LISTEN HERE: Moise Robin
Interviewed by: Chris Strachwitz
Date: June 1980
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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Special thanks to Jordy A. Allen for sending in corrections and additions to our transcription.
Chris Strachwitz: How do you say your name? I know people pronounce it different ways, but-
Moise Robin: Moise Robin. Or in English, is Moise Robin:.
Chris Strachwitz: Were you born right here in this town?
Moise Robin: Yeah, I was born here between Leonville and Arnaudville in the country name of Pointe Claire.
Chris Strachwitz: Pointe Claire?
Moise Robin: Pointe Claire.
Chris Strachwitz: And what was your birthday?
Moise Robin: My birthday was on the fourth day of January, 1911.
Chris Strachwitz: Did your parents play French music too?
Moise Robin: Oh, yeah. My father was a great musician.
Chris Strachwitz: What instrument did he play?
Moise Robin: Accordion. He played all over, around the territory Ville Platte and everywhere, play dances, for many years.
Chris Strachwitz: Now, this is your grandfather?
Moise Robin: My daddy.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, your daddy. He still alive?
Moise Robin: Yeah, he’s 94.
Chris Strachwitz: What is his first name?
Moise Robin: Joseph Robin.
Chris Strachwitz: Joseph Robin … And do you remember any of the tunes you learned from him? Or did you record any of his tunes?
Moise Robin: No, I didn’t record his tunes. Like I told you, I was tied up with Eddie Shuler, on an album.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, I see. He has some of those, huh?
Moise Robin: Yeah, and I signed my right to him not to play….
Chris Strachwitz: Do you remember, did your dad ever tell you when the accordion came into Louisiana, because in the old days they just had fiddles, didn’t they? Who do you think brought the accordion in here?
Moise Robin: My daddy was born in 1886 … And he started play when he was young.
Chris Strachwitz: So, already when he started, he was playing accordion?
Moise Robin: Now you can imagine how long ago , way back
Chris Strachwitz: Did he bring you an accordion?
Moise Robin: He had an accordion and I would go to school and when I would come back from school instead of make my lesson. I was more interested in accordion … and I learned when I was nine years of age. And he would play dances and he would make me play a few dances for the people that took those great big red accordion old time time and just my head would show up on top of the accordion, I was about nine-years-old.
Chris Strachwitz: Real big accordion, huh? They were the same kind that you play today with the just one row?
Moise Robin: Oh, no. These accordion now … About in 1928, ’27, ’28. It was accordion Sterling and Monarch, it comes from Germany. But you can’t get them anymore, so they make them here.
(Contributor’s note from Jordy A. Allen: Monarch and Sterling were the popular German built accordions shipped in from pre-WWII Europe)
Chris Strachwitz: But they also have just one row of buttons?
Moise Robin: The same way
Chris Strachwitz: Like they are today-
Moise Robin: They took the pattern under the accordion . It’s not as good though! The Monarch and Sterling was the best.
Chris Strachwitz: Where did you begin to play? At house parties?
Moise Robin: Houses and countries and parties, and after while I’d play with my father. We’d play with two accordions, and you couldn’t tell if it was one or two. So, I’ve seen Amédé Breaux seen him play an accordion, he would play behind his back. So, I learned how to play behind my back and on top of my head, all kind of tricks, you know. I was young, I thought there was none like me. I was anxious, and I wanted to make tricks in a way nobody else could make them in that time. I was very popular in accordion.
Chris Strachwitz: It was mainly just accordion, or did you always have a fiddler with you?
Moise Robin: Fiddle, accordion, and guitar and those little triangles that was popular in that time. There was no mic, nothing electricity, we had to do it by the power, the strength of …
Chris Strachwitz: How did you run into Leo Soileau
Moise Robin: When Mayeus Laleur got killed, in 1928 … right after, he heard about me, so he came home with my daddy and seen me that’s when he got me to play with him.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you play with Mayeus Laleur first?
