Joe Falcon Interview
In 1928 Joe Falcon went to New Orleans and recorded the first Cajun record. In this 1962 interview with Chris Strachwitz, he talks about making that first record and his early days playing music.
Following the transcription is a discography of Joe and Cleoma Falcon’s 78 RPM recordings.
Joe Falcon Interview: (26:55) LISTEN HERE: Joe Falcon
Interviewed By: Chris Strachwitz
Date: August 1962
Location: Crowley, 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. firstname.lastname@example.org
A Note About the Transcriptions: In order to expedite the process of putting these interviews online, we are using a transcription service. Due to the challenges of transcribing speech – especially when it contains regional accents and refers to regional places and names – some of these interview transcriptions may contain errors. We have tried to correct as many as possible, but if you discover errors while listening, please send corrections to email@example.com.
transcription updated 3/22/2016
Special thanks to Wade Falcon for additional information and corrections. Visit his excellent blog on Early Cajun Music.
Joe Falcon: I was born three and a half miles north of Rayne, Louisiana.
Chris Strachwitz: When?
Joe Falcon: That was in 1900, September the 28th.
Chris Strachwitz: When did you first here this Cajun music?
Joe Falcon: I always heard it in one way because that’s how (???) around where I was born.
Chris Strachwitz: Did your parents play?
Joe Falcon: Yeah, my daddy played. My brothers, my sisters, the whole family.
Chris Strachwitz: What instrument did they mostly play?
Joe Falcon: Well, it’s the accordion, French accordion. The English people call it a push-and-pull, but it’s a French accordion.
Chris Strachwitz: Have you ever heard this term zydeco?…
Joe Falcon: A what?
Chris Strachwitz: Zydeco music. I’ve talked to some Negroes who played a similar type of instrument.
Joe Falcon: No. I’m not familiar with that.
Chris Strachwitz: When did you first make records?
Joe Falcon: In 1928.
Chris Strachwitz: 1928. Did you ever sing with any of them yourself, or was it mostly … I think on the record what I have is Clem and Ophy Breaux.
Joe Falcon: Yeah, but that’s my brother-in-law, Ophy Breaux. I was married to Cleoma Breaux.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, I see. How did you happen to make that record?
Joe Falcon: Well, we was a bunch of us Frenchmen in a pool hall talking to each other. That’s where one of them proposed me to try make a record. I said, “No.” I said, “We can’t make a record in me.” I never knew how they was making them, nothing, I never had seen … you know, making them. We started until later on a man of the company come down to Rayne, the town where I was born and raised, in Rayne, Louisiana.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh in …
Joe Falcon: The first town.
Chris Strachwitz: Is that right? When did they record most of the record? I know you made about 200 something …
Joe Falcon: No. I didn’t make that many. I quite a few, but I really don’t remember exactly how many I made.
Chris Strachwitz: Where did they record, though?
Joe Falcon: The first recording was in New Orleans.
Chris Strachwitz: New Orleans?
Joe Falcon: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Chris Strachwitz: Then, later ones? Did you go any place to make those?
Joe Falcon: Yeah, I went to New York twice,
Chris Strachwitz: You went to New York twice?
Joe Falcon: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Chris Strachwitz: Did you ever remember hearing brass bands around here. You know, French type groups that played polka and quadrilles and this kind of thing.
Joe Falcon: Not much of it, I can tell you. It’s just brass bands they have their line of music. From what I heard, you understand? But no French music to them.
Chris Strachwitz: Is that right? Because we’ve just been kind of curious as to where the Negroes who later went to play jazz, where they go those horns from. We were just wondering if any of the plantations had brass bands.
Joe Falcon: Well, I’ve been hearing brass bands ever since I was a young boy, and I’m going to be 62 next month, the 28th of September. But I didn’t know exactly where do they come from, you understand?
Chris Strachwitz: What was some of the first tunes that you remember hearing or learning when you started playing the accordion?
Joe Falcon: Really it’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell because I was a kid. A little kid. You mean when I first started playing?
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah.
Joe Falcon: Well I was a little bitty kid, but I’d say six, seven years old that all, when I first started banging on it.
Chris Strachwitz: One of the records, I was very fond of yours’. It’s called Ossun, o-s-s-o-n.
Joe Falcon: Ossun.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, Ossun. What does that mean?
Joe Falcon: Well, it’s just the name of a little town. You know, you got to sell a name to any record you going to make. Us French people, years back we knew some songs, you understand? But they didn’t have no name to them. When the recording took place amongst the French numbers, you’d just have to find a name to put on the record.
Chris Strachwitz: I see.
