Saturday, June 27, 2020

"Ponce A Moi" - J.B. Fuselier

"Think Of Me!"  In the 1930s, Cajun fiddler Jean Baptiste "J.B." Fuselier was generally overshadowed by the less traditional players such as Leo Soileau and Luderin Darbone – both of whom had their brands of Cajun string band music.2  Having moved near the Lake Arthur area, he worked with people such as banjoist Bethoven miller and fiddler Varise Conner.  Varise, who played with J.B. for years, recalled why he left and how tough it was after the Depression:
For three musicians you'd get fifteen, maybe twenty dollars per night.  Then when the Depression of the 30's came, you were only guarantee half or maybe sixty percent of what was collected at the door.  The people would come but they didn't even have enough money to pay to enter the dance hall.  Things were serious.1  

Quand même tu m'as oublie,
Oui, pense à moi,
Quand même une fois par jour,
Et moi je t'ai pas oublie.

Quand même tu m'as quitte,
Pourquoi tu voulais,
Oui, j'aime voir ma chere,
Comment tu crois je vas faire?

Crowley Daily Signal
Jan 29, 1952

During a 1938 recording session in New Orleans, Fuselier recorded "Ponce A Moi" (#2055) with Preston Manuel and Mathius Joseph "M.J." Achten on guitars and possibly Bethoven Miller on banjo. By 1962, J.B. had dusted off his accordion, one which he had played in the earliest years, and recorded at least four more songs for Eddie Shuler's Goldband Records. One of the songs, pressed on 45 RPM, was "Think Of Me". 

Even though you forget me,
Yeah, think of me,
Even if it's once a day,
And I won't forget you.

Even though you have left, 
Why did you want to?
Yeah, I'd like to see my dear woman,
How do you think I'll handle this?

  1. Ye Yaille Chere by Raymond Francois
  3. Lyrics by Stephane F and Smith S

Release Info:

BS-027847-1 Valse De Rebot | Bluebird B-2055-A
BS-027848-1 Ponce A Moi (Think Of Me) | Bluebird B-2055-B

Louisiana Cajun Music, Vol. 3: The String Bands of the 1930's (Old Timey, 1971)
Cajun String Bands 1930's: Cajun Breakdown (Arhoolie, 1997)

Monday, June 22, 2020

"Belle Isle Waltz" - Jimmy Choates

Fiddler Jimmie (Jimmy) 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.  Quick to latch on to the success of famed Texas fiddler Harry Choates, Jimmie and his brother Pete decided to make a music career.  Jimmy's Melody Boys accommodated Ronald Ray "Pee Wee" Lyons on steel guitar, possibly Blackie Dartez on guitar, and Charles ‘Pete’ Choate on bass guitar.

Hé, petite, mais, moi j'm'en vas à Belle Isle,
Oh, chérie, mais, moi j'connais j'mérite pas ça.

Hé, petite, mais, moi j'connais, jolie fille,
Hé, chérie, mais, moi j'connais tu vas brailler.

Hé, petite, mais, moi j'connais, mais, moi j'm'en vas,
Au Belle Isle pour t'en aller, t'en aller, mais, loin d'ici.

Daily Advertiser
May 20, 1949

In 1950, Jimmy and his Melody boys recorded the "Belle Isle Waltz" (#608) in Lake Charles; a story of a lover going to Belle Isle.   It's a region of open fields located in the marsh lands, along the Gulf Coast, far away from most of the Cajun prairies.  On the highland areas, cattle ranching was the way of life in the 1930s for most residents, including families such as the Sagreras and Broussards.  Ernest Broussard recalled there were no roads at all in Belle Isle.  "It was open prairie, just a trail to go to [Abbeville]."1  

Hey, little one, well, i'm going to Belle Isle,
Oh, dearie, well, I'm know I don't deserve that.

Hey, little one, well, I know, pretty girl,
Oh, dearie, well, I know you're going to wail.

Hey, little one, well, I know, well, I'm going,
At Belle Isle you left, you left to go, well, far from here.

  2. Lyrics by Stephane F

Release Info:
Lonesome For You | Khoury's KH 608-A
Belle Isle Waltz | Khoury's KH 608-B


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

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

"One Step De Chupic" - Dennis McGee

There are nonsense songs in Cajun music and some happy drinking songs in Cajun music though most of the songs are about tragedy and love lost. Dennis McGee along with Ernest Fruge performed a few numbers with happy lyrics like "Allons a Tassone" and "Adieu Rosa" but most of his tunes are sad and lonely.  The melodies sound happy and lilting but the words are quite depressing, like the "One Step de Chupic" (#15851).2  



'Gardez-donc, la belle, 
Elle est après s'en aller.