Moise Robin: No, with Soileau. Mayeus Laleur was playing with Soileau …
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, he was playing with Soileau
Moise Robin: When he got killed, you see. So, I replaced him. And the first place we went, we played all around in clubs, you know? But it wasn’t clubs at that time, it was all hall dance, dance hall they call it. And now they call them clubs and (?). But in that time, when we was playing, a company from the Richmond, Indiana (Paramount Records) called us to go make a record. So we met in Richmond, Indiana and made two records there. And a while after, we was called to Memphis, Tennessee, me and Leo, and made again two records there (Victor Records). And a while after, we was called to New Orleans, Louisiana, at the Roosevelt Hotel and we made again two records, each one (Vocalion Records).
Chris Strachwitz: How did the man from Richmond, Indiana hear about you, do you know?
Moise Robin: I don’t know, they heard the … His is one thing I couldn’t tell … …. Leo, it would come, I guess, from Leo, you see. He made the first record with Mayeus. So, he was known maybe? They heard Leo first, and I was playing with Leo.
Chris Strachwitz: Did Leo do most of the singing in those days, or did you do some singing too?
Moise Robin: Both a lot. Leo made three records, he sang, and I made three and I sang.
Chris Strachwitz: Do you mean three songs or two-
Moise Robin: Three records. My songs and three records. He sang the three other records.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you always give you the train ticket, or how did you get up there? Was that the first time you ever traveled outside-
Moise Robin: The pay, it was all steam trains …They would pay all expenses, and the year was, in that time money it was Depression, $25 each, to make that first record. And it was great for us to $25. And the second time we got again, $50.
Chris Strachwitz: Memphis, you guys got-
Moise Robin: Memphis. And $50 at New Orleans.
Chris Strachwitz: New Orleans. In those times, that was pretty good money.
Moise Robin: Yeah, it was good money in that time, because we worked for 50 cents a day.
Chris Strachwitz: Who did you pick up most of your songs from? Your father?
Moise Robin: No, I made the songs myself, when I was young. My dances and my tunes and my songs, I would write in French and understand my own language, you see. So, I would compose my songs and write them down and practice them. And I does…that’s the way I still do.
Chris Strachwitz: How long did you work with Leo until you-
Moise Robin: Oh, about two years.
Chris Strachwitz: About two years.
Moise Robin: Then we disband.
Chris Strachwitz: And then he started playing with a-
Moise Robin: With a bigger band, like a Western …..
Chris Strachwitz: Drums and stuff
Moise Robin: But I played too, I would play on my side and he would play his side. He would do his business and I’d do mine.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you feel that, for a time, the old accordion music was passing away? Like, Joe Falcon he told me that during the late 30’s, you know, and 40’s, people didn’t want to hear too much of the accordion…..
Moise Robin: Joe Falcon went made the first record and Mayeus Lafleur and Soileau, it was as popular as Elvis Presley was. And now, you make a good record, they’re not interested anymore, because it’s more, the young people don’t care for that. If you take two stick and beat on the tub, they would like it better than they would the French record. They’re not interested in my record now French. But old people, they still like records. But it all depends what they like. Sometimes you make something that’s foolishness and that’s what they like, and something you make a good record and they don’t like it. It all depends on the people and what they like.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, I guess you didn’t play for a long time in there.
Moise Robin: No, I didn’t play music long because, around here, in my town, there are no good musician. You can’t get good musician. You see why I have to get one over there, way in Erath, 52 miles from here, and way on the other side of Lafayette, I do say so. That’s why I quit playing dances and you can’t keep a good band because, to keep a good band, you’d have to be working 3 or 4 dances a week and they can get a better job than that. There’s not enough money to stick together, to have a good band.
Chris Strachwitz: Who were some of your favorite players when you came up, when you grew up? Besides your dad, who you heard, of course. Did you have any other favorites that you heard …..
Moise Robin: I’ll tell you, the best player I ever played with was this man, Mike Doucet and Menard (?).
Chris Strachwitz: I was just wondering who some of-
Moise Robin: Because in that time, there was no real player that take guitar in barns and that play that well as I played with you the other night (laughs). There would beat on the strings most of the time, they didn’t know the right key to just, more anxious to drink just so they’d make noise that they wanted.
