Computerized Discography of Cajun and Zydeco Music

A Presentation to the Southeast Music Library Association,
Columbia, South Carolina, Oct. 17, 1997

 

Jim Hobbs, Online Services Coordinator, Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

Table of Contents
Introduction
Who are the Cajuns? What is Cajun music?
What is zydeco? Who are the Creoles?
What's the point of the project? What is it good for?
Who am I? How did I get involved in this?
Why construct a computer database?
What is a database?
Why is it the right choice for this project?
Why not a word processing document or a spreadsheet?
How is the database set up?
Challenges
Benefits
What will happen now? When will the database be available?
Acknowledgements
Everything I know I learned from Cajun and zydeco music

Introduction

Music clips from

  • Quand j'etais pauvre, Horace Trahan, Ossun Blues Swallow 6134 (CD), 15 seconds.
  • Zydeco sont pas sale, Clifton Chenier, 60 Minues with the King of Zydeco Arhoolie CD 301, 15 seconds.

That first excerpt was twenty-one year old Cajun accordionist Horace Trahan playing the beautiful Quand j'etais pauvre, or When I was poor written by the late Dewey Balfa, accompanied by members of the the band Balfa Toujours. The second was zydeco godfather Clifton Chenier playing Zydeco sont pas sale. This wonderful music is alive and vital today thanks to the hundreds of musicians who play it, the handful of small record companies that record it, and the thousands who make it part of their lives by listening to it in person and on recordings. Although the Cajun fad of the nineteen eighties has faded, the Cajun and zydeco music and dance movement has spread from Louisiana to all parts of the country. Louisiana artists regularly perform in Atlanta, Washington D.C., Las Vegas, San Francisco, and in Europe and other parts of the globe.

 

Who are the Cajuns?
What is Cajun music and where did it come from?

The French colonized Canada beginning in 1604, with many settling in what is now Nova Scotia but was then called Acadie. The word Cajun comes from the word Acadian. Canada, however, was a contested area, settled by both the English and the French. The English army took Acadie in 1713. They forced the French settlers to swear an oath of loyalty to the British crown. Those who refused were deported beginning in 1755. They were taken to various destinations: back to France, to New England, and to other French possessions, such as Haiti and Louisiana. Many Acadians arrived in Louisiana in 1765 through 1785. Although Louisiana had been transferred to Spain in 1762, everyday life continued to be lived in French. The Spanish government even brought 1600 Acadians from France to Louisiana in 1785.

Few Acadians stayed in the port of arrival, New Orleans. Some settled in the regions south and northwest of New Orleans and along the Teche, Lafourche and Vermilion Bayous. Far more went further west to the marshes and prairies of south central Louisiana. They became hunters and trappers and farmers. It is a popular misconception that most Cajuns live on the bayous and in the marshes, poling their pirogues and hunting alligators. Far more became farmers in the grand triangular prairie that stretches from Lafayette north to Ville Platte and west to Lake Charles.

The music these people brought was simple. It was made by singing, humming, and rhythmic clapping and stamping. Instruments were brought to the colony, with a violinist's death recorded in 1782. Early instrumental music was played primarily on violins, singly or in pairs. One violin played lead and the second a backing rhythm. A simple rhythm instruments was created out of metal bars from hay or rice rakes: the triangle or 'tit fer, meaning little iron.

Alan Lomax described the music of Poitou, the region in France most Acadians came from, as solo unaccompanied ballads, lyric songs with complex texts, unaccompanied air playing on fiddles and wind instruments, unison group performances of ceremonial songs, and dance orchestras where string and wind duos play tunes in unison or in an accompanying relationship.

The earliest Acadian songs were long ballads originally from France. They told of hard life and suffering. Acadians brought from Canada influences from their neighbors, Native Americans and the Scots-Irish. Jigs, reels, and contradances became part of their repertoire. In their new home, Louisiana, they absorbed more from their new neighbors, Spanish, Germans and Caribbeans.

Cajun music is first and foremost, social music. Life was hard toiling in the fields, and it was a welcome relief to hear that Boudreaux or Landry was having a bal de maison, a house dance, on a Saturday night. Families appeared and furniture was moved to make room for dancing. Children were put aside and encouraged to sleep, giving the name fais do-do, or go to sleep, to these dances.

