Our Influences

By on December 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

Les Miseres would like to acknowledge our debt to all the instrumentalists and singers, past and present, who have inspired us so much. To you we give our heart-felt thanks and respect. This page is an appreciation of your music. I hope it is as accurate as it can be from such a distant perspective here in Scotland.

What is Zydeco? What is Cajun Music?
Zydeco refers to African-American Louisiana-French music influenced by the blues and by Carribean rhythms. The term “Zydeco” is said to be derived from the song-line, Les haricots sont pas salées.
Cajun music is played by white folks – descendants of the Acadian-French from Canada, who were brutally expelled by the British from Acadie (present day Nova Scotia) and who settled in Louisiana in the 18th century. The word “Cajun” comes from Acadien.
Cajun and Zydeco music co-exist geographically and share many of the same songs. But the two styles are very different and are rarely heard together.

The Roots.
I can mention here only a few of the many Cajun and Zydeco artists who have recorded over the years and so I will concentrate on the people who happen to have influenced us most. Some of the very early musicians deserve a special listen. The Jennings ring singers recorded by Alan Lomax on a wire-spool machine in the 1930s are a good example of the roots of Zydeco, while the oldest recordings of Cajun music are 78 rpm shellacs – duets from the late 1920s. The best of these 78s featured the African-American accordionist and singer Amédée Ardoin with the white violinist Dennis McGee. Their popular recordings have had a huge influence on today’s Cajun and Zydeco repertoires. Ardoin was a virtuoso improviser, who died tragically young. It is hard to play his pieces and to match his power and rhythmic drive today. However, McGee was still alive in the 1980s and my friend, Allin Cottrell, met the master-musician then, and managed to catch a little of his beautiful old-time style. Allin is now passing on what he knows to the fiddlers in our band.

Our Cajun Influences.
The communities of French Louisiana have always been close-knit, so bands are often groups of friends and relatives who have developed a very tight sound. We have concentrated on listening to the old recordings of a few influential musicians and musical families around Eunice and Crowley. Allin and I have been to this area and have had the privilege of visiting and playing a little with the inheritors of the Cajun tradition. We are very grateful to D L Menard and Don Montoucet, in particular, for sharing some of their music and experience with us. Many other local musicians made us very welcome too, and I am lucky enough to play accordions made by the master accordion-maker – Marc Savoy, of Eunice, Louisiana.

As most of our band live in Scotland, we have relied mainly on learning songs from historic recordings on vinyl imports, rather than from listening to contemporary Louisiana bands live. We have our own versions of several numbers by Amédée Ardoin’s contemporaries, Joe Falcon, Cleoma Falcon and by the Breaux Brothers. The Falcons’ Allons à Lafayette is a well known standard, but the Breaux Brothers’ Ma Blonde est Partie, with its unearthly chording, rarely gets performed these days – except by us, as far as I know.

Another of our influences is the legendary Cajun accordionist and singer Nathan Abshire, who pioneered the post-War accordion revival. Nathan Abshire’s honed-down playing and singing, poised midway between melancholy and joy, was drenched in the blues. In addition to his traditional waltzes (Kaplan and Calcasieu) and two-steps (Sur le Courtableau and Hey Mom) we love his French, Pinegrove and Popcorn Blues.

The 1973 recording on Sonet of the Grand Mamou Orchestra broadcasting from Fred’s Lounge in Mamou is a model for much of our acoustic playing. Hilbert Dies plays ornate double-time accordion, while violinist Sady Courville displays a beguiling simplicity, evolved from years of seconding his old violin partner Dennis McGee. Preston Manuel swings it all on the rhythm guitar, and his enthusiastic singing spurs the band on. Linus Bertrand’s triangle accompanies with long jangling patterns, locking the whole sound together.

Swamp Pop.
The Louisiana dance musicians of the ’40s and ’50s played through individual valve (tube) amplifiers. They had pick-ups and crystal microphones on their instruments – and one vocal mike. Their recordings had a juicy, drawling sound. At that time Cajun music blended with rhythm and blues and rock ‘n roll guitar-based styles and give birth to a new genre – Swamp Pop. Nathan Abshire played on much of this early cross-over material. Songs by other artists of the time, like Jay Stutes’s Coming Home and Cleveland Crochet’s Midnight Blues, with hot accordion solos, are important to our live sound. And we crank up the back-line valve (tube) amps on stage and use pick-ups on our instruments at dances like those first amplified old-timers did.

Zydeco Influences.
We danced to the marvellous deep sound of the Boozoo Chavis band in Eunice when we were there, and we enjoyed his Paper in my Shoe, which was broadcast on TV at New Year a couple of times in Scotland during the 1980s. Other later Zydeco influences on our playing include recordings by Amédée Ardoin’s descendants, the Ardoin Brothers. Zydeco bands use funky bass guitar, and every band has a frottoir, or rubbing-board, player scratching-out syncopated cross-rhythms. The Ardoins Brothers’ 1970s recordings of Madame Edward and Colinda carried on the Zydeco tradition started by Amédée Ardoin in the 1920s.

The accordion and violin duets of Bois Sec Ardoin and Canray Fontenot are a huge influence on Les Miseres, and gave us our name. We pay homage to the beautiful Danse de la Misère, La Robe Barrée and Bonsoir Moreau from the 1966 Les Blues du Bayou recordings. Ardoin and Fontenot were featured in Les Blank’s wonderful 1960s Flower film, Dry Wood, which was also shown on Scottish television way back.

An African-American Creole band which spanned the generations in the ’60s and ’70s was the Lawtell Playboys with Delton and Clinton Broussard and Calvin Carrière. Their special versions of Baby Please Don’t Go and Eunice Two Step are an inspiration to us. We are now listening to the recorded duets of Joseph and Eraste Carrière, from an older generation of Creole musicians, and hope to pick up some of their style.

Lastly, we respect the towering genius and eternal king of Zydeco, the inimitable Clifton Chenier. Clifton’s brother Cleveland was always by his side playing his syncopated rubboard. Inspired by Chenier’s Red Hot Peppers, Les Miseres aim to marry funky Zydeco grooves to the beautiful old-time Cajun melodies of French Louisiana.

Our own Songs.
More recently, our own melodies in a Cajun/Zydeco style are emerging. We use old-time chordings, where counter-intuitive accordion bass patterns and violin double-stops are shadowed on the guitar and co-exist with more conventional harmonic structures. We will be performing our own material more as we continue to consolidate our sound.

Kim Tebble – December 2003


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