House of Hits' First Hit: Harry Choates' Cajun National Anthem "Jole Blon"
All this week, Lonesome Onry and Mean will be blogging about House of Hits, the new book by Dr. Roger Wood and SugarHill Studios engineer Andy Bradley. A complete and well-annotated history of Gold Star/SugarHill, the oldest continuously operating recording studio in the U.S., the book is a trove of interesting stories and first-person narratives from many of the major players who made the records that are now an indelible part of the lexicon of American music. As a lead-in to Saturday's book-signing at Sig's Lagoon and the concert at the Continental Club Sunday afternoon, where local bands will be covering the hits from SugarHill, we're going to spotlight songs and artists by decade, beginning today with the 1940s. Look for LOM's feature story on the book in the music section of this week's print edition. Bill Quinn founded Gold Star in 1947. Quinn's motto was "King of the Hillbillies," but in fact eight years would pass before George Jones would cut the first country music hit at Gold Star. The first hit to emerge from the studio was the Cajun national anthem, Harry Choates' transcendent version of "Jole Blon."
Houston has always been as much a part of West Louisiana as East Texas. Many Cajuns flocked to Houston looking for jobs, and they brought with them many of the old Acadian ways. Choates was a Louisiana transplant who is one of the most interesting characters to ever record at Gold Star. Known as a monumental carouser and drinker, Choates was seldom sober and took absolutely no care of himself, to hear those who knew him tell it. His death in an Austin jail cell in 1951 at age 29 remains clouded by accusations of police brutality, although at the time it was reported that Choates, who had been arrested for contempt of court for not paying his child support, bashed his own head against the cell bars until he fell into a coma and eventually died. Choates' version of "Jole Blon" reached No. 10 on the charts and marked the first chart hit for Gold Star. Beaumont superstar Moon Mullican later had a monster hit with the song, and his version is probably the best known.
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