Chris Strachwitz: But you heard Amédé Breaux, you liked him because he did all that showbiz, he did the
Moise Robin: He would play, I was anxious to, I was young, you see. I would watch him and so that’s how I learned that with him. And after while I was playing all kinds of tricks like a monkey and the other people would like, you see. Sometimes I wouldn’t understand, and I’d jump down and go make the round with my accordion in the back and dance and some girl would come and catch me. I was dancing with her and I would swing her behind my back.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you ever meet Amédé Ardoin the black accordion player..
Moise Robin: Yeah, when I was young, Amédé Ardoin was playing with Leo Soileau at my brother-in-law at Pecanière dance hall and he would bring crowds that the people couldn’t come in. Because, he was not so much of a good musician, but his voice, he was a good singer. And that’s what the people were for. You see, like Iry Lejeune he’s not the best accordion player they got, because his is singing, he’s really good to sing. He’s hard to beat in his voice. Mayuse Lafleur was the same way. He was good player and he was a good singer. He was about the king of accordion playing in that time.
Chris Strachwitz: Where there any other creole or black accordion players that you remember, that played any kind of blues at all?
Moise Robin: When I went over there, the last time I made a record in New Orleans with Leo Soileau … Angelas LeJeune he made Bayou Pon Pon and I was there when he made Bayou Pon Pon . And there was a black, a nigger, he made a record, Les Flammes d’enfer.
Chris Strachwitz: Do you remember his name?
Moise Robin: His name is right there in the book. It takes a while, you got that all?
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, I’ve got it all on this paper.
Chris Strachwitz: I’m just being told Alphonse Ardoin “Bois Sec” made the first record of which tune?
Moise Robin: I was the youngest musician they had in that time. And most of them were dead, you see. And I remember all these player, and that’s the man there, he was the one in New Orleans made Les Flammes d’enfer, it was in ’29. With Angelas LeJeune. Angelas LeJeune made Bayou Pon Pon and he made Les Flammes d’enfer.
(Editor’s note: The original version of Les Flammes d’enfer was recorded under the title of Mon Camon La Case QueJe Si Cordane by African Americans Douglas Bellar and Kirby Riley. They recorded four sides for Vocalion Records in New Orleans in October of 1929, two months before Amédé Ardoin made his first recordings. Moise Robin remembers this because he and Leo Soileau recorded there on the same day. You can listen to Mon Camon La Case QueJe Si Cordane by Douglas Bellar and Kirby Riley on youtube.)
Chris Strachwitz: It wasn’t Amédé Ardoin, it was Alfonse Ardoin?
Moise Robin: Alfonse Ardoin.
Chris Strachwitz: Because I didn’t think he’s that old, he’s not that old. Are you sure it wasn’t Amédé
Moise Robin: Well, in that time, he wasn’t old man, but he was a really black, black nigger.
Chris Strachwitz: Maybe it was his dad or something.
Moise Robin: Why this man you got his name?
Chris Strachwitz: Because I’ve recorded him, I know him.
Moise Robin: You know him?..
Chris Strachwitz: Well, Angelas LeJeune, he played accordion too, didn’t he?
Moise Robin: The nigger?
Chris Strachwitz: No, the, Angelas LeJeune
Moise Robin: Yeah, Angelas LeJeune, he’s old.
Chris Strachwitz: And you mean you all went on a train together to New Orleans to do those records?
Moise Robin: No, not together. You see, they had a contest in Opelousas. They awarded the best player in the contest, the winner was going to make a record in New Orleans. So, they refuse Joe Falcon and his wife and they refuse Leo Soileau and me to go because we had made records already. They wanted somebody who hadn’t made records yet. So that’s why they gave Angelas LeJeune the best player in the contest. So he went and made Angelas LeJeune Bayou Pon Pon with Dennis McGee.
Chris Strachwitz: And then, who were some of the other players?
Moise Robin: The same nigger who made the Les Flammes d’enfer he made after Angelas LeJeune.
Chris Strachwitz: He also won the contest.
Moise Robin: No, he didn’t win, but he was there to play. And then after that, the same day, me and Leo Soileau made the each a record too.
Chris Strachwitz: But you met him, and it wasn’t Amédé Ardoin, it was someone else.