La-la-la-la, t'ai pas ave(c)'moi,
Va pas changer avec un autre qu'est loin,
Malheureuse, j'ai dit, mais, 'gardez-donc la belle.


Doh-de-la-doh 'gardez-donc la belle,                    
Elle est après s'en aller avec un autre que moi,
Mais, malheureuse chérie, mais, fais pas donc, la belle,
'Garde-donc, chérie.

Aye yé yaille, comment j'vas faire,
Toujours mon t'seul comme une pauvre malheureuse,
Mais, chère que tout, mais, fais pas ça avec moi,
Malheureuse, la belle.

Recorded in New Orleans in the fall of 1929, Dennis put together a sorrowful story against a cheerful melody, interjected with lyric less chorus lines singing "la-la-la-la".   This style of singing could be used to evoke emotions or even memories in listeners that couldn't be put into words or ones that weren't terribly specific. It allows the listener's mind to wander where it will, guided by the singer, but not forced into a specific narrative.  In the lyrical portions, the lover tells his love interest to "Watch it!" because of the mistakes she's making.

Choupique fish

It's quite possible that this is a story of a lost lover from his home town of Choupique, Louisiana; a community named after local fish variety (the bow fin).     Dennis explains the name growing up in the community:
I was raised in Choupique. I lived there from the age of four until I was fourteen years old. When you go to Chataignier, you cross a little stream called La Coulee Choupique. There were many choupiques in that time. An some big ones! They were three feet long!  I caught many on my line when I was young.1  
Dennis McGee



So look, the beauty,
She's leaving.

La-la-la-la, you ain't with me,
Nothing will change with another that is far away,
Miserable one, I said, well, watch it, beautiful one.


Doh-de-la-doh so look, the beauty,
She's leaving with someone other than me,
Well, miserable dearie, well, don't do it, beautiful one,
Watch it, dearie.

Aye yé yaille, how will I handle this,
I'm always alone, like a poor wretch,
Well, dear, all that, well, don't do that with me,
Miserable beauty.

  1. Ye Yaille Chere by Raymond Francois
  2. Dennis McGee ‎– The Complete Early Recordings.  Liner notes.
  3. Lyrics by Stephane F and Smith S

Release Info:

NO-236 Valse Du La Penitencier | Vocalion 15851
NO-237 One Step De Chupic | Vocalion 15851


Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)
Dennis McGee ‎– The Complete Early Recordings (Yazoo, 2006)

Friday, June 12, 2020

"Lawtell Two Step" - Vincent & Cagley

"Vincent & Cagley" was the duo title for guitarist Crawford Vincent and Will Kegley. Together, they recorded two songs for Khoury's subsidiary Lyric label in 1952, one being the old Cajun string band tune "Two Step de Lawtell".  It's record producer George Khoury's only brand label with the red color and gold Lyric logo.   Khoury's Lyric label and later, his self entitled label, was one of the earliest post-war recording labels in south Louisiana and one of the few that gave Cajun musicians their recording "break". Vincent recalls,
Mr. George started out a lot of Cajun bands, I mean like Lawrence Walker, Nathan Abshire, even Jimmy 'C.' Newman.  I recorded for him two songs, I never did do well, they didn't make no hit.  But I was still proud I made 'em, because, you know, it's a souvenir for my grandchildren.  But Mr. Khoury he started a whole bunch of guys.  You see he's had Marie Falcon, Shuk Richard, he's had Will Kegley--that song we made, me and Will Kegley, he put that out.5  

Hé jolie ‘tite fille,

Pourquoi mais j’sus comme ça?
Oh, ‘tit cœur,
N’importe à ton "bon-à-rien". 

Hé jolie ‘tite fille,
Pour toi, comment ça s’fait?*
Tout le temp, ‘tit monde,
Mais oui, dans les misères.

