LISTEN HERE: (51:21) Eddie Shuler
Interviewed By: Chris Strachwitz
Date: May 13, 1984
Location: Goldband Records, Lake Charles Louisiana
This is an unedited interview originally recorded for research purposes. It is presented here in its raw state, unedited except to remove some irrelevant sections and blank spaces. . All rights to the interview are reserved by the Arhoolie Foundation. Please do not use anything from this website without permission. email@example.com
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Chris Strachwitz: This is the great Eddie Shuler. He’s going to do a little song for us.
Eddie Shuler: I could use my pick but it’d make too much noise so I’ll just use my fingers.
Chris Strachwitz: This is in Lake Charles Louisiana is where we’re at.
Eddie Shuler: [singing]
Chris Strachwitz: That’s your new song?
Eddie Shuler: Yeah, that’s one of my new songs. I’m going to sing that for Chris, no less.
Chris Strachwitz: What do you call it, Rosie?
Eddie Shuler: No, that’s Saying Yes Is All You Have To Do.
Chris Strachwitz: Ah, that sounds so easy. When are you going to record that one?
Eddie Shuler: Oh, I’m going to go in the studio in about three weeks, as soon as we get through cataloging all them tapes out there, with Love Bug Pellerin. He’s going to play the accordion and I’m going to sing it and we’re going to have a record. My name’s not going to be on the record, it’s just going to be Love Bug.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh no, you’ve got to …
Eddie Shuler: I’ll be hidden in the background there. I’ll just be doing the singing.
Chris Strachwitz: No. Come on, you’ve got to be…
Eddie Shuler: You think I’ve got to put my name on it?
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, sure.
Eddie Shuler: Goddamn, all you people want me to go to Europe and you want me to put my name on a record.
Chris Strachwitz: There you go. Eddie Shuler is going to go traveling to Europe because they found his tapes that he made, when was that, in about late ’40s?
Eddie Shuler: Uh, late ’40s or around ’49, ’51 or somewhere along there.
Chris Strachwitz: Charlie’s going to put those out?
Eddie Shuler: He got them out, I think, already.
Chris Strachwitz: He got them out already?
Eddie Shuler: Oh yeah, and they’re crazy about all that junk. You know, Running Wild and all that stuff. Of course I had a good band, The Hackberry Ramblers were backing me up on all that stuff. You know Luderin Darbone, he’s hard to beat when it comes to playing that Cajun fiddle that he’s got. Do you know they’re going to go play at the World’s Fair this year?
Chris Strachwitz: That’s right, I hear that.
Eddie Shuler: They’ve got, I think, six days. They called him, he didn’t call them, so that means he’s recognized that he’s still out there.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh yeah, he’s one of the great all-time Cajun fiddlers.
Eddie Shuler: Oh yeah. They’re just a great bunch of guys. I treasure them all because, like I tell everybody, they’re the ones got me in the music business. I was a dragline and a crane operator. Hell, I had no desire to play no music or nothing. Then, of course, I could sing so I had some songs I wanted to put on acetate. You know, back in them … direct to disc thing, they call it today.
Chris Strachwitz: I know.
Eddie Shuler: I kept going out there waiting on them to learn my songs and they was rehearsing. Well the guy that was supposed to sing didn’t know the songs and I knew all the songs so I would sing them. Finally, they asked me to join the band. I said, “Hey, I’m not no musician. What can I do?” They said, “We’ll teach you how to play.” Old Edwin Duhon and I used to stand up there and play the guitar and when he’d change the chords I’d change with him. That’s how I learned to play the guitar. Now you’ve got a little bit of history too, Chris, to take back to California.
Chris Strachwitz: I’ll play it on my radio program.
Eddie Shuler: Oh sure. Did you know that they did a film on me last year?
Chris Strachwitz: No, where was that?
Eddie Shuler: An outfit out of Chicago called OK Noise Productions. They did 12 hours of video on Eddie Shuler. They spent $60,000. You don’t need to put that on the show.
Chris Strachwitz: That’s good.
Eddie Shuler: Anyway, they spent $60,000 and they don’t have the film out there yet but they’re editing the thing. Come to find out, they called me about two weeks ago, they said they was waiting on Lonnie Brooks to get back from Europe because he was their last segment that they were going to do video on because he was one of the earlier stars of Goldband. They said then that would wrap it up and they’d finish putting it together. I guess we’re going to someday get to see Shuler on Home Box Office or someplace. I don’t know where.
Chris Strachwitz: Who all did they film here when they came down? Some of your artists that you’re recording?
Eddie Shuler: They filmed Bon Ton St. Mary, they filmed Katie Webster, they filmed Boozoo Chavis, they filmed Love Bug Pellerin, they filmed Donald LaFleur. You know, they just went down the line there and called all those people that’s active and been active. The Hackberry Ramblers. Oh, by the way, they got a film of me and the Hackberry Ramblers playing, performing, together. They just went wild over that stuff. Man, we was all tuned up that day and old Luderin hit that fiddle and, boy, all of us started cooking. I was even excited myself, it sounded so good. I’d like to hear that.
