Thursday, July 22, 2010

poche town



I suppose this might have been prompted by Beer and his travails with the French in Dope City. Or my own stubborn imperviousness to learning a second language.

A disinclination to hop on a bike and peddle green onions.

Joe Falcon got busy with an accordion from the age of seven. Born near Roberts Cove in southwest Louisiana, on the Bayou Plaquemine Brule, Falcon is credited with the first authenticated recording of Cajun music. Period. His "Acadian One-Step" is collected on volume two of Harry Smith's "Anthology of American Folk Music", issued through Folkways in 1952.

A bible of sorts for those with an ear for the arcane or overlooked.

On April 27th, 1928, Falcon and Cléoma Breaux - the woman he would later make his wife - arrived in New Orleans on the recommendation of George Barrow, a jeweler from Rayne, and recorded a number of songs for Columbia Records. "Allons à Lafayette", cut on 78rpm as a result, more than justified Barrow's nose for a diamond in the rough and sold beyond expectation.

Falcon and Breaux toured the dance hall circuit across Louisiana on the back of sales in the thousands, moving west through Texas before arriving in New York in August of the same year.

On the cusp of the Great Depression.

Wed on the anniversary of their New Orleans session in 1932, still more material was recorded in New York City; Atlanta; San Antonio.

Now. I am far from adequately schooled in American Folk Music and its provenance. My own ear twitches this way and that. Sometimes acute. Often hard of hearing.

I had always assumed that Cajun music was exclusively a French delinquency. Self-contained, immune to integration. It is curious that Rayne itself was not so much an Acadian enclave, but a "small German community". Old Weird America - a site I came upon when teasing out a little historical detail - documents that Cajun music was originally played on fiddle, but that the preferred first instrument of choice was supplanted by the accordion after it was introduced to Louisiana by German settlers.

And that the "fiddle was re-introduced during the Western Swing craze and soon Joe’s music became out-of fashion."

Cléoma Breaux died young in 1941. By this time, their popularity was already on the wane. The couple recorded their last session in San Antonio, 1937. Joe remarried and continued to perform with his second wife sitting in on percussion, but there are no archived studio recordings of his later Silver Bell String Band.

Still active in the 1960s, at the time of Cajun music's revival, Falcon refused to step foot back in the studio; citing disillusionment with the record industry as just cause to play only for cash money. Up front and in the hand. In that nine year period between 1928 and '37, Falcon and Breaux released forty-five records and little in the way of recompense.

It is not documented that Falcon directly held any one label accountable for Cléoma's death, but the implication is all but palpable in his refusal to accept the invitation from Chris Strachwiz to record again in 1962. Despite his contempt for unworkable contracts, a live performance, recorded at the Triangle Club, Louisiana by enthusiasts, Valerie and Lauren Post in 1963, was issued first on vinyl through the independent Arhoolie label and subsequently on a CD which corrects much of the earlier sound imbalance.

It stopped raining here this morning for the first time in two days. July is not a summer any more, but a ritual time of monsoon which continues long into August.

If I lean far enough out my window, I might get lucky and hook a catfish on a dangled length of string.

photograph: lake charles, louisiana, may 1948, by Michael rougier.


JOE FALCON & CLÉOMA BREAUX: POCHE TOWN from "Cajun: Early Recordings" CD (JSP / The Orchard) 2006 (US)
JOE FALCON & CLÉOMA BREAUX: ACADIAN ONE-STEP from "Anthology Of American Folk Music (Volume Two: Social Music) " LP (Folkways) 1952 (US)

7 comments:

Jon said...

One small correction. Falcon may have been unwilling to go into the studio for Chris Strachwitz but Arhoolie is Strachwitz' label.
Strachwitz also owns Downhome Records in El Cerrito. I go there about once a year as it is impossible to leave the store without spending at least $200. Downhome, along with Village Music in Mill Valley were two Bay Area based international music treasures. Both of them specialized in American roots music. Village closed a couple of years ago when the owner retired. When I sold my vinyl collection many years ago all of the roots stuff went to Village. When the owner went through my collection he bought almost everything and said, "This is a fine collection you've put together." It made all of those impoverished years when I bought records instead of food seem worthwhile.
After he paid me for my records he said, "Listen to this" and put on "One Woman Man" by George Jones. When it was over, he shook his head, smiled and said, "George...."

