Tuesday, August 23, 2022

"Oberlin" - Amede Ardoin & Dennis McGee

Cajun accordionist Amede Ardoin himself was a sought-after dance musician who played both white Cajun gatherings and black la-la dances and was known for his ability to improvise lyrics about those in attendance; a practice which sometimes got him in trouble. It might seems strange that a black Creole musician who left little more of a trace on the world than 34 scratchy recordings would come to be known as the father of a musical style rooted in the culture of French-Canadian exiles. In this sense, the record stands as a testament to the musical creativity happening in Louisiana during the first half of the 20th Century. Around the same time Ardoin was mastering his accordion, musicians like Jelly Roll Morton and Buddy Bolden were in nearby Storyville, New Orleans, shaping ragtime music into jazz.3 According to journalist Ed McKeon:

He played in a rhythm-heavy syncopated style and sang with a passion unmatched even to this day in Cajun and Creole song.1  

Oh, 'coute mes paroles, ye yaille,

Comment, mon je vas faire, mon j'm'en vas,

J'vas faire, j'vas faire, mon j'm'en vas, catin,

Où c'est t'as prender*, malheureuse?

Oh, quoi faire, t'as m'fais ca, maman,

Comment mon je vas faire, mon j'm'en vas,

Mon j'm'en vas, m'en vas à la maison, maman,

Mon cœur fais si mal qu'à jongler.

Oh chère!

Mon j'm'en vas, mes parents, mon j'm'en vas,

Oh, c'est tous les dimanches au soir,

Mais, les samedis, tous les samedis au soir,

Maman, j'après aller pour mon t'voir. 

Oh, oh, ye yaille, ye yaille,

J'suis loin d'la maison,

J'connais pas equand je vas m'retourner, ye yaille,

J'm'en vas, mon tout seul, mais, 'tit cœur,

Mes parents veulent pas je reste jamais avec toi,

Quique* (chose), va rester, j'ai pas d'argent.

Eli Oberstein
Along the outskirts of San Antonio in 1934, a small group of recording engineers, alongside producer Eli Oberstein, gathered various folk performers, including Amédé Ardoin, in two rooms of the Texas Hotel to make some records. Despite his stylistic affinity with the white French music of rural Louisiana, the six tunes Ardoin documented that day (for the Bluebird/Victor company) included some distinct differences foreshadowing the future of black Creole music.2  According to music producer, Christopher King, the combination white and black musicians during this time period was quite unique,

It was one of the first instances of that actually occurring in Cajun music. And it actually is a rare occurrence in pre-war music taken as a whole. But as you can hear from the recordings, they're so perfectly integrated and relaxed with each other.

Oh, listen to my words, ye yaille,

How will I do this, i'm going,

I'm doing this, I'm doing this, I'm going, pretty doll,

Where are you going to go, naughty woman?

Oh, why do you do that to me, little mama,

How will I do this, I'm going,

I'm going, I'm going home, little mama,

Oh, my heart aches thinking about this.

Oh, dear!

I'm leaving my family, i'm leaving,

Oh, it's every Sunday night,

But, the Saturdays, the Saturday evenings,

Little mama, I'm leaving to go to see you.

Oh, oh, ye yaille, ye yaille,

I am so far away at home,

I don't know when I will return, ye yaille,

I'm leaving, all alone, well, little sweetheart,

My parents never wanted me to stay with you,

Whatever, I'm staying, I have no money.

He and fiddle player Dennis McGee recorded "Oberlin", an ode to the small town in Louisiana.  Not to be confused with his "One Step de Oberlin", the Texas Hotel session marks another significant development. Although Ardoin had generally established a reputation for playing in a syncopated style more consistent with his Creole legacy than with straight Cajun music, none of his catalog of thirty-four recordings included any percussion instrument accompaniment.2 

Portions of the tune resemble Cleoma Breaux's classic recording of "Mon Coeur T'appelle".   The greatest legacy of the song would be it's usage as Iry Lejeune's "Te Mone" in the 1950s.  According to accordionist Cory McCauley,

In Oberlin, Amédée and Dennis played at a dancehall called The Golden Gate, which was located just south of town. I think this was the last stop on a circuit they would play that would bring them from Châtaignier, Eunice, Basile, Duralde, L'Anse Chaumont, Soileau and Oberlin. I've heard stories of them buying moonshine and sleeping under a tree, staying gone for two weeks at a time. Playing a dance every night. La vie de musicien!5  

  1. http://www.downhomemusic.com/product/amede-ardoin-im-never-comin-back/
  2. Southeast Texas: Hot House of Zydeco by R. Wood.
  3. http://www.motherjones.com/mixed-media/2011/03/amede-ardoin-cajun-zydeco-mardi-gras
  4. https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=135638265
  5. Discussions with Cory M - 6-8-2024
  6. Lyrics by Stephane F

Release Info:
BS-83856-1 | Les Blues De Crowley (Crowley Blues) | Bluebird B-2190-A
BS-83857-1 | Oberlin | Bluebird B-2190-B

I'm Never Comin' Back: The Roots of Zydeco (Arhoolie, 1995)
Cajun Country, Vol. 2, More Hits from the Swamp (JSP, 2005)
Cajun Capers: Cajun Music 1928-1954 (Proper, 2005)
Mama, I'll Be Long Gone : The Complete Recordings of Amede Ardoin, 1929-1934 (Tompkins Square, 2011)