Joe Falcon: Like that Ossun. That’s a two-step, they call it. I’ve been knowing that name, Ossun two-step, and that was just a small little sized town went by the name of Ossun. That’s in Louisiana, Ossun, Louisiana. They call it Ossun two-step. That’s where I kept it in my head until later on when I growed up. I was a man, I went and recorded it, I said, “Well, this is Ossun two-step.” And I made that record out of that number.
Chris Strachwitz: Since I don’t speak French I don’t understand many of the songs, but you have a good deal of what we call ballads amongst French number. You know that tell a story about a person or an event, like a storm or anything. Are there any songs in the repertoire that you have that you sing about?
Joe Falcon: No …
Chris Strachwitz: What are most of the songs about that you sing?
Joe Falcon: … Well, it’s just …
Chris Strachwitz: “I love you.” That kind of thing.
Joe Falcon: … Something like that, yes.
Chris Strachwitz: … But you haven’t come across anything that tells a story or something?
Joe Falcon: Well, no. I heard one of them that made for that Audrey, that big storm we had there in ’57. Me another boy made it, but I forgot his name.
Chris Strachwitz: There aren’t any that you know… old ones that date from way back.
Joe Falcon: Well, that’s mostly only like love things to the song.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you ever make up a lot of them, or were they mostly things that you heard from your parents?
Joe Falcon: Well, the number was there but I had to make up the words.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, yeah. Were there any other groups at the time that you first recorded that also made records because I’ve never heard ….
Joe Falcon: Well, we’re a different type of music, you see. Not the French music.
Chris Strachwitz: I was wondering when did you first use these amplifiers?
Joe Falcon: Let’s see. I can go pretty close. I’d say in the ’30. Maybe a little after in the 1930. Otherwise, we were playing just wide open.
Chris Strachwitz: How’d you make yourself heard? Play louder, or did you have a different instrument?
Joe Falcon: How you mean, now?
Chris Strachwitz: No, in the old days.
Joe Falcon: In the old days, that’s all they had. The accordion. It had but one sound. You know what I mean? It wasn’t no louder than the song and you just had to sing … I call it in the air because they didn’t have no mic, nothing.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you play at the beer joint, or did you play on the outside sometimes?
Joe Falcon: Well, I played mostly indoors, anywhere they needed me.
Chris Strachwitz: Amongst the young Negroes that we talked to they used have in the old days picnics, outdoor get-togethers.
Joe Falcon: Well, sometimes we’d have parties, some kind of way. Go and play a few tunes, let them have a good time. Do the playing let them do the drinking, eating, telling the story.
Chris Strachwitz: Did your parents ever tell you, or your grandparents, as to where that music come from? Did they originally come from Canada?
Joe Falcon: Well, really that’s something I wouldn’t know. They never told me about that.
Chris Strachwitz: But you heard it all, that type of music, from your parents, pretty much?
Joe Falcon: Yes.
Chris Strachwitz: Pretty much the way you play it?
Joe Falcon: Yeah, just like about the way we played it.
Chris Strachwitz: But you think it has changed a great deal?
Joe Falcon: Oh well, in one ways it’s changed a little. Yes, it’s a different type of numbers now. The dancers number changed too, you see it. But the really French music didn’t change so much.
Chris Strachwitz: Did they used to use fiddle and steels, or is that kind of a recent …
Joe Falcon: No, steels. I didn’t know what a steel was when I started playing. They ask me for a steel, I wouldn’t know nothing about it. They had violins, you know is a fiddle, a violin. Sometimes they had guitar player, and those little triangles. You know those little triangles? They made kind of this way, and you take a little iron rod and you beat it. Well, that’s what they had. Little triangles and accordions. No electric instrument in no kind of ways.
Chris Strachwitz: Because I remember your records back … Did you sometimes have two accordions?
Joe Falcon: Nope. Just one.
Chris Strachwitz: You always just had one? That was you playing all that music on those records ?
Joe Falcon: The accordion, yeah.
Chris Strachwitz: Is that right? It sometimes sounds like almost there were two instruments.
Joe Falcon: You know why? They have so much good sound system, you see. They pick it up. Them accordions those days, you could go and buy a new one for $14 and $15 dollars. Not today. You can’t buy them for a $1,000 dollars because they ain’t got none. You know what we using now? Repair accordion. We a fella in Lake Charles by the name Sidney Brown. We have one in Rayne by the name of Ovey Richard. They both of them repair accordions. Put them brand new. You take Sidney Brown in Lake Charles, he makes the accordion. The whole accordion if you need one. He got the tools and everything, you know. He make it complete.
Chris Strachwitz: I imagine that’s pretty expensive when you …
Joe Falcon: Oh, yeah. Well, it’s expensive and not in one ways. Not a line of a high priced music, but the same accordion we’d spend $14, $15, $16 dollar, cost you from $140 to $175 dollars today.
Chris Strachwitz: Quite a difference.
