Sunday, January 11, 2009

On The Bayou

I´m honoured to present a guest post by Paul, author of the indispensable Setting The Woods On Fire blog. Please leave many a comment, so the Motor City Cowboy might be persuaded to contribute here more often...

As recorded by Hank Williams, the song Jambalaya (On The Bayou) has long been one of my favorites. The pace, intonation, and instrumentation are all pitch perfect. Who ever thought two chords and some silly words could sound so good?

Hank Williams - Jambalaya (On The Bayou) MP3

Jambalaya (the food) is the Louisiana version of paella, a rice-based dish with a variety of vegetables and meat. Other Cajun/Louisiana-related items in the tale inlcude the pirogue, the bayou, filé gumbo, Thibodeaux, and crawfish pie. Of course, Jambalaya (On The Bayou) is not an authentic Cajun folk song, but instead would be more accurately described as ´mock´ cajun. Nevertheless, it's a lot of fun. While Hank's version is certainly the most enduring, it's not alone. Jambalaya has been one of the most often covered (and mangled) tunes in Hank's catalog. I've got 35 different versions in my computer. Most really aren't very good, but a few are worth mentioning.

After Hank's version, the next most noteworthy take on Jambalaya (On The Bayou) comes from Moon Mullican. Moon Mullican was a legendary pre-rock 'n' roller whose dynamic style mixed elements of the blues, country, R&B, and western swing. Reliable sources credit Mullican as being co-author of the song. All Music Guide explains: ´For decades, it was an open secret that he'd co-written Jambalaya (On The Bayou) with his fellow Grand Ole Opry member Hank Williams, collecting a 50 percent share of the royalties on the sly because of his contractual relationship to King Records´. With Mullican's version, you can hear a few extra verses that Hank left out.

Moon Mullican - Jambalaya (On The Bayou) MP3

The mainstream version of Jambalaya was the pop rendition by Jo Stafford, which hit no. 3 on the Billboard singles chart in 1953. If my ears aren't playing a trick on me, it sounds like Stafford tried to mainstream the lyrics a bit by changing ´Jambalaya´ to ´John
Balaya´. Maybe she was just jazzing it up:

Jo Stafford - Jambalaya (On The Bayou) MP3

What you may not realize is that the melody for Jambalaya (On The Bayou) comes from an old Cajun folk song called Grand Texas. Here are two versions of that tune:

Aldus Roger - Grand Texas MP3
Hackberry Ramblers - Grand Texas MP3

Like I said, there are many versions of Jambalaya, but most of them are kind of bad. In looking for a few covers to highlight here, I discovered that the best cover versions come from Louisiana artists playing Louisiana music. I suppose that makes sense. Here are three good ones:

Fats Domino - Jambalaya (On The Bayou) MP3
Professor Longhair - Jambalaya (On The Bayou) MP3
Jo-El Sonnier - Jambalaya (On The Bayou) MP3

P.S. The ´fruit jar´ is to be filled with whiskey.


David Federman said...

This history and performance survery of "Jambalaya" is what blogs like yours excel at doing. Please keep up the education. I profit from it immensely.

Anonymous said...

Very informative review. Didn't know any of that history.

There are two Moon Mullican songs on the Hank 'Unreleased Recordings' including Hank mentioning him by name as he introduces 'Cherokke Boogie'.

Great Jambalaya cover on video at Daily Motion and You Tube.I think Daily Motion longer and better. Has Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Dominio doing Jambalaya.

Comes up on search. Really a moving tribute to Hank.

John W

Anonymous said...

I love Fats Domino's version. You can see where ska comes from when you hear how his band plays the rhythm.

Paul said...

Big Steve - Great point about Fats Domino's version sounding like a precursor to ska.

LD said...

Ska sounding a lot like Fats isn't an accident. In the 1950s and '60s, Caribbean nations could occasionally pick up American AM radio stations from New Orleans and Miami, weather permitting and usually at night. The sound of Fats, Lloyd Price, Huey Smith, Smiley Lewis, Professor Longhair, etc. drove the Jamaicans nuts, the most talented of whom consciously digested the syncopated funk they heard coming from America and translated it into their own peculiar brand kind of R&B.

Paul - video coming soon.

Paul said...

Also, the song Jambalaya, in particular, tends to be played with a very pronounced back beat, which fits the ska style.

Ramone666 said...

Just read the following in a recent book by Derek Barker on Dylan´s cover versions and influences (more on that in a later post): ´Dylan, who appears to be a bit of a fan od Jo El Sonnier, was seen hugging the king of cajun after his set at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival in ´03. Sonnier then came back onstage for an extra encore stating that Dylan had requested that he play Jambalaya. Now how cool is that?

Paul said...

That's very cool. It's all connected. Glad to see Dylan requesting Hank (who I think was one of Dylan's very biggest influences, a long with Woody).

W said...

A brilliant post! Fun AND educational. W.