Musicians wrote original songs telling of their life in the new world. The song J'ai passe devant ta porte tells of the suddenness of death from accident and disease. The singer tells of passing by his beloved's door and hearing no answer to his call. Going inside he sees the candles burning around his love's corpse.

The accordion was invented in Vienna in 1828 and was brought to Louisiana by the German immigrants many of whom lived adjacent to or among the Cajuns. Though it arrived in Louisiana as early as 1884, it was not immediately incorporated into Cajun music. The first accordions could play only in the keys of A or F. Fiddlers employing an open tuning could not play in tune with them. The first C and D accordions began to be imported around 1925 and were quickly adopted by Cajuns. These Sterling and Monarch accordions were greatly prized for their sound.

The accordion was loud enough and sturdy enough to withstand the semi-tropical weather that smothers south Louisiana for half the year. It did not go out of tune as easily as the violin. A violin would be silent if even one string broke, but the accordion has four reeds to sound each note. The accordion also plays chords and separate bass notes, making it less dependent on accompaniment. The popularity of this instrument has probably driven many fiddle tunes to extinction, however, as it cannot handle the complexities and bent notes of the old fiddle tunes.

The guitar also found its way into Cajun music by the 1920s. It became a rhythm instrument, supporting both violin and accordion.

Music clip from
Quand je suis parti pour le Texas, Joe Falcon and Cleoma Breaux, Cajun Dance Party:  Fais Do-do, Columbia Legacy CK 46784, 30 seconds. 

Cajun music was first recorded in New Orleans in 1928. The major record companies made the rounds of the south recording hillbilly, blues, Cajun and other ethnic music styles. They put out a limited number of 78s sold in the areas where they were recorded in order to stimulate sales of record players. Joe Falcon and Cleoma Breaux traveled from Lafayette to New Orleans to audition before agents of Columbia records. The record company men scoffed at the duo. They got a surprise when Joe began to play his accordion. One of the men swore he'd never heard so much sound come out of one instrument. There were many other Cajun recording sessions in the 1930's in New Orleans, Atlanta, San Antonio and even New York City.

Two pivotal events for the Cajuns were the discovery of oil in Texas and Louisiana in the 1930s and World War II. Both brought Cajuns out of Louisiana to experience English-speaking America and brought Américains to Louisiana exposing the Cajuns to American culture at large. The musical movement known as Western swing also had an enormous influence on Cajun music. Cajuns began performing swing tunes, adopting the string band instrumentation, and dropping the accordion. These bands had one or two fiddles, one or two guitars, acoustic bass and sometimes pedal steel guitar. It was a string band leader, Harry Choates, who took an old tune and turned it into the Cajun national anthem, Jolie blonde, or Pretty blonde. Drums and electric amplification crept in during the 1930s. The Hackberry Ramblers, who still play today, were the first to use amplification.

It was Cajun soldiers returning from World War II, however, hungry for Cajun music who spearheaded the accordion revival in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Performers like Nathan Abshire, Iry LeJeune and Lawrence Walker were enormously popular with their playing and new songs.

Cajun music continues to incorporate outside influences. There are many strains of the music coexisting today. Country music is found in instrumentation such as the pedal steel guitar, and in singing styles like Vin Bruce's. African influences have been around for quite some time. Cajun and Creole musicians have worked together even when other social forces worked to keep them apart. The Cajun Dennis McGee and the Creole Amédé Ardoin traveled together to New Orleans, recording together in 1929 and 1930 and in San Antonio, Texas, in 1934. The plaintive, keening singing style and the sycopation sometimes found in Cajun music is often credited to African influence. Blues music has also been an influence. Some of Cajun music's best known songs have titles such as Pine Grove Blues and the Blues du Tac-Tac, or Popcorn Blues. More recently rock music has been an influence. The first two recordings of the Filé Cajun Band contain the more rapid tempos and electric guitar styles typical of rock music. Bruce Daigrepont has Cajunized Creedence Clearwater Revival's Bad Moon Rising, and Wayne Toups performs Van Morrison songs. As the master violinist Dewey Balfa has said, "Be sure to water the roots but don't cut off every new branch that grows."