Joe Falcon: That’s a great difference in a price I know.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah. You been talking about these new numbers, are those that perhaps people like Harry Choates made popular and people like that?
Joe Falcon: Well, that was an old number that Harry showed me. That Jolie Blon.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, how far back do you think that number goes?
Joe Falcon: You mean when .. . ever since I knew it?
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah.
Joe Falcon: Oh, I knew that number ever since I was a growing man. Oh yeah, that’s not a new number, but it come out on record. You know everything that come on record was new. Like the one I made “Allons à Lafayette”. Well, that was my first number. Everybody was crazy. They said, “Where you pick that up?” I said, “I knew that when I was a …” Those days, kids were wearing shorts pants, when I was a kid. They didn’t have no long pants. You had to be a growing man about 15 or 16 years old before you had long pants. Now you see, time changes. You heard that song “Time Change Everything”? Well, that’s what it did.
Chris Strachwitz: So you knew that “Allons à Lafayette”?
Joe Falcon: Yeah. That was my first record I record in New Orleans.
Chris Strachwitz: Who went down there with you? Down to New Orleans where you made your first record.
Joe Falcon: You mean to play with me?
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah.
Joe Falcon: Just me and my wife, Cleoma Breaux.
Chris Strachwitz: Is that right.
Joe Falcon: Well, George Ber come down. He tooked us in his car. I had a car but he had a better car than I had, so he’s the one was anxious. He had a jewelry shop in Rayne and he wanted to sell the record. I’m going to tell you how it come out. We over there, they looked at us, and we was but two. They used to record with big orchestra. They looked at us and they said, “That’s not enough music to make a record.” So George … I’m telling you what’s the truth now.
George and his jewelry shop, on his book he had 250 records was paid already before I made it. They wanted to be sure to have them, you understand? When he wents over there, he started talking. He said, “We got to run it through because …” He said, “That man there’s popular where I’m from in Rayne.” He said, “Them people’s crazy about his music and they want the record.” They said, “We don’t know if it’s going to sell.” Then they turned around, they asked him, they said, “How much would you buy?” He said, “I want 500 the first shot.” … “Aw.” They said, “500. When you going to get through selling that?” He said, “That’s my worries. It’s not yours.” He said, “Run it through. I want 500.” He pulled out a blank check and he said, “Furthermore, make you a check for 500 records.” He said, “I’m going to show y’all I want them.” He said, “Make you a check there for that.” They started looking at each other. They said, “You go ahead and play a tune just for us to hear.” They was all in stiff collars with coats on everything, you know them highfalutin?
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah.
Joe Falcon: I opened that accordion, and it was a big building but it was closed. That thing was sounding like it wanted to take the roof off. When I played that number they started talking to each other. They said, “Lord, but boy that’s more music out of two instruments that I ain’t never heard in my life.” They say, “Let’s try one. We going to run it through and we play it right back. Because when they play it right back it’s not good anymore” You understand? It’s softer wax … In those days, it was about that thick and you just played one side. That’s all. Now today, you can play on both sides playing records and it’s good to go. It’s different, you see now. We made it through. He said, “Go ahead and sing and everything like you’d be recording for good there.” But he say, “We want to play that record. It’s not going to be good after we get through playing but if it suit us we going to run it through.”
They went over there … You remember them old record that, that doggy sitting on? They got a big horn to it. Well, that’s what they had over there. They tried a record on it. It sound loud, you know. Boy when they open up the machine and it started singing and playing, you ought to see how I come for a chill, a goosebumps. You know I hear my own self singing. It make you feel kind of funny. They started talking, they talking back to the way I had played it. All of the gang come. They said, “Go ahead. We don’t understand nothing but it’s a sweet sound.” You know what they mean? Look like that could’ve been good. They say, “We going to try it.” I made it. I made that there. In no time that record was out I guarantee you they was right back looking for me.
Chris Strachwitz: What was the first one you did? What was the title of it?
Joe Falcon: It was …
Chris Strachwitz: Do you remember the first?
Joe Falcon: … Yeah, that’s what I just told you “Allons à Lafayette”. On the other side was a Waltz. I put it to name there “The Waltz That Carried Me To My Grave”. It was a nice number too. When it come out, I guarantee you it made a hit for a while. You know that was the first French record ever was recorded. That’s why. Because amongst your people, if somebody do something that sound good and everything why do … That’s your own people, your folks. You say like you want to get one, you understand?
Chris Strachwitz: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Joe Falcon: Even some of the poor country fellows they buy two records, they didn’t have a Victrola. Sure enough. Buy it and go to the neighborhood and play it.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah. Imagine those days the phonograph was still something new…
Joe Falcon: Yeah, but that was new …. Because they had that French. Like they speaking French. But us, it’s just a broken French in this country here. It’s not the French. We ain’t speaking French.