Moise Robin: No, it was not Amédé Ardoin, it was another nigger. He was a tall, slim nigger. Black black. I don’t think it could be this one because he’s too young.
Chris Strachwitz: Did he do any songs beside the-
Moise Robin: Yeah, he made a record but I don’t remember the song.
Chris Strachwitz: Well, I’ll see if I can find out too. That’s interesting. That was about 1932?
Moise Robin: 1929.
Chris Strachwitz: ’29?
Moise Robin: I read on the book that they mistakes on that contest. They said it was not in 1934, but it was in 1929.
Chris Strachwitz: That was recording, then, for Brunswick? But, did you ever hear much blues played? Or did you ever hear much jazz when you were growing up, or anything like that?
Moise Robin: There were so many old people was making dances, and I don’t remember what they were playing, like a ……. one I made that boy with the spoon that I made it, but I never heard it, nobody played it. That’s an old, old blues.
Chris Strachwitz: But you heard some old people playing it, back then?
Moise Robin: No, I made that myself.
Chris Strachwitz: But you didn’t hear any jazz bands that came through here or somebody like that, like Bunk Johnson you know, with horns and things?
Moise Robin: Oh, no. …..Oh, Black Eagle, yeah. I was young-
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, the Black Eagle band?
Moise Robin: When my sister got married, my daddy hired the Black Eagle band to come play here. It was popular that time, Black Eagle.
Six months ago, she said, the Black Eagle played over that by Bayou Portage over there.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, I see, just recently. But I was thinking about back in the ’20s or so, what kind of music did you hear?
Moise Robin: The music I’d hear, what I heard now on the old album I bought over at the Ville Platte.
Chris Strachwitz: You just heard so many other people that play French music-
Moise Robin: Like they play on that album I bought, you got some album of that……. And Dennis McGee, he was a really good musician fiddler, one of the best because he, you saw me held his bow, the way Mike was trying…that’s the way Dennis would play, that old style.
All those old dances, if I put my mind on them and try to remember, I could remember like a Pointe aux Pins. You said you had that already. I’ll sent you a sample of that.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, I see. You mean the little tape.
Moise Robin: You had, that’s it. That’s why you didn’t play it. I wanted to play something you didn’t have.
Chris Strachwitz: I don’t remember all those titles, you see. Since I don’t speak the French, I never know.
Moise Robin: Lafayette and Prison Waltz. Lafayette, I just send it for separate to show you how that boy would play. But I wasn’t expecting to put that on the album. That’s old, you see, and you’ve got that.
Chris Strachwitz: And many people have recordings of that.
Moise Robin: Oh, yeah. I wasn’t going to record something that you had already, you know? They ain’t going to sell as good. But what you got there, you should sell.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you ever hear people just singing in houses, just doing the dishes or stuff. Do they sing songs that you don’t play at dances? Do they sing different kind of songs, you think?
Moise Robin: Well, like Bayou Pon Pon. You’ve got Bayou Pon Pon .
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, but people made a record of that. I’m trying to think of songs, you know that…
Moise Robin: Oh, you got it on there?
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah
Moise Robin: My brother know a dance of all …(?) And if you’d be interested, later on, I can learn some old, what they used to sing, old people, you see. But yeah, he’s going to dance, you see. How do you say that song He was saying “Papa Nicolas with his long mustache is here.”
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, about Saint Nicholas? About Christmas and stuff
Moise Robin: They had an old song ‘Allons faire le tours du grand bois avec la jogue au plombeau’ This is old, old time, but it never … You don’t have the song.
(Contributor’s note from Jordy A. Allen:This is a song title or a line from his song which translates to “lets make the round of the big woods with a jug on the pommel” Jogue au plombeau is a common phrase in Cajun songs and implies that there is whiskey or some sort of alcohol and that someone is rambling or drinking out away from home.)
Chris Strachwitz: You never put a beat to it or something?
Moise Robin: No, I can play it. But I never made a song out of it. There’s going to make a run of the big woods, you see. And this is a song I could compose.
Chris Strachwitz: What’s the name of that piece?
Moise Robin: That’s the run of the big word. ……that’s a Big Woods. You pick the rhyme on the Big Woods.