 

Who are the Creoles?
What is zydeco?

The term Creole comes originally from the Spanish criollo, for a child born of Spanish parents in the New World. The French borrowed it as Creole. Creole could refer to anyone of European parentage born in Louisiana. Over two centuries it began to be used to mean a person of mixed foreign and local parentage. As it is used today, the word refers to someone entirely or partly of African descent.

People of African descent have played many important roles in Louisiana and have come from various locations. African slaves were brought to the colony in 1720. French planters exiled from Cuba in 1810 brought their French-speaking slaves with them. Some free people of color came from the French colony of Haiti and practiced various trades or were shopkeepers. The colony's Code noir, laws governing treatment of slaves, set aside Sundays as a day off, and many slaves gathered in Congo Square, just outside the boundaries of New Orleans. There they could drum and dance as they wished, preserving some of the African musical forms and practices.

Many working class Cajuns labored alongside people of African descent in Louisiana and a few owned slaves. This resulted in cross-fertilization of musical styles. Blacks began to play violin and, later, accordion. French-speaking blacks learned Cajun songs. The melding of styles enrich both traditions. Clifton Chenier himself recorded and regularly performed many Cajun classics such as Jole blonde and Allons a Lafayette as Allons a Grand Couteau. Creole motifs like prisons and the flames of hell entered Cajun music.

Many older Creole musicians scoff at the label zydeco for the music they play. The word zydeco is usually explained as a contraction of the song title Les haricots sont pas sale or The snap beans are not salty. The elision of les to haricots creats the z sound. Folklorist Barry Jean Ancelet has even spelled the word z-a-r-i-c-o in his writings.

As with Cajun music, Creole music is most importantly social music. It is music played at picnics, dances and occasions like the trail ride. A unique social institution, the trail ride consists of a group ride on horseback through the country followed by a meal and dance. Older musicians like Boozoo Chavis host their own rides. Radio stations in Acadiana carry notices of trail rides. Many Creoles prefer cowboy attire: blue jeans, western-style shirt, cowboy boots, and large-brimmed, white straw cowboy hat.

Field recordings made in Louisiana by John and Alan Lomax in 1934 reveal a world of single, duo, and group singing by Creoles, accompanied by humming, shouting, clapping and stamping. The Lomaxes deliberately sought these older, less commercial styles, for Creoles were playing instrumental music at this time as well. Amédé Ardoin and Dennis McGee recorded their accordion and violin duets for Columbia in 1930, and Ardoin had first recorded solo for Columbia a year earlier.

Fourth and last music clip from:
Valse ah Abe, Amédé Ardoin, Cajun Dance Party:  Fais Do-do, Columbia Legacy CK 46784, 30 seconds. 

The combination of accordion and violin has persisted in Cajun music, though it has nearly become extinct in zydeco. Clifton Chenier recorded with his uncle Elmore Nixon on violin as late as 1966. Accordionist John Delafose switched to violin in the early 1990s after a heart attack and doctor's advice that the heavy instrument would harm his health. A few younger musicians are adopting the Creole fiddle style, though its future is uncertain.

Creole music in the 1930s and 1940s was often called la-la or pic-nic. Something began to happen in the late 1940s and into the 1950s: the birth of a new style called zydeco. Although Clifton Chenier is best known as one of the creators of this new style, other musicians such as Boozoo Chavis also pioneered this new, more uptempo version of the old music. This new style incorporated elements of rhythm and blues including instruments like the saxophone. Instead of the triangle, there is a cousin, the frottoir, also called the rubboard, scrubboard or washboard. As the last name says, the first ones were simple corrugated metal surfaces in a wooden frame. Chenier also played the larger piano key accordion instead of the diatonic accordion.

An explosion of zydeco music occurred in the late 1970s, fueled partly by the increased exposure of zydeco to America at large. Bands led by older men passed to their sons and grandsons. Bois-sec Ardoin's son Lawrence "Black" Ardoin took over his band which has most recently been passed to Chris Ardoin. The Frank family is another dynasty, from grandfather Carlton to son Preston to grandson Keith Frank. When John Delafose passed away a few years ago, his son Geno had enough experience playing to take over easily.