Anyway, they got a whole thing of the mess and they come up in this upstairs here and they’d hang off of that thing there. I’d be working here on the board, I was recording Al Ferrier, they got Al Ferrier too. I was recording Al Ferrier at the time and they’d be hanging off that thing. I don’t know what they was doing. They come over one time in an airplane and filmed all that mess. You know, and a guy hanging out the side of the thing with just his feet holding him in there with one of them things. Man, no way I’d be a cameraman.
Chris Strachwitz: What did they film out of the airplane?
Eddie Shuler: All this mess around here.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, they took a picture of your building?
Eddie Shuler: Oh yeah, they call this the Shuler Complex.
Chris Strachwitz: What would you call it?
Eddie Shuler: You’re going to play this on air, I don’t want to mention that. I’ll just say it’s a piece of historical property.
Chris Strachwitz: There you go.
Eddie Shuler: With a lot of history riding on it. It’s here.
Chris Strachwitz: It has made you a pretty good living.
Eddie Shuler: Oh yeah.
Chris Strachwitz: You’ve enjoyed it, haven’t you?
Eddie Shuler: Oh, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It’s like my oldest boy said, he said, “You couldn’t live without that music. That’s your life. If they take the music away from you you’d die.” That’s about the story because the whole thing is, after I got into this production business, for about 15 years I didn’t know I was kind of like an alcoholic or a gambler, or somebody couldn’t resist the thing to go back to it. I couldn’t give up the cutting the records. I couldn’t figure out what was drawing me to the stuff for about 15 years.
Finally, I thought about it and thought about it and I realized, at some point there, that it was the creativity of the thing. The creativeness of putting it together, helping the guys straighten out the words in the song and structuring the melody and stuff like that. Then putting it all together on tape. That was what was my drawing situation, making me come back to it. I’m like a guy writing a book, I just had to get to the next chapter. You know?
Chris Strachwitz: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well you were certainly one of the first, I guess. J.D. (Miller) was … did he have a studio before you? Did he actually have one?
Eddie Shuler: No. We started somewhere about the same time but I cut my first record in 1944. We’re commemorating our 40th year at this point.
Chris Strachwitz: What was that record?
Eddie Shuler: It was Broken Love.
Chris Strachwitz: Who was the artist?
Eddie Shuler: Eddie Shuler.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, by you?
Eddie Shuler: Yeah.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you put it out on your own Goldband?
Eddie Shuler: Yeah. I went to New Orleans, they had a recording studio. I had never even seen a recording studio, by the way. We went to New Orleans down there on Canal Street.
Chris Strachwitz: Was it Cosimo (Matassa)?
Eddie Shuler: No, no, that was 20 years or 30 years, or something, before Cosimos’ time.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh.
Eddie Shuler: Anyway, they had a studio upstairs there on Canal Street. I know the building when I see it now, but it was close to that big D.H. Holmes, or somebody’s big place there on Canal Street. Of course those buildings were all rundown at that point in time. This guy had his studio upstairs and you had to go up one of them elevators that took you 30 minutes to get to the 2nd floor. Well it went to the 3rd floor for his studio.
We went in there and recorded all those things. Then I never put the record out though till 1946 because I didn’t have enough money. See, I cut the master because you cut it direct to disc then. Everybody would gather around one microphone and the whole thing would go into the disc. Then that took all the money I made there. Then in 1946 I put out the record.
Chris Strachwitz: Who did you get to press it for you?
Eddie Shuler: A guy in New York. Soundcraft I think was the name of it. Then six months after he pressed the record the man died. It was a hit record but when they cut the master off of my acetate right there at the last half of the 9th inning they chopped the thing right in the middle of a note. Of course them Cajuns, they liked the song because I had a radio show. I was playing on the radio with my band at that time. The Cajuns wanted to hear the rest of the record so they’d call the jukebox operator and tell him that the jukebox was messed up.
After about three or four calls, guess what, Eddie Shuler’s record wasn’t on the box no more. At the same time, it was a hit record so we sold a lot of them. That was my situation with my first record. I’ve got to tell you some more about the trip going to New Orleans. I had a big old bus, you know, one of these big old school buses. I had all my musicians in the bus and we’re going down the road.
Chris Strachwitz: Who did you take with you, do you remember some of the guys?
Eddie Shuler: I took Hector Stutes and Peewee Lyons and Johnny Porter and Troy Passmore and Amos Comeaux. Those were some of the people that I took to New Orleans with me. We got this big old bus, like a school bus today, but that was the buses that they done a lot of things in at that time. They didn’t no nothing about these things like the Greyhound has today. That hadn’t even been conceived, I don’t suppose.
Anyway, we’re going down the road and we’re out there about 40 miles from nowhere, between Baton Rouge and Opelousas in the swamps, out there on Highway 190. We went that way because we could hit the road going out 61 out of Baton Rouge going to New Orleans. Wasn’t no interstate or nothing then and of course old highway 90 was too crooked.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, that’s true.
