Archive for the 'Non classé' Category

Dave Van Ronk’s “Green Green Rocky Road”

Dave Van Ronk

In the mid 1950s, several intellectuals congregated to create their art in New York City’s Greenwich Village : its colleges, universities, book stores and coffee shops. The first were the storytellers, the beat poets who shaped their words to the cadence and rhythms of jazz, often reciting their poetry to the sound of an upright bass or a drum kit. The musicians followed and the instrument of choice was the acoustic guitar, usually fingerpicked. From this cultural hub, what came to be known as the folk revival spread across the United States.

The Reverend Gary Davis (and dancer)

I learned about the folk revival from Canadian television. Both CTV and CBC aired “Let’s Sing Out”, filmed on location from a different Canadian University each week. Several prominent artists were featured, including Simon & Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell, the pride of Saskatchewan. The American show “Hootenanny”, plagued by political differences between the producers and artists, only lasted two years but was rebroadcast on CBC. It was through “Hootenanny” that I learned about guitarists like Mississippi John Hurt (1892-1966), the Reverend Gary Davis (1896-1972) and Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002). Van Ronk was a pupil of the Reverend Gary Davis, who saw the guitar as a piano worn around the neck. Van Ronk took this pianistic approach and added the harmonic sophistications of Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington. He also introduced the folk world to the complex harmonies of Kurt Weill.

Scott Joplin

I remember Van Ronk playing Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and I couldn’t believe that such sophisticated piano music could be played on a guitar. I rushed out and eventually found a few guitar transcription books on the music of Scott Joplin (1868-1917). I still have these books to this day. Van Ronk was also a mentor to many artists who came to Greenwich Village from far and wide, most notably Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

“Green Green Rocky Road” comes from the beat poet Bob Kaufman, who simply gave it to Van Ronk, who in turn completed it with the help of fellow folk musician Len Chandler. The song quickly became a fan favourite and Van Ronk’s signature piece for his entire career.

Bob Kaufman

Bob (Robert Garnell) Kaufman (1925-1986) once famously said “I want to be anonymous. My ambition is to be completely forgotten.” I hope he will forgive me for disregarding his wishes but he is too important an artist to forget. A resident of San Francisco, Bob Kaufman founded and edited Beatitude, a magazine dedicated to poetry and the source of the word “beatnik”, which Kaufman coined. He usually didn’t write down his poems, and much of his published work survives by way of his wife Eileen, who wrote his poems down as he conceived them. He named one of his poetry books “Cranial Guitar”, a sublime concept. Kaufman often incurred the wrath of the San Francisco police simply for reciting his poetry in public. In 1959 alone, at the height of the beatnik era, he was arrested 39 times by the San Francisco police on disorderly charges (i.e., reading poetry in public).

In 1961, Kaufman was nominated for England’s Guinness Poetry Award, which was eventually won by T.S. Eliot. In 1963, he was arrested for walking on the grass of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. He was incarcerated on Rikers Island, then sent as a “behavioral problem” to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital where he underwent electro-shock treatments that greatly affected his already bleak outlook on society. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Kaufman, a Buddhist, took a vow of silence which lasted 10 years.

Even though Bob Kaufman’s life was filled with a great deal of suffering, many will remember him for his wonderful idea that became the musical butterfly we know as “Green Green Rocky Road.”

 

Richard Séguin – voice and acoustic guitar

 

Green Green Rocky Road

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Little Walter’s “Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights”

Little Walter

When Little Walter (Marion Walter Jacobs, 1930-1968) arrived in Chicago in 1945, he was already a bandleader and a seasoned veteran of the so-called “Chitlin Circuit”, a collection of performance venues throughout the eastern, southern, and upper midwest that provided commercial and cultural acceptance for Afro-American musicians and other entertainers during the era of racial segregation in the Untited States. Chitlins are the fried small intestins of hogs, a southern delicacy.

In 1952, just as Little Walter was joining Muddy Waters’s band, the first take at his debut recording session was the instrumental “Juke”, the biggest hit to this date for any artist on Chess Records and its affiliated labels and one of the biggest national R&B hits of 1952, securing Walter’s position on the Chess artist roster for the next decade. Besides recording with Muddy Waters, Little Walter recorded a string of commercially successful songs under his own name, including 14 top ten hits on the R&B charts between 1952- and 1958.

