The Cajun people of the plains and swamps of South Louisiana are steeped in music with a raw edge. Prior to World War II the music of the bayous was Cajun; the only real changes were the shift from accordion to fiddle as the lead instrument. The war changed all that. The thousands of Cajun men who served, many of them musicians, were exposed to other music forms; the influences – most notably blues and rhythm, as it was then called, and hillbilly – crept into their songs.
As the 1940s progressed into the 50s, small independent record companies sprang up to record this rural music, which was largely being ignored by major labels. Local radio stations started to play it and the jukebox became a major entertainment in bars and diners where the owner couldn’t afford a live band, or just between sets.
The most prominent of these new record companies were Goldband and Folk-Star founded by Eddie Shuler, and the Fais-Do-Do and Feature banners of J.D. Miller. These were joined by the Khoury’s and Lyric labels of George Khoury. They all started out as vehicles for Cajun and hillbilly music but soon added blues and R&B artists to their rosters.
Dance music had always been the backbone of the Cajun way of life. As traditional bands added heavier rhythms, string basses and drums, their tunes became all the more exciting. South Louisiana – and particularly its youth – like the rest of America, was ready to take the next step.
The catalyst was Elvis Presley. When he stepped in front of the microphone at Radio KWKH for his first Louisiana Hayride broadcast on 16 October 1954, a torch was lit in the hearts of young Cajuns, as it was in the primarily working class youth across the rest of the USA.
Rock’n’roll had arrived and all of the artists on this CD would play a part, revelling in it and giving it a distinctive sound – the sound of the bayous.
The first record companies were quick to add these new artists to their rosters and were soon joined by Jin/Swallow (founded by Floyd Soileau), Hammond (Luke Thompson), Carl (Jake Graffagnino), Hilton (Hilton McCrory) and a plethora of smaller outfits and one-shot deals.
The music produced – whether categorised as rockabilly, swamp pop or Cajun bop – has an added element in coming from this area. Rock’n’roll was already an amalgam of earlier styles; the Louisiana melting pot added its own spice to the gumbo.
This CD is the first in the “Boppin’ By The Bayou” series which will focus on these music forms. The concept has been given added depth by a deal struck with the family of the late J.D. Miller, which allows us to include previously unreleased material. Plus, with new technology, we’ll be reinvigorating tracks discovered by the sterling work of Bruce Bastin and Flyright some 35 years ago. There will also be a “Bluesin’ By The Bayou” series featuring jump blues and R&B.
By Ian Saddler