorded the "Country Waltz" (#601), the tale of two estranged lovers, Adam "Tit 'Dom" Hanks and Alice Royer. 

Oh, Alice, vas-donc mettre ta 'tite robe de grandes barrées,

'Garde-donc quoi-ce-qui vient à travers du clos sur Grand Henri,
Tu m'as promis d'espérer et 'garde-donc voir quoi t’après faire aujourd'hui,
Petite, tu demandes une chance avant de mourir.

Oh, Alice, blâmes-donc pas les paroles dis, viens-moi Alice, tite monde,
Petite, tu connais surement la cause de tout ça,
Tu connais je prends ça dur mais de devoir t'en aller aussi loin de toi,
Oui, chère Alice, donnes-moi une chance avant de mourir.

Lawrence Walker

The well-known story of Alice, Adam, and his horse Henri was popular among those around Acadia Parish.  The story was first recorded by Pointe Noir native Angelas Lejeune in his locally popular tune "La Valse A Tidom Hanks".  Over time, the story made it's way into Lawrence Walker's repertoire and he used it to accompany his "Country Waltz".  Johnnie Allan, steel guitarist in Lawrence's later years, recalls the places where he and Lawrence used to play in the country:

We performed at clubs like the OST in Rayne, the Welcome Club in Crowley, the Jolly Rogers in Forked Island, the River Club in Mermentau, the Bon Ton Rouley in Lafayette, and the Blue Moon in Lake Charles.  None of the clubs was air conditioned and the cost was usually fifty cents per person. The audience varied in age from about fifteen years old to some in their seventies.1 

Oh, Alice, go put on your little striped dress,

So look, what's that who's coming across, riding on Big Henri,
You promised me hope and to keep watching what you're doing today,
Little one, you asked for one more chance before I die.

Oh, Alice, don't blame the words that were said, come to me Alice, my little everything,
Little one, you surely know the cause of all  of this,
You know I've taken it hard, well, having to go so far away from you,
Yes, dear Alice, give me another chance before I die. 

Rayne Tribune
Dec 2, 1954

Both Lawrence and Aldus Roger had popular bands that packed the same clubs, sometimes night after night.  Allan remembers:

Generally we played from nine to one o'clock with no intermission.  The band members pitched in to set up and tear down musical equipment, there were no roadies in those days!.1

By 1962, Walker re-recorded his tune for Swallow Records as "Chere Alice". 

  1. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  2. Lyrics by Stephane F

Release Info:
Country Waltz | Khoury's 601 A
Mamou Two Step | Khoury's 601 B

A Legend At Last (Swallow, 1983)
Cajun Honky Tonk: The Khoury Recordings, Volume 1 (Arhoolie, 1995)
A Tribute to the Late, Great Lawrence Walker (La Louisianne, 1995, 2000)
Essential Collection of Lawrence Walker (Swallow, 2010)

Saturday, February 15, 2020

"Musical Five Special" - Nathan Abshire

Nathan Abshire was a Cajun accordionist who made his home in Basile, Louisiana.  A self-taught musician, he was in great demand as a performer, first at house dances, then at local dancehalls, and eventually at music festivals all over the country.  In the 1930s, he played with Creole musician Amede Ardoin, who had a great influence on Abshire's music. In 1949, Nathan, backed by Earl DeMary's Musical Aces, recorded the acclaimed "Pine Grove Blues" in Lake Charles. It was an attempt by bar owner Quincy Davis to get new found attention on his struggling dancehall, the Pine Grove Club.

By 1953, Quincy Davis had gotten the publicity he wanted and Nathan was left on his own.  According to Bernella Fruge, she believes that's when Davis insisted on exclusive rights to use the Pine Grove Boys name in relation to the Avalon Club.  Looking for an alternate and influenced by DeMary's band, Nathan renamed his group the Musical Five.   Together, they recorded the "Musical Five Special" (#631), an instrumental cover of the Joe Falcon song "Fe Fe Ponchaux". While Cleveland "Cat" Deshotel had begun playing with Nathan around the same time, it's believed to be Will Kegley on fiddle.  Will would end up playing with Nathan during those early years before the band picked up Atlas Fruge and Jim Baker and Shelton Manuel.  According to Will's grandson, Chad Crochet, he had heard stories of younger Will building and selling fiddles in exchange for whiskey.  

After a notorious fight between Will and Nathan's steel guitarist Atlas Fruge, which left Altas with a stab wound, Will was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but only ended up serving a few months.  When he returned, Atlas had left the band and Will picked up right where he had left off.   However, it wouldn't be long before he found more trouble.  Kegley eventually moved from Lake Charles to the other side of the Sabine, playing in Orangefield and Port Neches, Texas.  He decided to leave after tangling with Davis, a man who had done prison time and supposedly had connections to the mob.4  

Will Kegley and Nathan Abshire

Stories about Kegley's pension to fight Davis after drunken sprees at the Avalon are notorious, however, many only remember his fine fiddling skills.3  When famed fiddler Doug Kershaw formed his group and the Continental Playboys played bars and dances around the Lake Arthur area, they wound up as regulars on radio station KPLC. He recalled Will Kegley as the founding influence in his earliest years:
We learned songs from local musicians like the fiddler Will Kegley.2,5

Cajun accordionist Ray Abshire recalled Will backing him up.
Kegley was the master at 'basing' behind the accordion.  When playing with Will, I sometimes turned to make sure he was still playing.  He was so good he just blended perfect with the accordion.4  

Today, Will's fiddle can be found in the Nashville Hall of Fame museum.