Little Walter’s groundbreaking technique of amplifying the harmonica changed the sound of the instrument so much that it came to be known as a blues harp, or simply a harp. At Chess, Little Walter could use the talents of the most gifted musicians and songwriters in the country. In 1957, he recorded “Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)”, another top ten hit which featured such stars as Willie Dixon on bass, Luther Tucker and Robert Lockwood Jr. on electric guitars and Fred Below on drums. Apart from Little Walter’s strong vocal and harp playing, the song showcases guitar playing which ventures into chords that are typically heard in jazz but definitely not in blues. In that more misogynistic era, the lyrics of the song didn’t raise many eyebrows but they wouldn’t pass so easily today.

“Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)” was written by Stan Lewis (1927-2018), one of the many great entrepreneurs who work in the sidelines of the music industry. Lewis set up Stan’s Record Shop in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1948, a tremendous success story whose early customers included the young Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan. As a producer, Stan Lewis is responsible for “Reconsider Baby”, a huge 1954 hit for Lowell Fulson (1921-1999) and for one of the greatest rock ‘n roll songs of all time, “Susie Q”, recorded in 1957 by Dale Hawkins (1936-2010), an employee of Stan’s Record Shop and a cousin of Ronnie Hawkins. A tribute to Stan Lewis’ daughter Susan, “Susie Q” features the great James Burton on guitar, one of the best players of all time.

To read more about Little Walter’s short and difficult life and to listen to our trio play another of his greatest hits, click on this link : « My Babe.»

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitar
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – drums

 

Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)

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Lead Belly’s “The Bourgeois Blues”

Lead Belly and his wife Martha

There was a very close relationship between Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter, 1888-1949), folklorist John Lomax (1867-1948) and his son Alan (1915-2002). The Lomaxes devoted their lives to preserving and publishing recordings of folk and blues musicians throughout the U.S. and Europe. The artists they are credited with discovering and bringing to a wider audience include blues great Robert Johnson, protest singer and primary influence of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, folk artist Pete Seeger and bluesman Lead Belly, among others.

In July 1933, John Lomax acquired a state-of-the-art, 315 pound disk recorder and installed it in the trunk of his car. Lomax used the new machine to record Lead Belly, then serving time at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Stories surfaced that Lead Belly, separately incarcerated in Texas and in Louisiana, was granted early release both times because of his musical talents. Indeed, this was the focus of a vile and racist article in Life magazine (see photo above), dated April 19, 1937 and entitled “Bad Nigger Makes Good Minstrel.” In actual fact, his early releases had more to do with cost-cutting measures brought on by the Great Depression, and his exemplary conduct while incarcerated. Upon his release, Lead Belly was hired as the Lomaxes driver and assistant, travelling the South together collecting songs.

In 1937, Alan Lomax was Assistant in Charge of the Archive of Folk Song of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. He invited Lead Belly to Washington to record for the Library’s collection and the two men agreed to bring their wives, have some dinner, make some music and have a good time. On the first night that Lead Belly and his wife Martha spent in the city, none of the hotels would rent rooms to African-Americans. Lomax offered to let the couple stay for the night in his apartment. The next morning, Lead Belly awoke to Lomax arguing with his landlord about the presence of black people in the hotel, with the landlord threatening to call the police. When Lead Belly, Lomax, and their wives wanted to go out for dinner together, they discovered that it was impossible for the mixed race group to find a restaurant that would serve them.

When discussing these incidents with friends later on, someone commented that Washington was a “bourgeois town.” Lead Belly had never heard the word before and after its meaning was explained to him, things clicked and he wrote “The Bourgeois Blues” in a few hours. In my opinion, it is one of the most important and culturally significant songs of the 20th century.

Jump Jim Crow

To our “modern” ears, the song is shocking for its use of the word “nigger” but, in 1937, everyone spoke this way. Since the civil war, Southern legislations had systematically passed laws of racial segregation directed against blacks. The intent was to suppress the new freedom of emancipated African-American slaves brought on by the civil war. Originally called the Black Codes, these statutes later became known as Jim Crow laws. The origin of the phrase “Jim Crow” has been attributed to “Jump Jim Crow”, a song-and-dance caricature of blacks performed in blackface by white actor Thomas D. Rice in 1832. As a result of Rice’s fame, “Jim Crow” quickly became a pejorative expression aimed at blacks. The offensive and disrespectful practice of minstrelsy and blackface continued, though happily lessening, for the entire 20th century. The cover for an early edition of the song “Jump Jim Crow”, circa 1832, is shown at the right.

