Five Great Cajun Songs By Non-Cajuns
As far as He Said knows, he has zero Cajun blood in his veins. His family is pretty much straight-up Anglo/Scotch-Irish, settling in the Piney Woods of Newton County via Alabama in the early 1800s. However, although the Sabine-straddling area around Newton, Burkeville and Wiergate is about an hour inland from the Gulf Coast, there has never been a shortage of families with last names such as Boudreau or Hebert up there. Cajun culture is in the soil and water of East Texas just as much as South Louisiana, which is probably why He Said has had a lifelong affinity for it. He has never passed up a plate of fried oysters or batch of boiled crawfish, would put his mom's gumbo up against any Lafayette or Lake Charles kitchen's and, despite an innate Krameresque clumsiness, he does know how to waltz and two-step. (Somewhat.) Since discovering Pe-Te's Cajun Bandstand on KPFT in high school, he has been infatuated with Louisiana music, and even had his own Cajun/zydeco radio show on UT student station KVRX one semester. Non-Cajun songwriters have long been as fascinated by this mysterious, insular, effervescent culture and its music as He Said has, so this week in honor of high crawfish season - and, as She Said told you, the annual Texas Music & Crawfish Festival in Spring - He Said thought we'd turn the spotlight on five songs written by non-Cajuns (okay, four non-Cajuns and one very Cajun man) that still exude that South Louisiana joie de vivre. Triangles up!
The Band & Emmylou Harris, "Evangeline": This tragic waltz about a riverboat gambler and the bride who watches his boat sink in the mighty Mississippi isn't just one of He Said's favorite Cajun (or Cajun-sounding) songs, it's one of his favorite songs, period. The version in Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz was actually shot on a L.A. soundstage, not the Band's farewell concert at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom, but it doesn't matter. We'll watch Emmylou Harris anytime, especially when she's harmonizing with Levon Helm and Rick Danko. Doug Kershaw, "Louisiana Man": OK, we'd feel bad if we didn't put one song by a real Cajun on here, and Doug Kershaw is as Cajun as crawfish pie. "Louisiana Man" boils down everything you could want to know about Cajun culture - pirogues, muskrat hides, houseboats - into three manic minutes as Kershaw demonstrates why he's the Jimi Hendrix of the fiddle. The YouTube clip is from the very first episode of Johnny Cash's ABC variety show that aired from 1969-71, and although "Louisiana Man" didn't make the final cut, the two-disc DVD anthology released in late 2007 is still well worth owning. George Strait, "Adalida": King George is no stranger to an upbeat Cajun tune, and this one edges out "We Really Shouldn't Be Doing This" as He Said's favorite. The lyrics border on pastiche - Lake Ponchartrain is nowhere near Cajun country, which peters out around Baton Rouge - but the fiddle and steel guitar (standing in for accordion) are all business. Besides, there's someone we'd walk through a hurricane for - hope there's one for you too.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Born on the Bayou": Many, many music writers have speculated that John Fogerty must have been a Southerner in another lifetime, and "Born on the Bayou" makes a solid case that he was a Cajun. Although it's more Cajun in spirit than actual sound, the glowering riff that resolves into a roux-thick swamp-rock groove makes "Bayou" possibly He Said's favorite CCR song (though it's really impossible to pick), plus it introduced the word "chooglin'" into the American musical lexicon, for which we are forever grateful. The title is also on the short list of possible names for He Said's autobiography, should he ever find the time to write one. Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women, "Marie Marie": Besides John Fogerty, another Californian completely comfortable with Cajun music is ex-Blasters front man Dave Alvin. Alvin has recorded this brisk shuffle several times, but He Said's favorite is the version from last year's Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women LP, featuring several Austin musicians and the late Amy Farris. No doubt it will be part of their set list the second weekend of iFest - Alvin & the Guilty Women are playing the Louisiana Stage, after all.
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