Eddie Shuler: It was about 50, 75 miles further by going old 90 so we went that way. We’re going down the road, Chris, and we’re just chatting away and everybody’s happy, musicians going to go make a record and all that stuff. I looked out the window and I seen a wheel going down the road. I said, “Hey, I wonder where that damn wheel come from.” Everybody got to looking at the wheel and I said, “Well, I wonder if that thing must have come off this,” because there wasn’t anymore cars. I said, “I wonder if that wheel come off of this truck.”
I pull the thing off on the side of the road and, sure enough, it was the front wheel come off of the truck. The thing never fell down in the dirt because they built them bodies real strong for those buses. We had to go find the wheel and put it back on the truck. That was the funniest thing. Here goes this wheel and there’s no cars in front of me, no cars in back of me, but there goes a wheel down the road passing me.
Chris Strachwitz: You’re lucky you didn’t have a wreck there.
Eddie Shuler: Yeah.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh boy. That was your first session?
Eddie Shuler: That was it.
Chris Strachwitz: That was your first time in New Orleans, huh? When did you start building this place?
Eddie Shuler: Well, I played music then until about 1954. At that point in time, of course, I was recording in the meantime. I’m recording Iry LeJeune. Iry LeJeune came to me on KPLC Radio when it was down here on Bilbo Street at that time. It’s now where the Gulf National Bank’s parking lot is here in Lake Charles now. I had my radio show. Of course people think I was a disc jockey but I had a radio show as an artist with my band. There’s been a confusion all these years about that mess but, at the same time, I got tired, finally, of saying I wasn’t a disc jockey. I said, “Well, the hell with you, just go ahead and call me a disc jockey if you want to.” Actually it was my band and myself and I had the show.
Chris Strachwitz: You would do the show live with a band?
Eddie Shuler: Yeah, yeah.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you ever play any records at all?
Eddie Shuler: No.
Chris Strachwitz: No? They just still think you …
Eddie Shuler: For some reason, because I said I had a radio show … See today, you think of a radio show as a guy playing records. At that time you thought of a radio show as a man entertaining playing live.
Chris Strachwitz: He wanted to be on your show?
Eddie Shuler: I’m out there on the street and this guy came down the street with the old floppy hat and his flour sack
and carrying it under his arm. Some guy said, “Well what is that?” I said, “I don’t know but if you name it you can have it.” The guy walked up to me and told me his name was Iry LeJeune and he would like permission to perform on my radio show. I said, “Why sure.” I let anybody perform on my show. I said, “What do you play?”
Of course now this is strange because I played with the Hackberry Ramblers. I had never heard of a French accordion, I had never seen one, didn’t know what it was. He pulled that thing out of that sack and I said, “What is that?” He said, “That’s a French accordion.” I said, “Well, if you say so.” I said, “Well, it’ll be interesting to listen to whatever this thing does.” Of course I’d seen the piano accordions but I hadn’t ever seen anything like that.
He came in and performed on my show, two songs. When we were walking out of the station after the show was over, the head man of the station, his name was Mr. Wilson, he came out of that back room. He was from Florida and he was a land developer, salesman before he got into radio. He had a voice like a bellowing bull and he was about as big as you are. He weighed about 290 pounds. I mean he was sure enough a big son-of-a-gun.
He said, “Eddie Shuler, you S.O.B., what in the hell was that you had on my radio station?” I said, “Mr. Wilson, that man said that was Cajun music. I don’t know, I have to go along with him. I have never heard anything like it.” He said, “If you ever do that again I’m going to throw you right out the front door. I’m not going to tell you you’re through, just kick your effed up self out the front door.” I said, “Yes sir,” because I was making money off that radio show because I’d booked these school houses and played school shows and things like that. I was bringing in the money so I couldn’t afford to mess up my business.
I went on and about three months later I didn’t have the show anymore. I quit the show because I was going to Texas to play in Texas so I left. Then, when I came back from Texas, about four months after that, he had eight hours a day of Cajun music on his radio station. I said, “Well that’s strange. That man’s got all that music and then he told me he didn’t like it.” I went and done a little investigating. Come to find out the Cajun’s, as a result of Iry LeJeune appearing on my show, they had a whole slew of bands out there, they’d go out and buy the time, put the band that they wanted on the radio. They had all the bands was competing for the radio time and they were selling commercials right and left. That cat was making money hand over fist off of his radio station, off of Cajun music.
I’ve often wondered, though, what he thought about what he told Eddie Shuler that first time he and I both heard a French accordion. The guy turned out to be Iry LeJeune, which is one of the greatest of all, according to what they say today.
Chris Strachwitz: They’re still saying, yeah.
Eddie Shuler: I’ve even got a thing here somewhere that somebody sent me. I don’t know where it’s at. I had it hanging in here. It’s an artistic drawing of him.
Chris Strachwitz: Was that about the time that the man came from OT Records from Texas to record him or was that a little later?
Eddie Shuler: No, that was a little bit later when he came by. He came by, I still had a radio show at the time he came by, another radio show.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, I see.