Jon said...

My only complaint with The Old Weird America sight is that it is too damn complete. It takes a year or more to absorb all of the music and information he puts into one post. That guy is a treasure.

ib said...

Yeah. I wasn't altogether certain of the relationship between Strachwitz and Arhoolie.

According to a UK review of "Cajun Music Pioneer" - which I have not heard - Strachwitz approached Falcon with an offer to work with him directly (I assume in the studio):

"Editor Chris Strachwitz tells of Falcon declining to record for him in 1962. He had had his fill of the music being reduced to a stereotype, and of not being offered money to commit to wax. These recordings, then, come from the tape machine of Valerie Post, who with her husband Lauren (who also provides the sleeve notes), was on more intimate terms with the great man."

The Posts, then, secured Falcon's trust where Strachwitz failed in his appeal. Presumably, by this stage Falcon tarred each and every label with the same brush. I doubt he had any intention of allowing Arhoolie to release the tapes commercially. He probably acquiesced until after the fact. Although that is only (my) supposition.

You're right that Old Weird America is vaguely daunting. I do not have the concentration or attention span to wade right in there.

Information overload.

One of the tv channels here aired an interview with Merle Haggard this week past. It was a pretty well made affair. Merle was nothing if not candid, but some of the talking heads which peppered the footage were irritatingly sycophantic in the way celebrities tend to be.

They aired a programme straight after which featured George Jones among the usual suspects. Documenting the impact of his life in compact fashion; before and after his collision with a stretch of bridge.

It made for some great television. And. I don't believe I've ever seen his advertising "George Jones Country Sausages" previously.

If I have, I was definitely too drunk to cook any.

Jon said...

Jimmy Dean, he of "King Of The Road" fame, was linked to a very successful sausage brand. Ever since then country stars have tried to link their name to food manufacturers. I have never seen George Jones sausage. Dwight Yoakam has lent his name to a perfectly awful line of processed, frozen "country food". I guess nobody's perfect.

ib said...

And John Lydon to Country Life Butter. Although by proxy.

I would probably buy it if it was branded "Rotten Butter".

I don't begrudge George Jones his steak in country sausage. Or even George Foreman his patented grill.

Actually. I've always kind of fancied getting my hands on one. In the end, I just stick to my frying pan.

ib said...

One thing I just found out.

"Poche" is Quebec French, it seems, for stupid or unfortunate. Just as stupidly, I had it confused with 'pêche'. Something fishy at least.

WF said...

Stumbled up on this article. Would like to answer some of these lingering topics.

You mention "It is not documented that Falcon directly held any one label accountable for Cléoma's death, but the implication is all but palpable in his refusal to accept the invitation from Chris Strachwiz to record again in 1962." While this makes sense, it's not quite accurate. Her death def had an affect on him recording again, the label was never blamed for her death. Once people started making money by re-recording his tunes after the war, he wasn't too keen on this. Chris' interpretation of uncle Joe's feelings are fairly accurate, but probably slightly biased in his favor.

"I doubt he had any intention of allowing Arhoolie to release the tapes commercially. He probably acquiesced until after the fact. Although that is only (my) supposition." Joe passed in 65 and it was after that when Chrs got with the Meaux family and helped them pick songs for the LP. They got some royalties from it, but not much.

"Poche" is the corrupted spelling of "Portie" (pronounced POOR-shay). It's a rural section, north of the railroad tracks in Sulpher, Louisiana. The area is named after George Simeon Portie, Sr., son of Oscar and Corrina Elender Portie, who moved here in 1902 from Hackberry, Louisiana. Today, it's pronounced PO-shay. It's a name Joe gave to this old melody that was nameless at the time.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask. See other information at my blog:
http://earlycajunmusic.blogspot.com/