New artists have also arisen: Nathan Williams, Lil Malcom, Lil Pookie, and Beau Jocque. Queen Ida was the only women in zydeco for decades; she has recently been joined by Rosie Ledet. Beau Jocque single-handedly reshaped zydeco in 1993 with the release of his Rounder CD, Beau Jocque boogie. He added a doulble backbeat which swept the zydeco world like wildfire. Now at almost all zydeco performances include at least one Beau Jocue-style song. Funk, reggae and rap have also entered zydeco.

 

What's the point of the project? What is it good for?

This project will be of use to several groups. Primarily I see it as a tool for musicologists who wish to study Cajun and zydeco music. A database will allow a researcher to locate recordings by musician, by song title or album title. Searching will permit queries such as "How many times has Michael Doucet recorded the Valse de Kaplan?" and "Has Nathan Abshire ever recorded Quelle Etoile?" Although Cajun and zydeco are fertile ground, there have been few scholarly studies. It will also be of use to linguists studying the Cajun French language as most titles are in Cajun French and represent many thousands of common words. Musicians may also use it to locate recordings of songs in order to learn them. Fans of Cajun and zydeco music will also use it to locate favorite performers and songs.

The only listing I have been able to find comparable to this one is Richard Spottswood's mammoth Ethnic Music on Record, an multi-volume printed work listing all recordings issued in the United States of ethnic and foreign language music. It covers the beginnings through the record hiatus of 1942-43. It covers only a limited period, and cannot be searched as easily as a computerized source.

 

Who am I? How did I get involved in this?

Sometimes I ask myself the same questions. Although I am not a musician or musicologist, I have had an avocational interest in Cajun and zydeco music for more than 15 years. In 1973 I moved to New Orleans "for a year or two" and have been there since, attending the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival since 1975. My wife and I have been Cajun dancers since 1987. I have written several articles and recording reviews, primarily published in the Sonneck Society Bulletin. As a non-Cajun non-musician, I wondered how can I help contribute to the continued health of the music? The discography occurred to me several years ago as one project I am qualified to undertake that had some potential to assist and even stimulate research. Only time will tell if the discography is of real use.

 

How is the information organized?

There is much work to do in describing a recording in detail with record company, song titles, musicians' names and more. Catalogers will especially appreciate this truth. Decades of work have gone into setting up methods and standards for such descriptions. [Why not MARC?]

The most efficient and effective way to keep a large amount of data organized so that it can be easily entered, reviewed and extracted is with a relational database.

 

Why use a database? Why not a spreadsheet or a word processing document?

Text documents can keep brief information organized into columns or set apart by tabs. We cannot easily specify the relationship among groups of data. There is also much repetition: the same recording company, artist and song appears repeatedly. The larger the document is, the harder it is to work with. There is a limit to the size of the width and height of a page.

A spreadsheet keeps information in discreet, unique locations, little boxes called cells which are in a graph-paper like array. Information can be lined up so that all recording titles are in one column, and all the information on one recording in a single row. This is helpful for simple, two dimensional data. Such a scheme fails when confronted with complicated, three dimensional data. I can type in the names of all the cuts, but how do I go about adding the names of all musicians on a single cut? If I type that in after each cut, how do I know when a new cut starts?

 

What is a database?

A database is a collection of related information. You've probably got one in your pocket or purse: an address book. It is set up to hold names, mailing addresses, voice and fax numbers, perhaps even email addresses. Organization is built into the physical setup of the book. There are pages with letters of the alphabet attached or printed on them, maybe even a thumb tab of some type. The pages contain a section for each individual's information together for easy reading and writing. Name is not on one page, address a second, and phone number on a third. It's easy enough to find a phone number, just look up the name. The organization of an address book is around name.

What if you received a note to call a phone number but didn't know who you were calling? Could you search your address book by phone number? Not easily; you could look at each phone number individually to see if it matched the number you had.

How about searching city or zip code? If your address book or file has been around a few years, there are entries in it you've forgotten about. When you're going to Cleveland and know there's that old college buddy there, but you can't quite recall her new married name, there's no easy way to search that either. Changing entries is simple but clumsy, especially when changing a name entry. There's got to be a better way! You could carry around three address books: one organized by name, one by phone number, and a third by city. That's just too difficult!

