We’ve got news of something that should be of special interest to those of you who appreciate good Cajun music. Nouveau Electric Records, a Louisiana-based record company that champions the music of Cajun people, be it traditional or experimental, is releasing a tribute album to Austin Pitre, one of the most iconic accordion players and bandleaders to come from the Cajun dancehall era.
Pitre was born in Ville Platte, Louisiana, in 1918 into a proud Cajun family. He started out in the dance halls of southern Louisiana at a young age and was quite the showman. He claimed to be the first Cajun accordionist to play his instrument standing up, rather than the traditional approach of playing seated, and would often play his instrument behind his head or between his knees, all without ever using a strap to hold the accordion in place. The band he fronted, the Evangeline Playboys, started up in the 1940s, at a time when Cajun music was being revitalised and started adding instruments other than the traditional guitar, fiddle and accordion to drive the music in the dancehalls.
Specifically, this was when bands started adding drum kits to their lineup and really rocking up the Cajun sound. In many ways, Austin Pitre and his Evangeline Playboys were the precursors of the dancehall Cajun bands of today. Pitre played right through to the early 1970s and added a considerable number of new songs to the Cajun music repertoire, such as the notable ‘Les Flammes D’Enfer’ (The Flames of Hell). before dying at just 63 years old, in 1981.
This new release is a recording from 1999, when Bobby Michot, a fine accordion and fiddle player himself and a member of a number of excellent Cajun bands such as Les Frères Michot (with four of his brothers), Voyageurs Cajun, and now leading Bobby Michot & Sos Piquante, got together with members of the Evangeline Playboys to celebrate Austin Pitre’s music. The recording is made more significant by the fact that this isn’t just any old live recording, this was a ‘Cajun house jam’ – a get together entirely for the pleasure of the players themselves. There are no audience members at a house jam, it’s all about the joy of playing together and then eating together, but the playing goes on for as long as it takes for the food to be cooked, and when the host (always one of the musicians) is creating a sauce piquant or a courtboullion, the cooking can take several hours. During this time the musicians, usually increasingly well lubricated by the liquor of choice, will urge each other on to greater musical heights until the cooking is finally finished and the music is over for the day and the eating can begin. It’s about camaraderie and the joy of making music together, as well as getting lost in the music and pushing the boundaries of what you can achieve as a player. Cajun house jams are really quite special and often very private, so a recording like this is quite an event, especially when it includes such an impressive list of players. The jam was recorded at the home of Allen Ardoin, the Playboys fiddle player, along with Junior Martin on steel guitar, Eston Bellow on drums and Mike Tate, who had also been a drummer in the Evangeline Playboys, moving across to accordion on this occasion. In the presence of such august players, Bobby Michot contributed vocals and guitar for this house jam.
Cajun house jams produce some incendiary music, and this promises to be quite an exciting record of a series of such sessions from a band who really lit up the dancehalls of southern Louisiana in their heyday. We managed to secure a sample track and you can hear just how lively this set promises to be. The album will be released in March and you can find details over at the Nouveau Electric Records website. http://nouveauelectricrecords.limitedru
Marvellous informative piece. Thanks. The lifestyle is so important to the music. I came across Austin Pitre about ten years ago because of Les Flammes D’Enfer, which I’d heard by Le Trio Cadien (Eddie LeJeune, D L Menard and Ken Smith) on a cassette compilation of Louisiana music about 20 years before that. It’s still my favourite version. Thanks also for the music label link: another source to explore.
Thanks for the kind words, Jeremy. Yes, I don’t think you can really understand Cajun music until you get that the lifestyle is an integral part of it. It’s a living culture that embraces much more than just the music, though the music itself is essential. Always good to hear from a fellow enthusiast.