 

Richard Séguin – voice, 12-string guitar, acoustic slide guitar, mandolin, MIDI guitar (tuba)

 

The Bourgeois Blues

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Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me”

 

Bob Dylan in 1965

Bob Dylan in 1965

When I was 15, living in a small untroubled rural Ontario town, I had to come to terms with the vast external world, full of strife, dissent and wars. I remember that I was so disoriented that I desperately searched for some kind of handhold to keep me from falling. That stabilizer came in the form of Bob Dylan’s 1965 classic album, “Bringing It All Back Home.” Ironically, there was nothing at all reassuring anywhere on this album.

“Bringing It All Back Home” is divided into two distinctly different sides. On side one of the original LP, Dylan is backed by electric instruments and drums —a move that alienated him from the folk music community. Likewise, on the acoustic second side of the album, he distanced himself from the protest songs with which he had become closely identified, as his lyrics became more and more abstract and personal. One such song is the enigmatic love song, “She Belongs To Me.” It describes a woman who clearly belongs to no one.

“She Belongs To Me” was subsequently released on several Dylan compilations and live albums. It was also the “B Side” of a 1965 single featuring “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Dylan plays “She Belongs To Me” at a brisk tempo, which I have considerately slowed down here. I have also given Alrick the leeway to express himself through his wonderful bass playing, including his moving solo.

Richard Séguin – voice, 12-string guitar, classical guitar
Alrick Huebener – upright bass

She Belongs To Me

 

This is the 10th Dylan piece we play on this site and it certainly won’t be the last. To hear our versions of these songs, click on the following links:

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

Buckets of Rain

Highway 61

Subterranean Homesick Blues

From a Buick 6

Also, with vocals from my brother Bob:

Desolation Row

Girl From The North Country

My Back Pages

Oxford Town

 

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Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom”

As with many blues songs, “Dust My Broom” arrived in its present form through various other songs, the earliest of which has been identified as “I Believe I’ll Make a Change”, recorded in 1932 by identical twins Aaron and Marion Sparks under the names “Pinetop and Lindberg.” Aaron chose the name Pinetop in honour of Clarence “Pinetop” Smith, the famous boogie-woogie blues pianist, while Marion called himself Lindberg because he could really dance the Lindy Hop! This dance, named after the aviator Charles Lindberg, was a huge sensation during the “Big Band” era of the late thirties and early fourties.

Marion Sparks

The Sparks brothers only managed to record a handful of songs since Aaron was poisoned before he turned 30. Marion spent a lot of time running afoul of the law for bootlegging, gambling, fistfights and even manslaughter. The only available picture of the Sparks brothers is the one on the right, a 1934 mug shot of Marion, courtesy of the St Louis Police Department! In spite of their short stint with music, the Sparks brothers managed to give us the classic blues songs “61 Highway Blues”, made famous by Mississippi Fred McDowell, and “Every Day I Have The Blues”, forever linked with B.B. King and Count Basie vocalist Big Joe Williams.

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson

In 1936, Robert Johnson, one of the greatest bluesmen who ever lived, recorded “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom”, a Delta Blues reworking of the Sparks brothers’ version that captured the drive and intensity of the song. Johnson added some new lyrics and introduced the repeated triplet guitar phrasing that Elmore James later transformed into the most recognizable guitar riff in the history of the blues. Johnson died in 1938 at the age of 27, supposedly poisoned by a jealous husband. He only had time to record 29 songs in his short life, all of them very influential in the development of the blues and Rock ‘n Roll.

Elmore James

Elmore James

Elmore James was born in Richland Mississippi on January 27, 1918, the son of 15-year old Leola Brooks, a field hand, taking the James name from Joe Willie James, a sharecropper and perhaps his father. A musician by the age of 12, James toured throughout rural Mississippi with Sonny Boy Williamson and encountered Robert Johnson, from whom he probably learned “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom.” After a stint in the U.S. Navy during the war, James joined Williamson on the famous King Biscuit radio show performances and, in 1951, the duo auditioned for the small Trumpet Records. James was signed to a recording contract but the only song he recorded at that time was “Dust My Broom.” The single, with a rendition of “Catfish Blues” by Bobo Thomas as the B-side, listed the performer of both pieces as “Elmo” James. The1951 recording of “Dust My Broom” happened when electric amplification was still in its infancy and is one of those rare recordings that changed the course of blues music. The driving dance rhythm, the overwhelming amplified slide guitar and James’ magnificent vocal make it pure lightning in a bottle. Regional record charts show that “Dust My Broom” gradually gained popularity across the U.S. It eventually entered Billboard magazine’s national Top R&B singles chart in April 1952 and peaked at number nine. The success of the single by the relatively small Trumpet Records led other record companies to pursue James in the hope of landing his follow-up hit. Thus, many re-workings of “Dust My Broom”, all with small variations, were recorded by James for different record labels during his career. My personal favourite is a 1959 recording for Fire/Fury records.

