Monday, October 18, 2021

"Chere Catan" - Lee Sonnier

Accordionist Lee Sonnier and his contemporaries were attuned to, and profoundly affected by, the ever-changing musical landscape that sustained their art.  They were not only products of their environment, but also cultural actors who intervened by adapting the diatonic accordion into a Cajun swing framework, a context they knew intimately well.1 But it would take his son-in-law JD Miller to bring him into the studio to shine.

Before Miller married into the Sonnier family, he had been a musician himself.  When Miller was 11 years of age, he played in the grade school band and his interest in music was born.  At the age of 15 Miller joined the Crowley High School band as a drummer. He recalled,
That band was the only formal music training I ever got, and I didn't pay any attention to the instructor even then.  I just played!3  

J.D. Miller, 1954

Oh, bébé, malheuruse, catin,
'Tite monde, quoi moi j'va faire, chère,
Ouais, quand mon j'vu là, 'tite fille,
(Pour toi m'écoute), malheuruse.

During his high school days, he began writing songs.  Though this period, he wrote 95 songs, but being convinced that they were not good, he destroyed them all and temporarily put the thought of a musical career behind him.2  However, by the 1930s, Miller was invited by steel guitarist Papa Cairo, and fiddler Irby Thibodeaux to form the band called Daylight Creepers.  J.D. Miller states:

You think the names of bands are strange now.  We used to play at night and it seemed that almost every time the old car we used broke down.  We'd have to push that car back home during the day and that's how we came up with the name.1

Lee Sonnier

Oh, baby, oh my, pretty doll,
Little everything, what you've done, dearie,
Yeah, when I saw you there, little girl,
You were listening (to me), naughty woman. 

By 1946, he was no longer in a band.  Instead, Miller gathered Sonnier's group into his new recording studio at M&S Electrical shop around 1948 and using a tape recorder, listened to Lee's band record a traditional tune called "Chere Catan" (#1002) with Calvin Holloway as vocalist, Lawrence "Blackie" Fruge on fiddle, Eula Mae Fruge on guitar, and Happy Fats on bass.  Sadly, Miller struggled with balancing the instruments and Calvin's vocals are hardly heard over the volume of Lee's accordion.

  1. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music by Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  2. JD Interview.  RT.  1953
  3. JD Interview  DA.  1954
Release Info:
Dans Les Grand Meche | Fais Do Do F-1002-A
Chere Catan | Fais Do Do F-1002-B

Fais Do Do Breakdown - Volume One - The Late 1940's (Flyright, 1986)
Acadian All Star Special - The Pioneering Cajun Recordings Of J.D. Miller (Bear, 2011)

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

"Cajun Hop" - Harry Choates

Harry Choates, the earliest of post-war Cajun groups to record, had joined Leo Soileau's group around the late 1930s or early 1940s.   He had gained a reputation of an excellent fiddle player around southwest Louisiana.  While filling in, he would remember several of their signature tunes and later borrow them while recording with his Melody Boys by the mid 40s. 

Having played in Leo Soileau's band during the war years, "Cajun Hop" (#1326) was merely an updated version of Soileau's "Les Blues de Port Arthur".   It was recorded in 1947 at Bill Quinn's Gold Star studios and the "hop" is a generic name Bill Quinn usually gave to any fast Cajun tune.

Eh, 'tite fille, tu m'as lesse pour t'en aller,
Malheureuse, moi j'connais, mérite pas ça.
Eh, chere, jolie fille, jolie cœur,
Quoi t'as fais, mais, avec moi, (que misérable).

Eh, eh, eh, ha, ha.
Eh, 'tite fille, t'apres la peine.

Eh, chere, jolie fille, jolie cœur,
Eh, mais, moi j'connais m'aimer (...)
Eh, 'tite fille, eh villian moyens,
Moi j'connais, quoi t'as fais, t'as fais pas bien.

Hollywood Club
B.D. Williams, Curzey "Porkchop" Roy, Harry Choates
Johnnie Manuel, Joe Manuel, Eddie Pursley,
Ronald Ray "Pee Wee" Lyons

The "Cajun Hop" session is unique because Bill Quinn actually typed up a session sheet which the entire band signed, and, miraculously, this sheet actually survived and is now in the University of Texas archives. This is one of only two session sheets to survive for any Gold Star session, by anyone. It listed the band members: Joe Manuel on banjo, Eddie Pursley on guitar, Johnnie Manuel on piano, Ronald Ray "Pee Wee" Lyons on steel, and B.D. Williams on bass.

Gold Star session, 1947
Quinn's motivation was apparently to prove that he had paid the band for their services in case one of them tried to sue him later (as Jimmie Foster would do later that year for his non-credit on "Jole Blon"), though since he's only paying them $1.00 each, the contract is purely a formality. Either that, or the Melody Boys worked very cheap.  The song was the flip side of "Harry Choates Special" for Goldstar but the Bihari's released it on the other side of "Rubber Dolly".

Typically, though, his records show him as a Cajun Bob Wills, interspersing his singing and fiddling with cries of "eh,ha ha!".  It was a common phrase he used, especially when playing live, due to having a limited Cajun french vocabulary and constantly forgetting the lyrics mid-song.

Hey, little girl, you have left me to go away,
Naughty woman, I know, I don't deserve that,
Hey, dearie, pretty girl, pretty sweetheart,
What you've done, well, with me, (that's miserable).

Hey, hey, hey, hah, hah.
Hey, little girl, you're painful. 

Hey, dearie, pretty girl, pretty sweetheart,
Hey, well, I know I love (...),
Hey, little girl, hey, naughty ways,
I know, what you've done, you've not been good.

  1. Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost By Tony Russell
Release Info:
1326-A Cajun Hop | Gold Star 1326-A
1326-B Fa-De-Do Stomp | Gold Star 1326-B

1331 Rubber Dolly | Modern 20-528A
1326-A Cajun Hop | Modern 20-528B

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