Chris Strachwitz on Keun – Eunice, Louisiana
In 1962 Chris Strachwitz journeyed on a road trip that took him from California to Texas and all through the South, the East Coast, Midwest, and then back down to the South before heading back to California. (Read about that trip here.) While driving from New Orleans back towards Texas, he heard a Cajun radio show on KEUN-AM and drove to Eunice to check it out.
Here is an interview with Mr. Strachwitz talking about that visit to Eunice, Louisiana and the photos he took.
This is an 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
See below photo gallery for a transcript of the interview
Chris Strachwitz on Keun Interview Transcript:
It was probably not the Cajun music, it was probably New Orleans. That was my first turn on of American music. I think more or less it was New Orleans jazz because in 1947, I was in this private high school, Cate School in Carpentaria, California, and a friend of mine, Bill Melon turned out he was from the famous Melon family, he said one day, “Chris, do you want to go see this movie that’s playing in Carpentaria? It’s a little theater there, it’s called New Orleans.” And I said, “What the heck. Yeah, sure. Sounds good.” And so we went to see that movie and that absolutely knocked me on my rear as far as I can remember. Because it featured Louis Armstrong and not just him, but with Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band which was really popular at that time. And they all lived in Los Angeles and they made this movie together.
The movie also included Billie Holiday and Meade Lux Lewis, actually the boogie woogie pianist. But New Orleans jazz is what absolutely knocked me out. I said, “This is just…” And then walking back to the school, I remember asking my friend, “What do they call that music that we just heard in this movie?” He said, “That’s New Orleans jazz.” That’s my recollection of it. And then I totally got involved with that. I’m not exactly sure when I first heard Cajun music, I think it could have been the Harry Smith Anthology that had some, but I’m not really sure. It may have been Bob Pinson, he was a big record (collector), but that was the time I was teaching at Los Gatos High School. I think that was somewhat later.
No. I must have heard about it first from the Harry Smith Anthology. That came out in the early fifties, I remember or something like that. And that had stuff by Joe Falcon on it, I think. I really liked him. I thought that was really wonderful sort of swinging accordion. It just flowed. I was never too keen about all that later stuff, which the people now like earlier type, like Dennis McGee and so on. And then I think it was Bob Pinson who played me some records by the Hackberry Ramblers, but that was later, that was in early ’59 or so, when I was teaching at Los Gatos. And I thought that was a lovely string band, then I loved the fiddler whose name was Luderin Darbone who played in such a lilting style.
And I think that’s what made me stop in Louisiana. I’d heard about Cajun music by that time. In ’62, I had definitely been aware of Cajun music because I think it was in ’61 already that I first drove through that area, because I was always driving from Houston to New Orleans. In those days I would always drive. And the first time I went was in 1960, I may have been also hearing about it by 1960, which was the first time I drove through there. And I remember stopping in Lafayette, this was the old highway, there was no Highway 10 at that time. It was old Highway 90.
And I just happened to stop at a gas station and asked the attendant, they were still pumping your gas for you in those days, “Have you ever heard of Cajun music?” “Oh, I don’t know.” He said, “You better go to Four Corners in Lafayette.” There were a bunch of bars at that intersection of those highways there, those roads. And this I remember, I went there and I finally got my nerve up and going into one of the bars and there was a really attractive girl as a bartender. And after ordering a beer, I finally asked her, “Have you ever heard of Cajun music?” And she just bust out laughing and said, “Oh yeah, just the other day, my boyfriend and I went dancing and got drunk and it was right out there in Breaux Bridge, just East of here. And you can’t miss the place called the Midway Club, it’s on the left hand side of a big white building.”
I thought I went there the same time, but apparently not. Apparently, due to some of the writings I did later on, it was apparently at a different time, maybe a day later, but I can’t really recall what day that I actually went there. That’s when I first heard first live Cajun Band. That was either in ’60 or ’61, but I couldn’t tell you for sure. That image has been embedded in my head ever since I walked into that Midway Club. Here was the band on the left hand side and one guy was singing in French, in Cajun French. And then another guy sang the English lyrics alternating. I forgot exactly how it was, and they were singing, “It Wasn’t God who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” I love that song.
The people dancing there, I’ll just never forget. There were these huge women and tiny men going counterclockwise around the dance floor. I just have that image somehow that the men were rather short and the women were rather huge, but maybe that’s been sort of amplified fantasy since then. I’m not sure. If that was really the case, but I’d never seen anything like it. When they dance in a kind of a circle, it wasn’t a circle, it was kind of an oval thing. In front of the band stand there was a much longer side instead of when you get to the end and you went back the other way. They just kept going, just doing these two steps and waltzes , but they would never do that twirly stuff at all that later people invented in the late sixties or seventies. I forgot when that was when somebody wrote about Cajun dancing and all that bullshit.