Beginning in 1952 James divided his time between Mississippi and Chicago. His backing musicians were known as The Broomdusters and featured his cousin, “Homesick” James. The band was so powerful that people often showered the stage with dollar bills. The Broomdusters rivalled the Muddy Waters group that included Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, and Otis Spann. While “Dust My Broom” remained James’ signature song on stage and on record, he also composed the enduring blues standards “The Sky Is Crying,” “Madison Blues,” and “Done Somebody Wrong.” Ever since the war, Elmore James knew he had a serious heart condition. He died of a heart attack in Chicago in 1963, as he was about to tour Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival. Elmore James was 45 years old.

NOTES: The expression “dust my broom” is understood to mean “move out” of a rented room, sweeping up before you go. Over the years, it has generally been used to mean leaving any unwanted situation behind. “No-good doney” is seldom heard these days and refers to a woman of low standards.

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitars
Alrick Huebener – electric bass
Roch Tassé – drums

 

Dust My Broom

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“In The Pines”, a simple song that lives beyond time

Leadbelly

Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter) (1888-1949)

“In The Pines” is a traditional American folk song which dates back to at least the 1870s. It is generally believed to be Southern Appalachian in origin (Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and Georgia) but it might have an even older Irish history. Like numerous other folk songs, it was passed on from one generation and locale to the next by word of mouth.The first printed version of the lyrics was published in 1917 and a version was also recorded onto phonograph cylinder in 1925. Starting in 1926, commercial recordings of the song were made by various folk and bluegrass bands. In her 1970 Ph.D. dissertation, ethnomusicologist Judith McCulloh found 160 permutations of the song. It was recorded with titles as various as “Black Girl”, “My Girl”, “In The Pines”, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” and “The Longest Train.”

Bill Monroe (1911-1996)

Bill Monroe (1911-1996)

Writing in the New York Times in 1994, Eric Weisbard called “In The Pines” “a simple song that lives beyond time.” It also lives beyond styles. Over the years, the song was recorded as blues (Leadbelly, Leroy Carr), bluegrass (Bill Monroe, Doc Watson), country (Dolly Parton, The Oak Ridge Boys), rock (Link Wray, The Grateful Dead), traditional (Roscoe Holcomb, Ralph Stanley), folk (Pete Seeger, Odetta), even grunge (Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Manson) and pop (Connie Francis and Tiny Tim). Also dear to my heart is a Cajun version recorded by Nathan Abshire, sung in French and released under the separate titles of “Pine Grove Blues” and “Ma négresse” (My Black Girl). It was Abshire’s greatest hit.

Nathan Abshire (1913-1981(

Nathan Abshire (1913-1981)

Of all these different versions, three elements are common to most if not all : the train, the unfaithful girl and the pines themselves, variously seen as sexuality, loneliness or death. In the song, the “longest train” is said to come from Georgia, where Joseph Emerson Brown, a former governor, operated coal mines in the 1870’s, using prisoners as labourers. It is often suggested that the captain throwing his watch away indicates that the train is an eternal passage from life to death. The “decapitation verse” that I’ve included is often omitted.

Doc Watson (1923-2012) & David Grisman

Doc Watson (1923-2012) & David Grisman

These days, “In The Pines” is mainly associated with Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter) and Bill Monroe, who both recorded several highly influential versions of the song in the 1940s. For my recording, I relied heavily on Leadbelly’s haunting recordings and decided to include a mandolin as a tribute to Bill Monroe. I also listened ceaselessly to the live recording of the song played by Doc Watson and David Grisman, one of the best mandolin players in the world, in concert in Watsonville, California, in 1998. It is an arresting example of human artistry of the very highest order.

