Thursday, July 22, 2010
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)