Leo Soileau and Crawford Vincent

Crawford, who had played for years under different groups, mainly with Leo Soileau, teamed up with Nathan Abshire's old fiddle player, Will Kegley for the classic song, "Lawtell Two Step" (#605).  Crawford's earliest memories were learning to play music:
My sister gave me a fiddle when I was nine, and I got an ol' barber down there on the Mermentau River to tune it. I played fiddle the first time when I was nine---well, harmonica when I was eight. You could pack that in the cotton field. You just play 'em, and then when they get kind of dirty you boil 'em in hot water. Anybody can play a harmonica, but they don't master it. I played it pretty well, but I never did play it in a band. I played guitar, fiddle, and drums with the western-swing band.4   

Hey, pretty little girl,

Why, well, am I like that?
Oh, little sweetheart,
Doesn't matter to your "good-for-nothing".

Hey, pretty little girl,
For you, how do you do this?
All the time, my little everything,
Well, yeah, in misery. 

Benny Fruge

By 1951, Crawford employed pianist Cecil Farrell "Benny" Fruge.  Benny learned to play piano from his father Hubert who was known a locally known piano tuner.  Benny picked up the craft at the age of five and began memorizing what he played.  This helped him to develop a keen ear for music.   He began playing with small bands such as Papa Cairo, Jimmy Newman, Chuck Guillory and Happy Fats, while he was still a high school student.  Accommodating teachers arranged his senior high school classes for the afternoon to enable him to continue his musical activities.2,3   

Benny occasionally toured with Lefty Frizzell and played in the Rampart Street Six jazz band until 1954.2  By the late 50s, Fruge had moved to Baton Rouge working at Werleins music store, tuning pianos and teaching piano.  In 1980, he opened his own piano store, Fruge’s Piano Company.1  

  2. Daily World (Opelousas, Louisiana) 16 Nov 1967
  3. Basile Weekly (Basile, Louisiana) 17 May 1990
  4. They Called It the War Effort: Oral Histories from World War II Orange, Texas By Louis Fairchild
  5. Cajun Honky Tonk: The Khoury Recordings, Volume 1 (Arhoolie, 1995).  Liner notes.
  6. Lyrics by Stephane F and Smith S
Release Info:
A Chere Petite Blun | Khoury's/Lyric 605-A
B Lawtell Two Step | Khoury's/Lyric 605-B

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

Saturday, June 6, 2020

"Le Grande Texas" - The Singing Frenchman

East Texas and south Louisiana music have always had a close relationship even during the earliest years.  The first U.S. census in Texas in 1850 found 600 "Franco-Louisianans" between Orange and Houston.  In the late 19th century, two factors brought an increased movement of Cajuns into Texas. One was the need for workers to cultivate rice in Southeast Texas. Another was the labor force needed on the Southern Pacific Railroad line that ran from the Sabine River to Houston. The discovery of the massive oilfield in Southeast Texas forever changed the ethnic makeup of the area as Louisiana Cajuns streamed into Texas to work in the burgeoning oil industry.2   It was this influx of Cajuns and their accompanying music that influenced a very young accordion player from Beaumont, Texas named Johnny William “J. W.” Billiot.  

Tu m'as quitté pour t'en aller à le Grand Texas,
Tu m'as quitté toi tout seul (z)à Grand Texas,
Criminelle comment je va faire, mais, moi tout seul ?
Tu m'as quitté pour t'en aller, pour t'en aller.

Tu m'as quitté pour t'en aller,
Pour t'en aller, toi tout seul, (z)à Grand Texas.
Criminelle comment je va faire, mais, moi tout seul ?
Tu m'as quitté pour t'en aller, pour t'en aller.

You left me to go,
To go to big Texas by yourself,
Oh please, come back here, to me, my darling,
Oh, I'm so lonesome by myself.

KTRM, Beaumont, 1950
Nick Guidry, Bessie "Grace" Billiot,
Johnny Billiot, Joe Trum, Lloyd Gilbert
Courtesy of Billiot Family

Johnny's mother died in the pneumonia epidemic of 1916 when he was 14 months old and for several of his early years, the father and son lived on a houseboat while his dad was a trapper, moonshine runner, and alligator hunter.   Over the years, he'd borrow his godfather's accordion and learn to play Cajun tunes, eventually earning a living in the dance-halls1  His daughter recalled, 
As children we were at dance-halls with him every weekend because he was playing music. He played music at many home parties. Johnny had a very large presence, known to be a great showman. Music was his life-long love. He would play for anyone that asked him and many times for a cause.1 
As lead accordionist and vocalist, Johnny assembled a group with his wife Grace on backup vocals, Bill Guillory on fiddle, Billy Rayon on guitar, Nick Guidry on fiddle, Lloyd Gilbert on guitar and Bill Guidry on guitar. He played throughout the Golden Triangle and Louisiana at numerous clubs including Yvonne's, the Hayseed, Breezeway Inn (High Island), and Pine Tree Lodge in Texas, and the Big Oaks and a club in St. Martinsville in Louisiana. 