Databases to the rescue. There are two kinds of databases: flat file and relational. A flat file is like that address book: There is one entry for one person, all information on that person kept neatly together. Unlike the address book, however, it can be sorted by last name, state, city, zip code, or area code. A flat file is like a spreadsheet in format: a grid with like information in columns, information on one item in a single row.

A relational database lets you set up many such grids, called tables. Each table can store one type of information and additional tables store the relationships among them. A relational database is easier to update, because it reuses information, as we will see next.

[Start PowerPoint presentation.]

 

How is the discography database set up?

The discography starts with four basic tables of information: record company, album, cut, and musician. Each is a grid storing one type of information. The record company table contains a description of one company at a time, with name, mailing and street addresses, phone numbers, and the like. The album table gives the album title, catalog number, copyright date and so on. The cut and musician tables are organized along the same lines.

Each item in each table receives a unique identification number. Each record company, album, cut, and musician has its own unique number in its table. The tables all start with item number one and count up from there.

Matching up record companies and albums is easy. In the album table is a spot for the ID number of the record company. Not using the entire company name saves time, storage space, and my wrists. The software, Microsoft Access, has a feature which lets me view the record company table from within the Album table so that I can simply choose the record company's name and its ID number is automatically inserted into the Album table.

The next relationship is individual cut to album. This is handled differently. Rather than having a spot in the album table where the cut IDs are stored, the relationship is placed in a new table: Album Tracks. An Album Track table entry consists of an album ID, one cut ID, along with disc number (for multi-disc sets), side number, and track number. An album's worth of tracks will have the album ID as many times as there are cuts, each individual cut paired with the album ID and the cut's location by disc, side and track.

The third important relationship is musician to cut. Which musician plays on which cut? As you can guess, there is a table called Cut Personnel. Each cut ID is entered with one musician's ID, instrument and part. Part is mostly blank but has values such as lead, background, harmony, first, second, and third. The musician may appear more than once for a cut, depending on how many instrument credits they have. One musician may play accordion and sing, or play violin and guitar, or perform lead and background vocals, or play accordion and violin.

There is another way to look at the relationships among the tables. This is whether there is one item linked to many. One record company can have many albums. One album has many tracks. One cut has many performers.

There are some auxiliary tables for my convenience and for consistency. There is a table of instruments, to be sure they are spelled correctly and to be sure the same form is used each time. This is another place where I could have used an ID number for each instrument and plugged that in where needed. Because the instrument designations are fairly short, there seemed little to be gained here, though in a very large database that will decrease the overall size. Perhaps when I am further along, it will seem advantageous to do this and I can change the database to do so.

Other tables are contain physical formats (33, 45, LP, CD, etc.) and instrument part (lead, background, harmony, first, second, and third). There is another group of tables which I am not currently using. One will store variant song titles together, another full text of lyrics, and the last information about the tune. Yes, it is possible to store media in the database such as album covers and audio. I have not done this so far because of concerns over copyright and the effort required to obtain clearance and the large amount of storage space media require.

Recently I created a new table, Responsibility. This is meant to store group names for individual cuts. One of the biggest questions I have had is how to deal with compilation albums by various artists. There is no space in the Album table for individual cut names so the Cut table seemed to most logical place to store that information. Responsibility will have group name and ID number. The ID number will appear in the Cut table. I have just begun to implement this and do not know how successful it will be.

As I designed each table, I looked at the information available and considered what information potential users might want out of the product. For example, the Album table includes the statement of responsibility, title, record company name and catalog number. It also says whether liner notes are present and who wrote them. Two fields tell if English or French lyrics are available. There's even a place to specify if there is a photograph of the performers.

The Record Company table lists name, mailing and street addresses, beginning and ending date to specify when the company was active. The Musician table has space for first and last name, nickname, birth and death dates and notes. The Cut table has title as it appears on the recording and space for equivalent English or French titles as needed, composer, recording date and location, and producer.