Eddie Shuler: Another radio show. He came by and he got affiliated with George Khoury and then George Khoury sent him up … Well first he came to me and I didn’t want him. That’s because I wasn’t too enthused about what he was doing because he was singing and all that stuff.
Chris Strachwitz: What was his name?
Eddie Shuler: Uh, I can’t even remember.
Chris Strachwitz: He was your competition kind of?
Eddie Shuler: He was, in a sense, not really competition but he was playing country music.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, I see. Was it Bozeman?
Eddie Shuler: Bozeman, yeah.
Chris Strachwitz: Bozeman.
Eddie Shuler: I think he was Jerry Bozeman, I think was his name. He sold cow horns. In fact I still have one of his cow horns over the entrance to my door there that he gave me back at that time. I let him sing on my radio show. Anyway, he went then and teamed up with George Khoury and then he went out and found Nathan Abshire. They did the Pine Grove Blues at the radio station. They used the radio station’s disc cutting facilities because that’s the way they made their commercials. All their transcriptions and things came off one of those acetates and they would play that then on the air.
They cut the Pine Grove Blues there, I think, at KPLC in their engineering room. Then they brought the thing to me and I wound up with one of those discs. I still have it. I had the first one because they brought it to me. I sit there and looked at it for six months and then George Khoury put out the record. I’m sitting there looking and I’ve got one too.
Chris Strachwitz: Who first recorded Iry LeJeune? Did Bozeman? Yeah, I guess. Did they have him first or did you?
Eddie Shuler: No. No, Iry went to Houston Texas and he came up on this outfit called, I think it was Opry Records (Opera Records) or something like that.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh yeah, OT Records.
Eddie Shuler: No, no, that was Bozeman. I think it was Opry, or something like that. Anyway, he cut a record over there and they put it out but nobody couldn’t buy the record. They couldn’t find the record and the people were going crazy. That’s the time that he approached me as he came back from Houston. They couldn’t buy the record. What he wanted was records so that he could go out and play his dances. He came to me about this, to making records for him because he had met me on the radio show.
He said, “I would like for you to put out my records.” I said, “Well Hey …” I’d been thinking to my I don’t think I want to put any records on anybody but me because I know what me’s going to do. I told him, I said, rather than tell him what I was thinking I says, “I’ll tell you what, let me think about it for a couple weeks and then I’ll let you know. You check back with me.” Well man, I thought that he’d go off somewhere else and find somebody else to do it and I wouldn’t have to worry with it.
Two weeks later there he was. He said, “Well what did you think about my proposal?” Of course he didn’t call it proposal but we’ll use the proper word. I said to myself, “What the hell is he talking about?” Because I’d forgot about it. He said, “Cutting my records.” Oh yeah, in my mind it’s kind of like the light comes on. I said, “Oh yeah, I told this guy to come back in two weeks. Jesus Christ, what do I do now?”
Well on the spur of the moment I made one of the most profitable decisions I ever made in my life. I said, “Hey, let me tell you what I’ll do. I’ll put out one record on you and if it makes money, you and I are in business. If it don’t make no money, you’ll have to find somebody else. How does that sound to you?” I’m hoping he’s going to say no, naturally, because I didn’t really want to mess with him. He said, “That’s a good deal. I’ll tell you what we do, we shake hands on it. My handshake is my bond and I’ll be your man forever, as long as you want me.” I said, “Okay.” We shake hands. You know, it was just a handshake to me.
We shook hands and the first record I made $70 and I said, “Jesus Christ.” I made $70 and back in those days, where people worked all day long for $2, that was a lot of money. I said, “Hey, this is pretty good.” All I did was go in there and give the guy a pint of whiskey to cut me an acetate, the engineer in the KAOK radio station.
Chris Strachwitz: You went to KAOK?
Eddie Shuler: Yeah, KAOK.
Chris Strachwitz: Where’s that?
Eddie Shuler: In Lake Charles, yeah, that was another station in Lake Charles. I gave the engineer a fifth of whiskey and $5 to cut me the acetate. I said, “Hey.” I sent the records off and got them pressed because I was already pressing Eddie Shuler records and I had all this stuff going for me. By that time I was doing my pressing out on the west coast. I said, “Hey, this is okay.” We just kept on putting out records and every time that the business would slow down he’d come down and say, “Don’t we need to cut some more records?” I said, “Well, yeah, we’ll cut a few more.”
Chris Strachwitz: Do you remember which titles you did at the radio station? Because some of them you did on the wire recorder at your house, didn’t you?
Eddie Shuler: Yeah.
Chris Strachwitz: The first ones you recorded at the radio station?
Eddie Shuler: Yeah, the very first one.
Chris Strachwitz: Just the very first one?
Eddie Shuler: Yeah.
Chris Strachwitz: Then after that the others you did in your …
Eddie Shuler: Yeah. Now I couldn’t even tell you today which ones did what where. You can tell which one was did on something besides a tape recorder. Now later on with the song Te Monde and the song Durald Waltz we did that when they came out with the little cheap tape recorders. A little cheap one track tape recorder, I think, was the name of the thing was Echo or something like that. Some little thing cost $278 and I was in hog heaven because I had a way to make records and didn’t have to go give that guy a fifth of whiskey.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah. Did he speak only French or did you speak in English with him, Iry?