So, I heard about Cajun music and I got introduced. And then of course, Harry, I forgot at which stage Harry Oster’s first LP came out, the one that had that horse drawn on the cover on his folk lyric label. And that was an eye opener. It just all forms into… As you get older, you just lose track and you sort of begin to form new images but you can’t really place it. And that’s what happened with this material that apparently in 1962, when I ran into this radio station, I was driving back from New Orleans, I guess, towards Houston, and that’s apparently where I met the Cajun performance that I heard on the radio in KEUN in Eunice, Louisiana when I was driving through there.
And I remember taking pictures, I think I had my Leica by then, and I was just enamored by the sound. It was so funky when I heard it on the radio because it was all about remote controlled, and when I got there, it turned out they only had one microphone that Revon Reed, the announcer was a school teacher in Mamou at the time, would just flip around in front of him. No, on this occasion they actually had two mics, he had one mic in front of him and the musicians had it over there. That must have been because I confused them with later times that Marc Savoy, who I remember that time because it was also the day I finally met him. But I had it mixed up because I thought Revon had a little toy toilet on his desk where he was doing the announcing. And in the toy toilet was stuck a big bottle of whiskey that was sticking out and obviously, contributed to the good spirits that were emanating from that radio station.
And where is this? It’s not at the station, it’s-
No, no. It’s on the North end of Eunice, it was called the Lakeview Park, that was the name of it. And there is still a park up there and it’s now a huge dance hall actually, they’ve made a big dance hall out of it. And because they gave the address, most of the announcing was in French, but they said where it was and I looked it on my map, I guess I had a pretty good map. When I asked at the service station they told me where it was. I just drove up there and I have a feeling since obviously, I didn’t look like one of the natives, I don’t know if I had longest hair yet, but anyway.
And so the gentleman in the white plantation suit, which was Paul Tate, a well known lawyer in the area. He and Revon Reed were both very much involved in Cajun music because unlike many people in the upper classes, so to speak, especially Paul Tate, you probably consider him in the upper classes. He was definitely interested in this music as a folk music. This is the real folk music. And when he asked me for example, “Oh, do you like this Cajun music?” I said, “Yeah, I like Nathan Abshire.” Who I had heard of and heard his records and so on. And he said, “Oh, you like the authentic Cajun music.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know.” And then he said, “The one that we try to put on the air here is more of the traditional Cajun music.” That is of musicians who never performed in public much. Who were just privately enjoying themselves or play in parties or house dances and stuff like that, rather than the commercial beer halls and honky-tonks where it flourished of course, during those days after World War II.
Do you remember specifically any of those musicians? Did you record any of them later or?
I remember meeting them. Yes, of course, because both the… who was the fiddler? The main fiddler’s name is Adam Landreneau. It’s Adam Landreneau was the fiddler. He had a big heavyset brother, Adam and… I forgot his brother’s name… he played the accordion. And those two guys, I think, went to Newport, I think that same year, or was it, anyway, very, very close to that. I did run into them later. They did play at that radio program too, because I did go years after and I kept going back to it. And that’s how I remember the whiskey bottle sticking out of the toy toilet, but I was missing that in this picture, “Marc, how come there’s no toilet bowl?” He said, “Chris, that happened years later.” That Revon Reed added that to his menagerie there. But, anyway, you know how you change things in life.
Let’s see who else… I have no recollection of listening to live Leo Soileau after that event. It must’ve been on that same trip that I also met Leo Soiled. I probably stopped by and probably visited Floyd Soileau because I was really interested in these record people that were making these recordings down there. That’s one reason I didn’t really want to get into recording Cajun music at first because there were so many people doing it. And I was much more interested in finding old records and stuff like that. And I hunted, I went to radio stations, but I didn’t really actively hunt stuff as much as I did later because I should have been aware of the… But I’m glad I took all those different pictures. It gives you a pretty good idea. So, the open air thing on one side, it’s kind of like a Mexican restaurant in Nayarit or something, it’s pretty warm weather most year round.
I didn’t even remember that I took that many pictures but I’m glad I did now. And it gives you a really good feeling for the thing. And if you wanted to hear some of the… Sam Charters made actually a record that came out on Folkways, but I think he went to the station and recorded it because it has less static than it did on the radio. Somehow, I remember it was always going crackling, not constantly, but it was really annoying that you heard this crackling all the time. As I said, I didn’t really want to get into recording this music because there were people doing it, including Harry Oster and of course, Floyd Soileau and then Eddie Shuler in Lake Charles and J.D. Miller down there in Crowley, and there was all kinds of them doing it.