  1. Discussions with Chad Ray Crochet
  3. Louisiana Music by Lyle Ferbrache
  5. "Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music" by Ryan Andre Brasseaux
Release Info:
Musical Five Special | Khoury's KH-631-A
Avalon Waltz | Khoury's KH-631-B

Nathan Abshire & the Pine Grove Boys - French Blues (Arhoolie, 1993)

Monday, February 10, 2020

"The Cameron Waltz" - Virgil Bozman

John Hardin “Virgel” Bozman and Floyd Leblanc were two musicians that helped kick off the popularity of post-war Cajun music in east Texas.   While stationed at a San Antonio military base near the end of WWII, Cajun fiddler Floyd Leblanc befriended Bozman. Together, they had joined Bennie Hess’ Oklahoma Tornadoes country hillbilly band as a guitar player but Virgil also dabbled in his own material as well. In mid 1948, Floyd had helped Iry Lejeune record two tunes with the band on Hess’ label “Opera” and they had him touring with the group for quite some time in 1948. Cajun music was well on it’s way back and while selling cow horns in Lake Charles, Virgil ended up moving from Texas to Louisiana in order to record it.

Tu m'as quitte, jolie, pour t'en aller, chérie,
Avec un autre, jolie, 'gardez-donc, mais, malheureuse, tu me fais pitié.

(Tu) m'as quitte, jolie, de me voir, chérie,
J'vais m'en aller, chérie, m'en aller, mais, moi tout seul à Cameron.

'Gardez-donc, jolie, mais, ça t'as fait, jolie,
(Il) y a pas longtemps, jolie, pas longtemps, ton pauvre vieux nègre, t'après m'quitté.

Virgil Bozman

He would often play the fool’s role in the band as the traditionally required comedian. He was also a fine Hillbilly artist in his own right and obviously loved South Louisiana music, working hard to make a success of his labels. By the outset of 1949, the enthusiastic Bozman actually moved his wife and five children to 349-A Route 1 at Westlake in South Louisiana and set up is own OT ‘Hits of Louisiana’ label to tap into the market directly.

That year, Virgil kicked off his label with his own recordings, one of them a Cajun tune entitled “The Cameron Waltz” (#101).  Using the popular 1937 melody of "La Nuit De Samedi (Saturday Night Waltz)" by Joe Falcon, the rarity of this recording adds to the mystery, reflecting his initial indecision. Backed with "Tell Me If You Love Me", the two songs were first recorded in English by Bozman but were cancelled and instead released with un-credited French vocals. The singer’s identity is still subject to speculation.

You left me, pretty one, to go away, dearie,
With another, my pretty one, so look, well, naughty woman, you made me pitiful.

You left me, pretty one, that I can see, dearie,
I'm going to go, dearie, i'm going, well, all alone to Cameron.

So look, pretty one, well, what you did, pretty one,
It won't be long, pretty one, won't be long, your poor old man, you're leaving me. 

Even though outsiders like Virgil didn't understand the future of Cajun music and the critical hand they played in it's resurgence, recordings like this one illustrate the earliest attempts of musicians trying, if not stumbling, to get Cajun music into the public spotlight after WWII.  

Like Bennie Hess, Bozman stories abound, including his siphoning gasoline out of customer’s cars while they were at the Hilltop Club near his home and at one point driving an old car without a floor. Fiddler Wilson Granger told author Andrew Brown:
He had been playing with Floyd LeBlanc. But something had happened and Floyd had quit there for awhile. So, on the weekend, here comes Virgil. He went and bought him a car that had been burnt.  It was a coupe. The floorboard was burnt out. You could see the road. He'd got it cheap, I guess. Man couldn't sell it to nobody else. So we went to play the dance in Iota in that old car.2   

They had this big night club not far from him, on the highway (Highway 90). It was called the Hilltop Club. On Saturday nights, cars would park all along the road, to go to that club. In front of his house, and past his house, and everywhere. And he had a siphon hose, and two, three five gallon cans…he’d go in there and take some gas out of those tanks, you know. He’d run his own car on that.2  

  2. Wilson Granger interview. Andrew Brown.  2005.
  3. Lyrics by Stephane F

Release Info:
The Cameron Waltz | O.T. OT-101-A
Tell Me If You Love Me | O.T. OT-101-B

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

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

"Je Veux Marier (I Want To Get Married)" - Moise Robin & Leo Soileau

After Leo Soileau and Mayuse Lafleur recorded in Atlanta in 1928, Leo found himself having to replace his fellow accordionist the following year.  Lafleur was killed shortly after he had made the recordings and his records were released posthumously.  In fact they came out about the time of the trial of his slayer.3  A young Moise Robin took up the accompanying duties of the late Lafleur.  Moise had learned by watching Amede Breaux:

He would play, I was anxious too. I was young, you see. I would watch him and so that's how I learned that with him.2 

Leo invited Moise to join him. By July of 1929, the musicians arrived at the Starr Piano Company Building in Richmond, IN for a Paramount session and then later, in September of 1929, they arrived at the Claridge Hotel in Memphis, TN for a Victor session.  Moise remembered both of these sessions:

We met in Richmond, Indiana and made two records there. And a while after, we was called to Memphis, Tennessee, me and Leo, and made again two records there.2  

Clarion News
Oct 3, 1929

J'voudrais m'marier, j'voudrais m'marier
J'voudrais m'marier, mais, la belle veux pas.

Oh, la belle veux, la belle veux,
La belle veux, mais, les vieux veux pas.

La belle veux, la belle veux,
La belle veux, mais, les vieux veux pas.

Oh, les vieux veux, les vieux veux,
Les vieux veux, mais, j'ai pas d'argent.

J'ai pas d'argent, j'ai pas d'argent,
J'ai pas d'argent, mais, les poules pond pas, ye yaille.

J'voudrais m'marier, j'voudrais m'marier, 
J'voudrais m'marier, mais, les vieux veux pas, chère.

Oh, les vieux veux, les vieux veux, 
Les vieux veux, mais, j'ai pas d'argent, chère.

J'ai pas d'argent, j'ai pas d'argent, 
J'ai pas d'argent, les poules pond pas, yaille. 

Crowley Daily Signal
Nov 23, 1929

Roy Fuselier, an accordion player around the area of Ville Platte remembered the old tune as an instrumental when he was learning to play as a young boy.
I was ten years old when I started playing the accordion.  A man called Sosthene Saucier was a neighbor.  He played some little dances in the country. I watched his fingers move!  After a while, he pulled out a Bull Durham sack and rolled himself a cigarette.  He put the accordion down between him and me.  I caught the accordion and played the tune that was very popular during those times, "Je Veux Marier".  It was Leo Soileau who had made this tune.  I like it very much but I had heard it before, before the record was out.  I had heard it from Mr. Sosthene. He played it, but he didn't sing it.4  

Although Leo is credited as singing the song, according to their sponsor Frank Dietlein, it was fellow accordionist Columbus Fruge who helped Leo write the lyrics.   Columbus had tagged along for the recording session and together with Leo and Mayuse, they recorded "Je Veux Marier". (#22183)  According to Dietlein, 
The 'Cajun' singers and musicians used the old tunes that were handed down by their French ancestors, but their lyrics were extemporaneous.  They improvised the words to suit their moods.  I recall one singer, Columbus Fruge, coming up with these lyrics. "Je veux m'marier, Je veux m'marier, Je veux m'marier... La poule pas d'ouef" and the next line went this way, "Je veux m'marier, je veux m'marier... La belle veux pas".  He later said that he was a bachelor and was thinking of getting married.3  

I would like to get married, I'd would like to get married,
I'd like to get married, but, you don't want to.

Oh, the beautiful girl wants to, the beautiful girl wants to, 
The beautiful girl wants to, but, the old ones don't want us to.

The beautiful girl wants to, the beautiful girl wants to, 
the beautiful girl wants to, but, the old ones don't want us to.

Oh, the old ones want us to, the old ones want us to, 
The old ones want us to, but now, I don't have money.

I don't have money, I don't have money,
I don't have money, well, the hens don't lay eggs, ye yaille.

I would like to get married, I'd would like to get married,
I'd like to get married, but, you don't want to, dear.

Oh, the old ones want us to, the old ones want us to, 
The old ones want us to, but now, I don't have money, dear.

I don't have money, I don't have money,
I don't have money, well, the hens don't lay eggs, ye yaille.
In 1957, Nathan Abshire used the melody for his "Cannon Ball Special".  The reference to "eggs" seem to be an musical curiosity that related more to him than just in song.  Robin explains,
It was during this time, when I was growing up, that I was learning to play the accordion and sing.  I didn't have a good voice, it was too low and I never had a good voice up to this day. One of my friends advised me to drink raw eggs and that would cause me to have a beautiful voice.  So, I started watching the chicken house and looking for eggs.4  

  1. Photo by Chris Strachwitz
  3. Daily World (Opelousas, Louisiana) 28 Nov 1958
  4. Ye Yaille Chere by Raymond Francois

Release Info:
BVE-55534-2 Penitentiary Waltz | Victor 22183-A
BVE-55535-2 Je Veux Marier (I Want To Get Married) | Victor 22183-B

BVE-55534-2 Penitentiary Waltz | Bluebird B-2184-A
BVE-55535-2 Je Veux Marier (I Want To Get Married) | Bluebird B-2184-B

Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 1: First Recordings - The 1920's (Old Timey, 1970)
The Early Recordings of Leo Soileau (Yazoo, 2006)
Aimer Et Perdre: To Love & To Lose Songs, 1917-1934 (Tompkins Square, 2012)