Eddie Shuler: He could speak English. He spoke the typical Cajun dialect English but you could understand it. The thing that was amazing about the guy, he only had 20% vision. That’s why I continued making records for him. Later on I began to appreciate what I was doing for him because I was enabling him to make a living, whereas otherwise he wouldn’t have had a chance to make a living. I had no idea, of course, that he would develop into what he did.
Of course I knew this, that each record that I put out on him I sold records and made money. Of course, being new in the record business, that didn’t dawn on me at that point in time. Today I’d really take a close look at it because we have so many dogs. At that point I hadn’t ever done too many things except what I did on Eddie Shuler. That was more of less to hustle my jobs for my band, for me to work, like he was wanting to work. I never cared too much about the getting out with it. With his records I went out and made the tours.
Chris Strachwitz: Did he ever get a radio program on that station, or was he not one of the ones that had a show?
Eddie Shuler: No, no, he never had a radio show.
Chris Strachwitz: He never did.
Eddie Shuler: He was on a lot of radio shows. All he had to do was walk up to the station and they’d put him on the air. The thing that I really regret was about, oh I guess, three months before he got killed in that car accident he come by and he told me, he said, “Hey, I’ve got a whole bunch of good songs I’d like for you to put on tape. When can we get together?” I said, “Well, my tape recorder’s broke right now.” Well, it wasn’t broke, I just didn’t want to mess with it. I wanted to put it aside, you know, like you do things.
I put it aside and I said, “I’ll get back to you later.” Well I regret that I didn’t say, “Let’s get on with it.” Nobody’s smart enough to be able to see into the tomorrow so I lost something that I should have had.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, I’ve lost a lot of things like that too. I sure remember them. When I guy comes asking you and shortly after, they pass away. You just wish you had done something.
Eddie Shuler: The strangest thing that I find out about this music business is that the songs that you feel like are not worth anything, later on, turn out to be the most valuable thing you’ve got and you can’t understand. At the time you don’t put out the record. You say, “My god, that …” For an illustration, I had this thing by Guitar Junior called The Crawl. Well I didn’t like The Crawl all that much. I thought it was a pathetic piece of music. Come to find out, it’s the best thing I’ve got. It made me more money than anything else. How in the world are you going to be able to know all this stuff?
Chris Strachwitz: No, you never know but you were just in the right place at the right time.
Eddie Shuler: That’s it. Well that’s what I say today, is that the good lord was smiling on me because I was here and I was creating history but I had no way of knowing that I was actually creating history. Now I’m thankful that I was here and that I was able to participate because this then will go into the history books and recorded for all time of what I accomplished. As a result of what I did, I feel good about it.
Back in those days there wasn’t any Cajun records, I’ll give you a story in a minute about that, in the stores. There wasn’t any LPs on the market. I had one of the first Cajun LPs to come out. In fact, the very first one and RCA pressed it for me. There was this one Cajun LP out there. Okay, today you can go into one of those stores and you’ll see, maybe, 200 LPs or more. I have never counted them. I feel good because I’m the man that put that stuff on the wall. That makes me feel good because I contributed something to our culture while at the same time preserving history.
Let me tell you about my record distributing business now. One time I decided that I was a record executive and that I had to have a distributor and I should do like all other record companies, let the other guy go out and sell the stuff. I’d just sit back and smoke the cigars and have money coming in. I was selling … At that time they had a thing called Teche Novelty out of New Iberia. They had about, oh I guess, 4,000 jukeboxes. They had a bunch of them.
They’d buy all the way from 900 to 1,800 records at one pop. Then I’d go to the stores and sell the records to the stores too. Of course I did that all out of the back of my car. I went to New Orleans and they had a guy down there, he was a distributor for Mercury Records. I talked to him, the Mercury Record distributor in New Orleans. Of course I went down there specifically to look for a distributor because at that time I’m a tycoon, or so I thought. I’m a record executive and all that jazz.
I go in there and tell the guy that I’d like for him to distribute my records. He said, “Sure.” He had a man out on the road selling records. I go back then and send him the records and I wait about 60 days and I don’t have any orders coming in. My wife was a native of Ville Platte. I had to take my wife on a Friday to visit with her parents over the weekend for some special occasion. I told her, I said, “We’re going to stop in a couple of these places and let me sell a few Cajun records and more or less compensate me for this journey.”
I stopped over there in Eunice Louisiana at a little record shop who’d been buying a lot of records from me. I walked in the door and the woman recognized me. She said, “Oh my god, I’m glad to see you. We’ve been out of Cajun records for a month and a half.” I said, “Well, let’s get on with it.” I pulled out my 78s, that was 78 days now. Pulled out my 78s and she bought 25 of this and 15 of that and 10 of something else. She wound up buying 275 records, all Cajun.