 

Richard Séguin – voice, 12-string guitar, mandolin

 

In The Pines

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Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s “Kidney Stew Blues”

Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson

Edward Vinson Jr (1917-1988) was a blues, jazz, bebop and R&B saxophonist and singer from Houston, Texas. He was nicknamed “Cleanhead” after an incident where his hair was accidently destroyed by a lye-based hair straightening product. Hair straightening continues to be very popular among black people of both sexes.

Taking up the alto saxophone as a child, his proficiency at the instrument attracted local Houston bandleaders even while he was still at school, and he began touring with Chester Boone’s band during school holidays. Upon his graduation in 1935, Vinson joined the band full-time, remaining when the outfit was taken over by Milton Larkins the following year. During his five-year tenure with Larkins’ band, he met the very influential guitarist T-Bone Walker, as well as sax greats Arnett Cobb, and Illinois Jacquet, who all played with Larkins in the late 30s.

Even as a teenaged singer and saxophonist, Cleanhead had his own way with the blues. He was good enough to tour with artists like Big Bill Broonzy, who taught him how to shout the blues. He later played with trumpeter Cootie Williams’s band and Jay McShann’s Orchestra, whose innovative young alto player, Charlie Parker, taught Vinsom his pioneering sax technique.

In the 1940’s he infused his alto with bebop and led his own big band. At one time, his sextet included John Coltrane, a giant of the saxophone. His recording of “Cherry Red” in 1944 with Cootie Williams made him popular, but his first recording under his own name was “Kidney Stew Blues” in 1947, which was a huge hit and remained his signature song for his whole career. Reflecting the casual misogyny of the times, most of Vinson’s no-holds-barred songs of this period were simply too raunchy for radio airplay.

Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson enjoyed a very long and successful career, playing with some of the best musicians on the planet. He was able to capitalize on the blues revival of the 60s, gaining a new and younger audience at home and overseas. Towards the end of his career, he performed in revue style tours with the likes of Count Basie, Johnny Otis and Jay McShann. He died in 1988 at the age of 70, from a heart attack while undergoing chemotherapy.

Thanks to my brother Gabriel, I was lucky to know the first wave of Rock ‘n Roll in the 50s. I was a teenager when the Beatles initiated the second wave in the 60s. Later on, I wanted to know everything about the music that preceded that of my early years. I discovered the music of the post-war decade, the period from 1945 to 1954 where, in my opinion, the best music of the 20th century was created. This was an exuberant and joyful music (the war was over), a dance music livened by musical arrangements written by the best musicians in the world, a music driven by ferocious vocalists shouting very salty lyrics and musicians who were equally comfortable with jazz, bebop and the extravagant arrangements of the “Big Band Era.” People started calling this new music “Jump Blues” but it soon fell under the newly-named umbrella of “Rhythm & Blues.” Completely addicted by this irresistible music, I drove my car to Ottawa (the internet didn’t exist) and bought every R&B CD I could find. Not satisfied, I drove to Montréal and Toronto, amassing an impressive and costly R&B collection! Around 1954, with the arrival of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, they had to give their music a different name.

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitars, MIDI guitar (piano)
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – drums

 

Kidney Stew Blues

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Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)”

Bob Dylan in the early 60s

There are landmark achievements in anyone’s life that define his or her self-worth. I had two – taking that first ride on my bike without anyone’s help and learning how to fingerpick a guitar. That last one was really hard because I didn’t have a guitar and I couldn’t afford lessons. I taught myself how to play on borrowed guitars and in the late 60s, I saw Mississippi John Hurt on TV, the camera blissfully zooming in on his fingers so I could see what he was doing. I bought Mississippi John’s records and kept trying and trying to play like him, just like I did with my bike. Finally, I could do it on my own.

In the 60’s, every folk artist, almost without exception, had to fingerpick. The popular TV shows about the folk revival featured several fine fingerpickers like Dave Van Ronk, Doc Watson, Pete Seeger and, of course, Bob Dylan.
Much more than the music, the 60s were about the lyrics – for the first time in pop music history, songs were meaningful and addressed serious issues. I vividly remember Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (war), “If I Had a Hammer” (civil rights), “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (world peace) and “Little Boxes” (conformity). When Dylan left Minnesota and reached New York City, it didn’t take him long to dominate the coffee house/college music scene and when he wrote “Blowin’ In The Wind” in 1962, an anthem for the civil rights movement, he became larger than life. There followed several compositions termed “protest songs” where the ills of the day were laid bare, such as “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, “Masters of War” and “Oxford Town”, which we recorded in September of 2015 (see Archives).