I mentioned before that reusing information is a strength of a relational database. Let's take the example of a musician. There is one entry for each musician in the Musician table. That ID number is attached to many recordings to say who plays where. If something changes in the musician's entry, I do not need to track down hundreds of instances of that name. I can simply change the one entry in the Musician table and any queries to information involving that person will automatically reflect the update.

When I enter a new recording, the Album table entry comes first. The next step is usually the Musician table to see if all musicians are present and add any who are not. On to the Cut table and then put album and cut together in the Album Tracks table. Finally I make entries in the Cut Personnel table. This one is the most time consuming. Fortunately, it is possible to automate the process somewhat. If one person appears on all cuts with the same instrument credit, it is quite easy to have Access automatically make the entries for me. Anything less is harder. At first I took 60 to 90 minutes for each recording, 45 minutes just for the cut personnel. If the recording's musician credits are simple, I can do an entire recording in as little as 15 to 20 minutes. Access makes entering information into tables easier with forms. Rather than seeing a grid, a form shows the user one entry at a time, with fields available to enter and view data.

 

Challenges

There are several unresolved questions involving the organization of the data and the data itself. I don't yet know whether the Responsibility table will adequately take care of compilations.

Another problem is inconsistent data. Occasionally a song title or musician's name will appear one way on the disc and another on the album cover. I am using the same standards for primary source of reference as catalogers unless there is a good reason to believe it is incorrect. The same recording has appeared with different titles on various albums. Because I am reusing identical cuts where attributed, this is a problem. When an LP appears as a CD and the song title is different, what to do?

Identifying musicians has been problematic as well. A musician who is listed only as Rockin' Dopsie Jr. was identified only under that nickname until a recent album included his real name, David Rubin. Also difficult to resolve are similar names. Is Cliff Newman the same person as Clifford Newman? Then there's the three versions of Améédé Ardoin's name: Amédé with two e's, Amédée with three e's, or Amédié with two e's and an i.

Identifying musicians is a luxury compared with the lack of information on some recordings where the only name is the primary performers on the album. Then there are the horrendous releases with a few names with instruments and then a host of additional names, with repeated instruments and no hope of finding which one played on which cut.

Another challenge is which recordings to include and which to exclude. It may seem obvious that some music is Cajun or zydeco or is not, but it's not so easy. Is the album Vin Bruce Sings Country a Cajun album if the artist is a Cajun who also records Cajun songs but the material is straight country music? What about Zachary Richard who often records standards with his own original material? Not all Cajun music is in French. Many zydeco artists have abandoned French altogether, unfortunately. To help me decide which recordings to include, I am using several criteria. Are the lyrics entirely or mostly Cajun or Creole French? Is the style consistent with Cajun or zydeco music? Is the instrumentation consistent with Cajun or zydeco music? Is the musician or band generally accepted as Cajun or zydeco? I'd rather be inclusive than exclusive and would rather include some marginal material than leave out useful recordings.

So far I have been fortunate in locating recordings to add. Beginning with my own small collection, I have been able to work with collections at radio stations WWOZ-FM in New Orleans and KLEB-AM in Golden Meadow, Louisiana. This August I spent a week at the Louisiana Music Factory making it almost all the way through their zydeco section. In June I spent five days at Down Home Music, the retail arm of Arhoolie records. There is a wealth of material in the New Orleans area, with personal collections, radio stations, and new and used record stores. Then I can go on to Lafayette, the heart of Acadiana to the record companies there. I have yet to include a single 78 RPM recording. Locating all the recordings which exist may prove to be the greatest challenge of all. There is no single repository of Cajun and Creole recorded music. I hope that this discography may help others to see this and perhaps do something about it.

 

Benefits

The database has had some unexpected side benefits. I work on a Cajun radio program broadcast over a non-profit, public radio station, WWOZ-FM, in New Orleans. When I did the show the last Sunday in July, I checked the database for birth and death anniversaries. Two appeared. One was the death of Harry Choates, the violinist who recorded Jolie Blonde. The other, only a few days apart, was the birth of Choates' steel guitar player, Julius Lemperez, known as "Papa Cairo." These linked anniversaries provided a neat segment on the program.