She was telling me that the man from New Orleans had just been in there. She said, “You should have heard that junk he was trying to peddle to me.” She said he had one there by that movie star, Rex Allen. She said, “Have you heard of Rex Allen?” I said, “Yeah, I’ve heard of Rex Allen.” She said, “Well, he had a record by him. Man, I couldn’t sell that stuff. He didn’t have nothing like this but he had all that other stuff. This is what I need. I’m certainly proud that you’ve decided to come by again.”
I said, “Well what company was that man with?” She said, “Well he’s with Mercury.” I said, “Wait a minute, there’s something wrong with this mess.” I told my wife, I said, “I’m going to go down there.” I asked the woman before I left, I said, “Do you know which way he was going?” She said, “He was headed towards Opelousas.” I knew where all of his places were where he sold records. I told my wife, I said, “We’re going to take a little detour by way of Opelousas and I’m going to catch that guy in motion somewhere and find out why he’s not selling my records when the guy’s got them.”
We made a couple of record shops and he hadn’t been to one. Went to another and he had just left and he was going to another place so we went. There he was in there selling the records. He didn’t know who I was so I stood back there in and they asked me if I wanted to do anything and I said, “No, I’m just looking around.” When he got to selling his records I asked him, I said, “Hey, do you have any Cajun records?” He said, “Oh, that crap?” I said, “Yeah.”
He said, “Well I’ve got some of them things in my box but I can’t stand to listen to that stuff. I’m a medical student down there at Tulane. I’m selling these records helping pay my expense through Tulane. I don’t ever pull them things out because they just get on my nerves.” Guess what, I didn’t have a distributor. That was the story of Eddie Shuler and his distributing days with the distributor.
Chris Strachwitz: Then you went right back and sold your own.
Eddie Shuler: I went back to selling my own records again.
Chris Strachwitz: Do you recall when the accordion started coming back again? You started off with a string band, like the Hackberry Ramblers and stuff. When did they start picking up on that kind of music like Iry LeJeune was playing?
Eddie Shuler: It was as a result of what Iry LeJeune was doing. Iry LeJeune went out there and more or less paved the way for the rest of them. Just like in the case … of course it took a long time but Clifton Chenier has paved the way for all these zydeco people. Now today zydeco is big business but the guy to give credit for all that stuff, which they’re giving him his proper credit for the awards and things like that. That guy needs all kinds of awards himself because he’s done for zydeco what Iry LeJeune did for Cajun accordion music. Iry, he was it. There just wasn’t any accordion players. They had one out there …
Chris Strachwitz: Nathan (Abshire) was there.
Eddie Shuler: Well no, Nathan come along later. See Iry was ahead of Nathan.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh really?
Eddie Shuler: No, no, Iry was ahead of Nathan.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh.
Eddie Shuler: See, Nathan came along behind Iry. Now the reason I know, because I’m the one … I went out there to Midland, where Nathan was from at that point, he was living somewhere around Midland. I played in a club out there in Midland. I already had a record out on Iry LeJeune at that point. I was playing at this club. They had this guy that wanted to sit in with my band because I had a popular string band. I said, “Well what is his name?” They said, “His name is Nathan Abshire.” I said, “What does he play?” “He plays the accordion.” I said, “Oh, one of them things, huh?”
He came in and, man, them people just went crazy over that thing. Of course he played The Pine Grove Blues but it didn’t reach me because I wasn’t that deeply involved in it at that point. That’s why I know that he came behind Iry, because of the fact that that happened there at the club. That was where he was from at that time.
Chris Strachwitz: Then he finally went over to Khourys and recorded …
Eddie Shuler: He went to Khourys and cut the record for Khoury.
Chris Strachwitz: You’ve always been pretty good friends with Khoury?
Eddie Shuler: Oh yeah. None of the people that’s here are competition to me, we’re friends. I don’t have any competition. I’m just not in … if I had to go into this business and think of you as my competitor and I had to think that I couldn’t trust you and I couldn’t live with you as a friend I wouldn’t be happy. I just couldn’t enjoy it. To me, your friendship and my … together as friends is what life is all about. If it’s all going to boil down to the all mighty dollar, what are we living for?
Now, of course, a lot of people think in terms of that but that, to me, is the plastic world. That’s the plastic life and it has no content on which to build a future. I prefer to have you as a friend than to have you as some cat that I’m going to rake off for a few bucks, or $100,000. That doesn’t mean that I won’t do business with you but the friendship is more valuable to me than the money I’m going to make off of you. Now if that can make sense to you.
All these people over here, with the exception of one man, are my personal friends. He and I were friends for many years but when you try to rip me off then we’re not friends no more. I don’t actually disown you or nothing but I just don’t have nothing to do with you. It’s that simple. That’s my philosophy.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah. That’s some good stuff.
(tape turned off for a while)
Eddie Shuler: … not on tape so don’t put it on tape.
Chris Strachwitz: Folk Star was your label?
Eddie Shuler: My label, yeah.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, yeah.
Eddie Shuler: I had Folk Star and Goldband.