You left me to go away to big Texas,
You left me, you're all alone in big Texas,
It's terrible, how am I going to do this, well, all by myself?
You left me to go away, to go away.

You left me to go away,
We went away, you're all alone, in big Texas,
It's terrible, how am I going to do this, well, all by myself?
You left me to go away, to go away.

From about 1948 into the '50s, he played a daily 15 minute radio show with announcer Joe Trum on KTRM in Beaumont. Daughter Johnnie Mae thinks it was during this time when Johnny got the moniker "The Singing Frenchman".1   By 1949, the group occasionally found themselves playing gigs further east in Sulphur. There, his band covered a recently popular swing tune by Chuck Guillory's band called "Le Grand Texas" (#6042) during a DeLuxe session with Joe Lieberwitz.  Originally recorded as "Big Texas" by Papa Cairo in 1948, it has a long history dating back to an old melody first recorded in 1929.

  1. Cajun Dancehall Heyday by Ron Yule

Release Info:
D 997 Valse De Beaumont | DeLuxe 6043
D 998 Le Grande Texas | DeLuxe 6042

Monday, June 1, 2020

"Iowa Two Step" - Tan Benoit

Cajun accordion player Clifton "Tan" Benoit had frequented the same dance-halls that the Pine Grove Boys with Nathan Abshire were playing at. When record producer Virgil Bozman discovered Nathan, he also found Tan to be a popular artist in his own right and in 1949 decided to record him on his new Hot Rod label.  Certainly, the OT and the Hot Rods were competing with George Khoury's own releases and Bozman was making a pest of himself.   Ten titles of Virgil's Hot Rod label were released out of San Antonio, with two of them credited to Nathan Abshire's band.  Other artists on the label were comprised of Nathan's band mates, guitarist Ernest Thibodeaux and fiddler Wilson Granger.

Ouais, petite, malheureuse,
Comment tu crois moi, j'peux faire, 
Moi, j'peux faire tout seul, 
Seul à la maison.

Eh, 'tite monde, jolie,
(Oh mon Dieu)* il est bonne pour toi,
Ça t'as fais, 'tite monde,
Ouais, il y a pas longtemps.

Clifton "Tan" Benoit

Using the melody of Amede Ardoin's "Eunice Two Step", Tan recorded a tune he entitled "Iowa Two Step".  Iowa was a community established by mid-western Americans between 1880 and 1910, who moved to south Louisiana looking for cheap land for farming and logging.   Over the 30 year period, dozens of families read the advertisements in the mid-west newspapers and migrated south.  Today, the towns around Jeff Davis parish and Calcasieu parish, such as Iowa, Welsh, and Jennings, are populated by the descendants of these turn-of-the-century landowners from Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa.

Benoit, a native of Jennings, who lived near Gueydan, played many instruments including fiddle, guitar, harmonica and even the drums.  According to researcher Lyle Ferbrache:
Benoit played many instruments including the drums and accordion. He lived close to Ernest Thibodeaux and Will Kegley when they lived in Jennings and Ernest remembered playing with Tan.  My best guess is that sometimes Nathan Abshire didn't make the radio shows and Tan would fill in with his accordion.1    

Yeah, little, miserable woman,
How do you believe I can do this?
I can do this all alone,
Alone at home.

Hey, little everything, pretty one,
My God*, it's good for you,
That you did, my little everything,
Yeah, it won't be long.

Daily World
Nov 21, 1967

His two sides were cut with all the usual Absh
ire band members at their loudest and best at KJEF studio in Jennings although Tan's vocals are less than exceptional.1    He's backed by either Will Kegley or Wilson Granger on fiddle, Atlas Fruge on steel guitar, either Virgel Bozman or Ernest Thibodeaux on guitar, and Sadie ‘Ozide’ Kegley on drums.  He continued to play music in the community throughout the 60s, having participated in music contests in the area.  

  1. Cajun Honky Tonk: The Khoury Recordings, Vol. 2.  Liner notes.
  2. Lyrics by Smith S
Release Info:
VB-1 Iowa Two Step | Hot Rod HR-101
VB-2 Bayou Chico Waltz (Wilson Granger) | Hot Rod HR-101

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