I couldn’t help but notice at the time that there was another element insinuating itself into the fabric of contemporary music – a loveless, cold and nomadic value system that was completely against everything I believed in. Certainly, “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” was at the forefront of this disturbing social shift, as was almost everything written and recorded by the Rolling Stones, but this kind of social angst went much further back and also had a Canadian connection. Nova-Scotian Hank Snow had a huge hit in 1950 with “I’m Movin” On.” and B.C. native Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds”, which he wrote in the early 60s, is certainly one of the most iconic Canadian songs ever written. It was recorded by everyone from Neil Young to Johnny Cash and was a huge success in Scandinavia. In Sweden, the song was a hit for 60s pop band Hep Stars, whose keyboard player, Benny Andersson, went on to world fame as a member of ABBA. In Norway, the song was recorded by The Vanguards, another 60s pop band which featured guitarist Terje Rypdal, who became one of most influential artists in the Scandinavian Jazz field.

Anyone interested in the nomadic, restless 60s should see “Inside Llewyn Davis”, the masterful 2013 film by the Coen brothers. The film follows one turbulent week in the life of a struggling folk singer in 1961. It was nominated for 90 awards world-wide and won 27.

Here is my fingerpicking version of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright).”

 

Richard Séguin – voice and guitar

 

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

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Iry LeJeune’s “J’ai été au bal”

Cajun music has its roots in the ballads of the French-speaking Acadians of Canada.The first form of traditional Cajun music started with the arrival in south Louisiana of the Acadians from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1764, Many of these songs can be traced back to France and they drifted to the bayous and the prairie region of Louisiana, forming the basis of what is now accepted as Cajun music.

Amédé Ardoin and Dennis McGhee

The first recording of Cajun music, made in 1928 by noted historian and American folklorist Alan Lomax, was “Allons à Lafayette” (Let’s Go To Lafayette) by Joe Falcon (1900-1965) and his wife, Cléoma Breaux (1906-1941) Significant musicians during these early years include two duos: accordion player/singer Amédé Ardoin (1898-1942) and fiddler Dennis McGhee (1893-1989), as well as, some years later, accordionist Alphonse “Bois Sec” (Dry Wood) Ardoin (1915-2007), Amédé’s younger cousin, and fiddler Canray Fontenot (1922-1995). The diatonic accordion and the fiddle were the main instruments of all Cajun music at that time, to which was added the triangle, known throughout Louisiana as the “’tit fer” (little iron).

Canray Fontenot and Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin

After World War II, there was a surge of patriotism and pride throughout America and everybody, including Cajuns, wanted to be an American. Consequently, people spoke less French and Cajun music gravitated towards the Texas Swing of Bob Wills and the irresistable musical force that was Hank Williams. More than any factor, this cultural shift was halted in Louisiana by the arrival of Iry LeJeune, who brought with him an extensive repertoire of magnificent French songs, a strong voice and a tremendous, driving accordion style. He became one of the most popular Cajun artists of all time and pretty soon everyone danced to the sound of cajun music in all the dance halls of Louisiana.

Fiddler Doug Kershaw with Iry LeJeune

Nearly blind from birth and unable to help with farm work, Iry LeJeune spent his early years at the home of his uncle, Angelas LeJeune, a popular Cajun musician known for his superb recording of “Bayou Pon Pon” in 1929. Iry was allowed to practice on his uncle’s accordion and heard, in addition to Angelas’s music, recordings by the great Creole accordionist and singer, Amédé Ardoin, both of whom influenced him deeply.

On the night of October 8, 1955, LeJeune and fiddler J.B. Fuselier were returning home from a dance in Eunice (Louisiana) when their car had a flat tire. As they changed the tire at the side of the road, both men were struck by a speeding car. Fuselier was seriously injured and LeJeune was thrown into a nearby field, killed instantly. He was not yet 27 years old. He left a wife and five children mourning. Two of Iry’s sons, Eddie and Ervin, followed in their father’s musical footsteps.

Iry LeJeune left a legacy of 26 recorded songs, perhaps a small body of work but absolutely essential to the development of Cajun music. He recorded « J’ai été au bal » (I Went to the Dance) in 1954 and the song was released posthumously in 1957. Years after his death, his recordings remain in print and his songs are sung and played by musicians throughout Louisiana and the world.