Chris Strachwitz: Your own records you kept on Goldband.
Eddie Shuler: Yeah. Then, later, after two or three records, I put him on Goldband because he was selling a lot of records. I said, “Hell, I don’t give a damn about Folk Star, I want Goldband.” I put him on Goldband then.
Chris Strachwitz: When did you do those sides that you did for T.N.T. that I’ve copied out on the Old Timey label?
Eddie Shuler: I don’t …
Chris Strachwitz: Did he go to San Antonio to make those?
Eddie Shuler: No, those were my tapes I sent to Tanner.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, you sent them to Tanner?
Eddie Shuler: Yeah, I sent them to Tanner. He wanted a Cajun record so I let him have Eddie Shuler’s J’ai Passé Devant Ta Porte or something like that. Then I also let him have me singing a country song, which was what I was primarily interested in. I let him have the other stuff to get him to put out a record on Eddie Shuler. He put out the Cajun stuff and the Eddie Shuler stuff. The Eddie Shuler stuff got lost in the shuffle because he wasn’t all that swift.
Now I had several hit records but that was one of the things that I did. Lots of musicians make a lot of records that they wish they hadn’t done. That’s one of those things I wished I hadn’t done. Not because I didn’t do it good. The song just wasn’t there. In the business, I don’t care how they play, the business is always going to come back to that one thing. It doesn’t matter what they do, the song is what makes them a star. I don’t give a shit if his name’s Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, or whoever, they’ve got to have the pizazz to put it across.
If they don’t have that hit song, if she hadn’t had Coat Of Many Colors she wouldn’t be where she’s at today. If Kenny Rogers, who was with The Fifth Edition, or whatever he called it, for 10 years, hadn’t have come up with Lucille where would he be today? The musicians don’t like to face that reality but you, as a producer, and I, as a producer, must face these things. The whole damn ball game is a song. You have no way of knowing which one is it.
Chris Strachwitz: How did you happen to record Dolly Parton, because she wasn’t from here, was she?
Eddie Shuler: No. Her uncle was out here in the air base. He came across the street one day with a tape and he said, “I’ve got a tape here on my niece to see if you’re interested in recording her.” I said, “What does she play?” He said, “Country music.” That was a dirty word at that point in time because that was in the beginning of rock and roll. You couldn’t even give away a country record. I said, “Well let me hear it.”
I put it on my tape recorder and played it. Well the little gal sang real good. I said, “Well she does sing good and she’s got a good delivery and a very distinctive style. I’d record her if she’s got a couple of songs.” I was affiliated, at that point in time, with Don Pierce, who owned Starday and Hollywood, and 14,000 other labels. Don Pierce was originally from Seattle Washington but he had came out of Los Angeles to Nashville. By that point in time he was in Nashville and he was my tutor. He’s the one that tutored me on how to become a publisher and what the benefits of a publisher was. He tutored me on what to do with the records.
Of course his theory was easy back in those days. It ain’t that way no more but I wish to hell I’d have known about these other things then. He said, “You put out one record, Eddie, if you don’t sell it, forget about it.” I told that guy, I said, “Well, I’ll put out a record on her if you’ve got a couple of songs.” He said, “We’ve got a couple of songs.” I said, “I, of course, have got to like the songs but I like this one.” This one was called Puppy Love. I said, “By the way, where is the girl at?” He said, “She’s in Knoxville Tennessee.”
I said, “Jesus Christ. Now that guy’ll want me to pay her bus fare or plane fare or something over here. If I do that I can’t even put out a record on her because that’ll cost more than a record.” Because they didn’t cost all that much in those days. I said, “Hey, forget about it.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, if I’m going to have to pay to get her over here we just ain’t going to do it.” “Oh,” he said, “you don’t have to do nothing. I’ll get her over here.” I said, “Well if you get her here, I’ll put out the record.”
He said, “Nothing to it.” He got her and her grandmother and put them on a Greyhound bus, or some kind of bus, Trailway or something. They came to Lake Charles and I recorded her. I wished I’d have cut 50 sides or 25, or anything besides those two that Don Pierce told me to cut on a new artist. She’s been very, very rewarding to me. She always tells everybody that she started out in Goldband Studios in Lake Charles Louisiana with Eddie Shuler and it sounds like … a lot of times it sounds like a paid commercial.
The truth of the matter is I havn’t seen the girl but maybe four or five times since that time. Of course she was a 13 year old girl then. She’s really a compassionate person and she appreciates what other people does for her. It must be paying off because last year she made a whole sack full of money. She’s still making a sack full of money. Some of them are long since gone by the wayside, like Freddie Fender and other people. Of course Freddie Fender’s still out there but he’s not visible like he should’ve been.
Chris Strachwitz: No, that’s true, Dolly Parton has been going strong ever since then.
Eddie Shuler: Oh yes.
Chris Strachwitz: Did she go with RCA shortly after you recorded those things?
Eddie Shuler: No, she went with Monument first.
Chris Strachwitz: Over to Monument.
