a FRENCH MUSIC article
Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser, December 29, 1998
Even though Acadians spread across south Louisiana, most of the music that we recognize as "chanky-chank" Cajun music today came from the prairie parishes of south central and southwest Louisiana -- as did most of the "name" fiddle players and musicians who made the early records and kept the music alive.
One of them was accordionist, vocalist, and composer Joseph Falcon who was born on Sept. 28, 1900, in Roberts Cove, Acadia Parish.
When Joe was 7 years old, his father, a sharecropper, agreed to buy him an accordion. Falcon said in an interview with Lauren C . Post that he learned to play in a barn.
"We couldn't play it in the house, so we went to the barn," he said. "We had the biggest trouble over there with the cattle. They wanted to come in with us. I kept banging on the accordion until I struck a tune. It was so many years ago I forgot what tune it was, but I stayed with it and before I turned it loose I kinda started something."
Falcon first played in public at Oneziphore Guidry's dance hall in Rayne. He took his accordion with him one evening as he was going to a dance there. When the band didn't show up, Guidry asked him to play.
Falcon's first wife was guitarist and singer Cléoma Breaux, born May 27,1906, in Crowley. In 1928, they issued the first recording of a Cajun French song, Allons à Lafayette, which appeared under the Columbia label.
Cléoma came from a musical family. Her brothers, Amédé on accordion, Ophé on guitar, and Cléopha on the fiddle, played together as the Breaux Frères. She played guitar with them on one of the earliest recorded versions of Jolie Blonde, which they recorded under the title of Ma Blonde Est Partie. According to one account Cléopha's brother, Amédé wrote the song about his wife, but there other conflicting stories of the song's origin. Cléoma left the family band after her marriage to record with her husband.
In researching his book, "South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous," John Broven interviewed Jay Miller of Crowley, one of the first men in south Louisiana to produce Cajun records, on the Fais Do Do label. Broven says Miller played his first dance with the popular Breaux Brothers at a dance hall at Cow Island ... which was so remote that there was no electricity for the loudspeakers. His strongest memory is of the Breaux Brothers arguing among themselves throughout the dance and fighting like dogs at the end. He considers Amidie (sic) Breaux one of the great Cajun musicians, although Breaux did have a tendency, when drunk, to pull accordions apart in exuberant acts of showmanship."
During the 1930s, Joe Falcon and Cléoma recorded for Columbia, Decca, Bluebird, and Okeh. In 1934, they issued an early version of Hip et Taïaut under the name Ils la volet mon trancas and in 1937, Cléoma recorded the popular Mon coeur t'appelle, better known as J'ai passé devant ta porte.
Cléoma died suddenly on April 9, 1941, but Joe continued to perform as leader of Joe Falcon and His Silver Bell String Band, which included his second wife, Theresa, on drums. He died Nov 19,1965.
In his book, Broven discussed how Joe and Cléoma got the opportunity to make the first recording of Cajun music.
"At the beginning of the recording era, northern-based record company executives were uncertain of the merits -- or profitability -- of any form of southern music," he wrote. "The success of the early blues and hillbilly recordings showed that there were hungry regional markets waiting for more homespun sounds. Since the recording studios were based in the North, the companies sent out mobile field units to the major southern cities to record a ragged collection of artists performing old ballads, Mexican border songs, mountain music, Negro blues and spirituals, and polka music -- the roots of Amerias popular music. The opportunity for Cajun artists to record came in 1928, but it was already too late for several legendary musicians, notably accordionists August Breaux of Rayne, Moise Cormier of Bosco, and Armand Thibodeaux of Sunset, whose music, has been irretrievably lost in the mists of time.
"Happily, the first Cajun-French release, 'Lafayette' by Joseph Falcon (Columbia), sold well, and the recording medium became available to other Cajun artists. Falcon's hit record, better known as 'Allons à Lafayette' was an irresistible, tunefull two-step sung to the accompaniment of his full-toned accordion and wife Cléoma Breaux's very basic rhythm guitar."
The record boosted Falcon's popularity enough that he was able to work full-time as a musician, playing mostly in southwest Louisiana and east Texas. It also opened the opportunity for other Louisiana French musicians to begin recordings.
At almost the same time that Joseph and Cléoma's Falcon's Columbia record was released, Leo Soileau and Mayeus LaFleur sang Hé Mom for Victor, Columbia's main rival. Others who were soon making records included Amédé Ardoin, the Breaux Brothers, Columbus Frugé, Angelas LeJeune, Dennis McGee and others.
According to Broven, "When Joseph Falcon first recorded, the usual Cajun lineup was accordion and fiddle, sometimes with box guitar or triangle. In the thirties radical changes were brought about by the popularity of western music and the introduction of amplified instruments. By 1937, the featured role of the accordion had been usurped by the fiddle, and Falcon's authentic, uninhibited music was suddenly out of date. His pride hurt, Joe refused to record commercially again, although he continued to play dances in the Crowley area, mainly for the older generation."
Joe Falcon died in 1965.
This article is copyrighted © by the Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser and is used with permission. This web site was originated through a grant awarded to Carencro High School (Joel Hilbun/Bobbi Marino, Grant Administrators) by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from the Louisiana Quality Education Support Fund - 8(g).