South Louisiana

Cajun and Zydeco

  • La Danseuse”   An early Cajun recording. Delma Lachney and Blind Uncle Gaspard. Chicago: January 26, 1929. Delma Lachney, fiddle; Blind Uncle Gaspard, guitar.Delma Lachney (1896-1947), a left-handed fiddler from the area near Marksville, was from a large family with ties to Quebec. Alcide “Blind Uncle” Gaspard (1880-1937) from Avoyelles Parish usually played American country music in a string band with his brothers, Victor and Amade. Lachney and Gaspard had not played together often before the Chicago session and may not have know each other well. They also played at a recording session for Vocalion in New Orleans in March 1929. The song title translates as “The Dancer”. Source: Smithsonian Folkways/Anthology of American Folk Music.
  • “Acadian One Step. Early Cajun recording. Joe Falcon, accordian; Cleoma Breaux Falcon, guitar; Ophy Breaux, fiddle; unknown, triangle. Recorded in Atlanta, April 19, 1929. Joe Falcon (1900-1965) and his wife Cleoma Breaux (d. 1941) made the first cajun music record (“Allons a Lafayette”) for Columbia in 1928. Falcon and Breaux’s recordings were extremely popular in Louisiana and opened up the cajun record market. Cleoma was the vocalist on their recordings. Falcon spent most of his life playing accordion for dances and cajun fais do-dos in his home area. From a musical family, Cleoma also recorded with her brothers, The Breaux Freres. She died in an automobile accident in 1941.
  • Les Blues De Voyage.”   Amédée Ardoin, fiddle; & Dennis McGee, fiddle; recorded in San Antonio, Texas, 1934. The first Creole recordings were made by African-American fiddler Douglas Bellar in October of 1929. He was followed closely by Creole accordionist Amedee Ardoin, who recorded for Columbia in December of 1929. Ardoin was born in L’Anse Rougeau, Louisiana, around 1900. Ardoin met the legendary Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee in the early 1920s while they were both working as sharecroppers on a farm near Chataigner. The farm owner encouraged the two to play together, and they were soon in demand for dances. Eventually they made recordings together. McGee was born in Eunice in 1893. Source: Le Gran Mamou, Vol. I. (Country Music Foundation, 1990).
  • Jolie Blonde.” Hackberry Ramblers, recorded in New Orleans, 1936. Luderin Darbone, fiddle; Lennis Sonnier, guitar and vocal; Wayne Perry, fiddle; Julius “Papa Cairo” Lamperez, guitar. The most popular Cajun band of the mid-1930s, the Hackberry Ramblers, led by fiddler Luderin Darbone from Evangeline, were a progressive group that incorporated influences from mainstream country music, western swing, and blues. “Jolie Blonde,” often referred to as the Cajun national anthem was the Ramblers most popular recording. In 1946, Harry Choates (see below) became the first Cajun performer to have an impact on commercial country music with his hit recording of the song as “Jole Blon.” Source: Le Gran Mamou, Vol. I. (Country Music Foundation, 1990).
  • Jambalaya (On the Bayou).” Hank Williams. 1952. Cajun music has often shown the influence of changing styles of country-western. Here, the influence is reversed, with a classic from Williams’ Louisiana Hayride days.
  • Zydeco Sont Pas Salé. Jimmy Peters & The Ring dance Singers. 1934 (Library of Congress). This type of congregational shouting and clapping was known as “Juré” singing. Louisiana French Jurés were often secular in theme. This performance is the first known recording of the song which gave birth to and named an entire genre of music: Zydeco. Alan Lomax recorded a dozen songs by black Creole singers, several of which included the expression, “les haricots son pas salés” (the snap beans ain’t salty), apparently a reference to hard times and the music and dance that helped people to get over them. Source: Jai Ete Au Bal, Vol. 2, Arhoolie Records, 1990.
  • Zydeco Sont Pas Salé.”   Sidney Babineaux, 1961. This is probably the earliest recorded version of this tune by an accordionist and it bridges the gap between Juré singing and the Zydeco music of Clifton Chenier. As the accordion came into popular use, many Jurés and old melodies were adapted to it to form the basis of the new dance music’s repertoire. Sidney Babineaux, from Rayne, Louisiana, was one of the most widely respected and admired early Creole accordionists in the area. Chenier was very much influenced by his music. Source: Jai Eté Au Bal, Vol. 2, Arhoolie Records, 1990.

Clifton Chenier

Clifton Chenier.  Lafayette, LA, 1974.

“Zydeco Sont Pas Salé” Clifton Chenier, piano accordion and vocal; Cleveland Chenier, frotoir; Robert St. Judy, drums. Recorded in 1969. Chenier (b. 1925, Opelousas; d. 1987, Lafayette) did not invent zydeco, but he defined it with every performance. Source: Cajun Music and Zydeco, Rounder Records, 1992.

Paper in My Shoe.” Boozoo Chavis, accordion and vocal;  Recorded in 1954. Chavis was a major player in the development and early recording of what has come to be called zydeco. He was active in the 1950s, along with Clifton Chenier. Source: Cajun Music and Zydeco, Rounder Records, 1992.

Jolie Catin.” Boozoo Chavis and his Magic Sounds 1989. Boozoo Chavis, accordion and vocals; Carlton “guitar” Thomas, guitar; Charles Chavis, frottoir; Classie Ballou, Jr., bass; Nathan Fontenot, rhythm guitar; Rellis Chavis, drums.  If you want to know the difference between the dominantly European sounds of Cajun music as played by Dewey Balfa, and the African-Caribbean-American style called zydeco, this classic two-step “Joile Catin” is a good place to start. Zydeco is a mix of Cajun tunes, African-American blues, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. It is performed wherever people gather to dance–at nightclubs, church halls, benefit dances, baseball games, and trail rides. You can hear zydeco from the Lafayette area west into Texas as well as in California cities with large migrant Creole communities.

Quand J’Etais Pauvre.  (“When I Was Poor”) (1985?). Dewey Balfa, fiddle and vocal; Tony Balfa, guitar; Robert Jardell, accordion; Tracy Schwarz, harmony fiddle; Peter Schwarz, second fiddle. A gifted musician and composer who was intensly interested in preserving Cajun music, Dewey Balfa influenced many young musicians including Michael Doucet and Steve Riley. “Quand j’Etais pauvre” is what Balfa called a “brand new old song” which almost immediately became a dance band standard. In this song, Balfa pokes fun at his situation, complaining with tongue in cheek that when he was young and poor, no one paid attention to him, but now that he is old and has a bit of money, everyone wants to court him.

Dewey Balfa

Dewey BalfaJ’ai Vu Le Loup, Le Renard et La Belette.” The Balfa Brothers. This informally recorded song features Dewey and Will’s twin fiddles. (nd). Source: Louisiana Spice: 25 Years of Louisiana Music on Rounder Records, 1995

“La Danse De Mardi Gras.    Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. Since the late 1980s, Riley and his group have earned a reputation as one of the premier bands playing the traditional Cajun repertoire, bringing the old songs to enthusiastic audiences in dancehalls and on stages around the world, and more recently writing original material that carries the tradition forward. Their interpretation of the minor-key “La Danse de Mardi Gras,” one of the oldest Cajun songs, shows how powerful and plaintive this music can be. Source: Louisiana Spice: 25 Years of Louisiana Music on Rounder Records, 1995.

Theogene Creole. Beausoleil with Michael Doucet (2008)

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