What are the most frequently recorded songs? With various spellings and in English or French:

  • Jolie blonde: 44
  • Les Flammes d'enfer: 20
  • The Back door: 17
  • Bosco stomp: 14
  • Grand Mamou: 14
  • Madeline: 14
  • J'ai passé devant ta porte: 14
  • J'ai été au bal 13
  • Lacassine special: 12

How much material is in the database now? As of 9:00 pm Central Daylight Time on Wednesday, October 15, 1997 there were 560 albums, cassettes, 45s and CDs, 899 musicians, 4519 individual cuts, 99 record companies, 4808 album tracks, and 16,580 cut personnel listings. My preliminary scan of the OCLC database suggests 1500 cataloged recordings. I am quite sure this will prove low, as there are a great many recordings not in libraries. My guess is at least 3000 recordings, though that is pure speculation.

 

What will happen now? When will the database be available?

I will continue to collect information on recordings until the vast majority are entered. There are three possibilities for making it available to the public. Printed form, CD-ROM (or other computer storage medium), and the Internet. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. A book may reach more people, but it is a limited format, not allowing multiple search points. CD-ROM will permit computerized searching. Both will need updating as more recordings emerge from the woodwork and new ones are released. Both formats have the potential to reimburse me for expenses and time. A Web site is attractive because it is freely available and can be updated as needed. It will reach fewer people though even that is changing.

 

Acknowledgements

I want to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Mr. Mark DeWitt in this project. He outlined the basic setup of the database. About a year ago I sent a message to the owner of the Internet list ETHNOMUS-L describing the project. I asked him to post the description to the list with a request for interested parties to contact me directly. I received three messages: one from a musicologist in Australia who sometimes uses Cajun music, and one from the head of the recorded sound archives at the British Library suggesting that I come visit their collection. The other was from Mark DeWitt. Mark is a Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of California at Berkeley, studying Cajun and gospel music. His day job is database programmer at the Bank of America. I could not have invented a more perfect person! We started out communicating by email, and I was able to meet him personally while visiting Arhoolie Records in June of this year. His help has immeasurably advanced the discography.

The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation have also awarded grants to support travel in connection with the project. I have had one visit to Arhoolie Records in California and will also travel to Massachusetts for Rounder Records and Washington, D.C. to visit the Library of Congress. There are also numerous in-state trips I will be taking.

To conclude on a light note, here the section I call:

Everything I know I learned from Cajun and zydeco music

There are Cajun songs for every occasion:

  • Cajun boogie,
  • Cajun Christmas,
  • Cajun eyes,
  • Cajun fiddlesticks,
  • Cajun fugitive,
  • Cajun groove,
  • Cajun hop,
  • Cajun hot shoes,
  • Cajun life,
  • Cajun love song,
  • Cajun lullaby,
  • Cajun polka,
  • Cajun rag,
  • Cajun rap song,
  • Cajun Saturday night,
  • Cajun special,
  • Cajun stripper, [actually the Bosco stomp]
  • Cajun telephone stomp,
  • Cajun tradition special,
  • Cajun twist,
  • Cajun two step, and the
  • Cajun waltz.

Here are actual titles of songs I've encountered:

  • Listen to me when I talk to you
  • Ninety-nine year waltz [What a workout!]
  • Calling in sick
  • Color me zydeco
  • Devil in the bayou
  • Don't need no husband
  • Don't sell that monkey
  • Everybody gotta start somewhere
  • Forgot I was married
  • She didn't know I was married
  • Give him cornbread [Beau Jocque's first big song]
  • Give me a good time woman
  • Hamburgers and popcorn
  • I can't lose with the stuff I use
  • I love my Saturday night
  • Il n'ya pas de montagnes dans la Louisiane (There are no mountains in Louisiana)
  • Johnny can't dance and various answering songs, e.g., I saw Johnny dance
  • Mixed up and confused
  • Who stole the pies

And my two favorites:

  • Lula, Lula don't you go to bingo
  • Hold my false teeth and I'll show you how to dance

With any luck at all, this music will be around for many, many years to come for everyone to enjoy.

I'd like to thank Sarah Dorsey and SEMLA for inviting me to come here today to talk about this project.


Loyola University New Orleans | Monroe Library | Jim Hobbs

Last edited May 26, 1999.

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