Eddie Shuler: She went with RCA when she became affiliated with Porter Wagoner. Monument cut a record on her. The only thing, it put me in the limelight. My record is in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, hanging on the wall. I didn’t even know it was there. I went with some friends and they said, “Eddie, here’s one of your records.” I said, “What?” There’s a dag gone Goldband record hanging in the Country Music Hall of Fame. I said, “Hey man, I’m somebody after all. I’m not just that there two bit record man out of Lake Charles Louisiana.” I don’t know who put it in there but it’s hanging on the wall.
Chris Strachwitz: Probably Bob Pinson. He’s a collector who has just about every record ever made in country music. He works for them, he probably found it.
Eddie Shuler: I don’t know. I didn’t ask them. I said, “Well, I’m thankful that it’s up there, just leave good enough alone, Shuler.”
Chris Strachwitz: That record didn’t do much when it first came out, did it?
Eddie Shuler: No, no. No, we couldn’t even give the thing away because, like I said, we was in the heyday of rock and roll and this was a country record. What are you going to do with a country record when the artists were starving to death themselves, back at that point in time. They done good to sell the biggest names, like Ernest Tubbs, and whoever would be there at that point. They’d do real good to sell 50,000 records in a year. Now, where they sell millions of records, it’s a different ball game but at that point in time 50,000 records was a whole lot of sales.
We had Boozoo Chavis with Paper In My Shoe, which I leased to Imperial. We sold 138,000 copies, which was one of my bigger records in that category back at that point in time. The way that came about, I was out there peddling the record on the road and I had a friend in New Orleans that was a distributor. He wanted to distribute my product. I said, “Well …” I had a bad taste in my mouth for distributors by that point. I said, “Well, I’d like to help you but I’ll tell you what you do, if you get me this record here, it’s a good record, if you can help me get this record on a national label I might consider it.”
He said, “Well let me see what I can do. I know you’re selling a lot of them.” He called Lew Chudd, with Imperial, and Lew Chudd picked up the record. He went out there and when the record started falling off for Boozoo … His brother had done told Boozoo, mind you, that they wasn’t going to ever make any money off the record because that just wasn’t the way it worked. Boozoo, instead of listening to me, listened to his brother and wouldn’t come in the studio to make anymore records.
Chudd was just burning up the telephone trying to get me to get Boozoo in the studio. I couldn’t tell him why Boozoo wasn’t in the studio, because his brother said not to get him in there. It wasn’t time for me to get paid for the record but then, later on, when the guy paid me for the record I paid Boozoo. Then Boozoo wanted to get back in the studio but it was too late. I called Chudd and he said, “No, when one of them is gone, he’s gone. Eddie, we’d be wasting our time and our money.”
It turned out he was right because I went ahead and put out a record. We didn’t do too much with it. Of course it was a good record and it’s one of his classics today. That was a thing called The Boozoo Stomp, or something like that, 41 Days and Boozoo Stomp, which was a good record. Today it’s a classic record but at that point in time that zydeco stuff was kind of new too. The funniest part about it, when Boozoo come back to wanting to make records again this is how it happened. He was playing in a club and he had a big long Pontiac car with his name written in letters as tall as this from one end to the other. Oh it was wild, let me tell you.
The crowd kept falling off at the club where he was playing. Of course one of them records only lasts so long and you’ve got to have another one or you’ve got to move on to another place where they haven’t heard it, or something. The guy told Boozoo, he said, “Boozoo, when are you going to have another record?” Boozoo said, “Ain’t going to cut no more records. Them record companies ain’t no good no how. You don’t make any money.” The guy said, “Well, Boozoo, when you get another record out you come back and see me and we’ll have a job again.”
That fired him. Then Boozoo decided that maybe he did need a record after all. That’s when he started coming in wanting to make records. He forgot about all that stuff his brother said at that point.
Chris Strachwitz: He knew it was a meal ticket.
Eddie Shuler: He knew where the money was in the business at that point. He realized, to some degree. Of course I don’t know if he realizes completely today but the record business is … the benefits are performing. The financial gain is performing. If you don’t know the business you think it’s the records. They’ve heard about this record making this many thousand sales and all that kind of thousand sales but the funny part is the money didn’t come from the records that the artist enjoyed. It comes from his performance as a result of the record.
Chris Strachwitz: Except for the few on top.
Eddie Shuler: The few on top make money. For an illustration we’ll use Elvis Presley or Fats Domino. They had a record sell a million and they got, maybe, 2 million dollars royalties off of the record, which is good money. You could take the same period of time, the same year, for an illustration, that they got this 2 million dollars royalty off of the record and you go and find their booking schedule and how much they made, they made 15 million off of their bookings. Where is the money?
Chris Strachwitz: Even for the big names.
Eddie Shuler: The big names or the little names or the names in the middle, the name of the business and the key to the business is the bookings but you can’t book without records. A guy thinks he’s going to make it but then the club owner shoves him aside and he finally gets the message you’ve got to have records too.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah. That’s a good point. So many people don’t understand that.
Eddie Shuler: Yeah.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah. Can I buy you a little lunch?