The Balfa Brothers (Will, Dewey and Rodney) with Nathan Abshire (accordion)

The 60s Folk revival brought many artists, in particular the Balfa Brothers, the most important and respected of all Cajun musicians, to the northen folk festivals and led to a period in Louisiana.of burgeoning pride in the local Cajun and Creole culture. There was now an interest throughout the State in preserving the French language and the uniquely Louisiana traditions. In 1968, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) was founded and today almost 100,000 students study in French in 26 immersion schools across Louisiana.

Dewey Balfa

Production note: I play the mandolin here as a percussion instrumnt, hitting the strings with wooden kebab skewers! It’s a “fiddler’s trick” that I borrowed from Dewey Balfa (1927-1992).

 

Richard Séguin – voice, mandolin, MIDI guitar (diatonic accordion)
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – ‘tit fer

 

J’ai été au bal

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Willie Dixon’s “29 Ways”

“The blues are the roots of all American music.”
Willie Dixon

Willie Dixon

Willie Dixon (1915-1992) was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi and his mother often rhymed things she said, a habit young Willie soon imitated. He sang in the Baptist Church from the age of four and, as a teenager, sang in a gospel quintet called The Union Jubilee Singers. Always the businessman, he started adapting his poems into songs that he sold to local musicians.

Dixon moved to Chicago in 1936 and, thanks to his 6’6”, 250 lb frame, became the Illinois State Heavyweight Boxing Champion (Novice Division) and was even Joe Louis’ sparring partner for a while!

Dixon played and sang in various groups, perfecting his technique on the upright bass, until the advent of World War II. He refused conscription into military service as a conscientious objector, saying he would not fight for a nation in which institutionalized racism and racist laws were prevalent. Dixon was jailed 10 months for his beliefs.

Willie Dixon signed with Chess Records as a recording artist but he began performing less, being more involved with administrative tasks for the label. From 1948 to the early 60s, his output and influence were prodigious. By 1951, he was a full-time employee at Chess, where he acted as producer, talent scout, session musician, and staff songwriter. He was also a producer for Checker Records, a subsidiary of Chess. From late 1956 to 1959, he worked in a similar capacity for Cobra Records, producing early singles by Otis Rush, Magic Sam and Buddy Guy. He later recorded for Bluesville Records and ran his own record label, Yambo Records, and its two subsidiaries, Supreme and Spoonful.

Dixon is considered one of the key figures in the creation of Chicago blues. He helped far too many artists with way too many great compositions to list here, songs that have lifted these artists to the highest echelons of the blues. Some of the biggest stars of the blues owe their careers to Willie Dixon – Muddy Waters’ signature song “Hoochie Coochie Man” was written by Willie Dixon, as was Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful”, “Evil”, “Back Door Man”, and “Little Red Rooster.” Willie Dixon is so omnipresent that “29 Ways” is the fourth of his compositions that we record on this site even though it’s the first time I speak about him! See the Archives at the right of this page for April 2018 (Little Walter’s “My Babe”), October and July 2017 (Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me” and “Bring It On Home.”)

With the simple eloquence that was a hallmark of his songs, Dixon said “The blues are the roots and the other musics are the fruits. It’s better keeping the roots alive, because it means better fruits from now on. The blues are the roots of all American music.” In 1977, unhappy with the small royalties paid by Arc Music, Chess’ publishing company, Dixon and Muddy Waters sued Arc and, with the proceeds from the generous out-of-court settlement, founded their own publishing company, Hoochie Coochie Music. In 1987, Dixon reached an out-of-court settlement with the rock band Led Zeppelin after suing for plagiarism in the band’s use of his music in “Bring It On Home” and lyrics from his composition “You Need Love”, used in the band’s recording of “Whole Lotta Love.”

In his later years, Dixon became a tireless ambassador for the blues and a vocal advocate for its practitioners, founding the Blues Heaven Foundation, which works to preserve the legacy of the blues and to secure copyrights and royalties for blues musicians who were exploited in the past.

Willie Dixon won a Grammy Award and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. “29 Ways”, like a lot of his compositions, combines humourous witty lyrics with irresistably spirited music. The song became the signature piece of the sorely missed Canadian bluesman King Biscuit Boy (Richard Newell, 1944 – 2003).

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitars, MIDI guitar (piano)
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – drums

 

29 Ways

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