Chris Strachwitz: What do you actually call this language?
Joe Falcon: Cajun French.
Chris Strachwitz: You call it Cajun French.
Joe Falcon: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Some people call it Creole. Yeah, but I don’t think I go for that. It could be.
Chris Strachwitz: I think Cajun’s probably it because the Cajun people came … Didn’t they originally come Canada?
Joe Falcon: That’s right.
Chris Strachwitz: That’s very interesting. Then, did they call you to New York?
Joe Falcon: Yep.
Chris Strachwitz: To make more?
Joe Falcon: Mm-hmm (affirmative). They did twice.
Joe Falcon: Yeah, just with my wife.
Chris Strachwitz: She played guitar?
Joe Falcon: Guitar, yes.
Chris Strachwitz: That’s all you had?
Joe Falcon: That’s all, and it made plenty music.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, sometimes you had a triangle on some of the numbers.
Joe Falcon: No. I don’t think my records. Not that I remember. Uh-uh.
Chris Strachwitz: Amazing, because I heard a record and I could swear there were two accordions. That’s all you played? That’s fantastic.
Joe Falcon: The single accordion like you seen last night.
Chris Strachwitz: Is that right? You get more music out of it I have heard. That’s amazing. I love the way you just told about (tape stops) After the ’20s you never recorded again, did you?
Joe Falcon: No, it was in ’28 I record.
Chris Strachwitz: You mean, your first records made in …
Joe Falcon: In 1928.
Chris Strachwitz: And then when did you go to New York? Same year?
Joe Falcon: Yeah, the same year.
Chris Strachwitz: Same year?
Joe Falcon: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Chris Strachwitz: How many times did you go to New York?
Joe Falcon: I went twice to New York. One time I went on the …Let’s see, the train. That’s it. First I went on a train, next I went on a bus. When we got in New Orleans we had an accident. The platform, that was before the bridge was over the river, you understand what I’m saying? I don’t know what happened. The thing got unhooked and I mean that old bus, the rear end of the bus, they just went plum on down, even with the water of the river. Between the crack of the ferry, you could see the water there. Only two persons got hurt, but not seriously. We climbed up again, he put it in old grandma and we went up on the other side. Some of us was so scared said, “Mm, I believe I’m going to stop right here. I ain’t going no further.” Yep.
Chris Strachwitz: That’s fascinating. Then after that, you never made any attempts to record during the ’30s or later.
Joe Falcon: Well, I record quite a while until I got disgusted. It’s so many of them that went, you know the same type of music, and just make it for hardly nothing. They got me disgusted. they come back three times for me. I told them just what it was. I said, “Nope.” You just cut ahead and try to do … I said, “I done made my shares.” I quit for a while anyways. If I had to make anymore records I’d make them for my own self. I wouldn’t make it for …
Joe Falcon: People, they’d come down ask me French number. Like, “Jolie Blon, “ “Allons à Lafayette”, a record I recorded my own self, and that “Poor Old Hobo “. My brother-in-law made that, Amédé Breaux.
Chris Strachwitz: Who’s you brother-in-law?
Joe Falcon: Amédé Breaux. He was from here but he lives in Rayne now. A lot of those people couldn’t speak a word in French. They come and ask me some of those French numbers. They heard it and they like it.
Joe Falcon: No, some of them but not all of them. Where I was playing is people who originated from over there. We had people from Houston. Way on the other side of Houston come down, couldn’t understand a word in French but they just loved the playing. Of course, listen, we was playing English number. We was playing the string band during those days, you understand? I played a few numbers on the the drum, you see.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, is that right?
Joe Falcon: Yeah. They’d come … You know, that man… we was playing every two weeks then. Between our two weeks he had another band. He’d pass about six or seven bands at the time I played for nearly two years. We kept our studying engagement all that time. We was selling from 170/75 to 200/225 tags every two weeks.
We’d get the crowd in. Got a little joke to tell you when we get through there.
Chris Strachwitz: Go ahead.
Joe Falcon: No, no. It’s not nothing dirty. It’s going to pick it up?
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, yeah.
Joe Falcon: It’s a man from Houston come down here. He got kind of high and he was breaking a bottle on his head. You know, beer bottle? Right in the hall. The policemen come down to … Walter, my cousin, was the owner of the place, you see. He says, “Walter, what you want to do him?” Like that. Walter said, “Listen, you the law.” He said, “Take him out.” When he took him out they asked him his name. He didn’t want to give his name. They asked him where he’s from. He didn’t want to say where he was from. They say, “Well, we’ll find out.” So both policemen grab one arm and they put him the car and they went and put him in the jail. He was disturbing the peace.
They put him to jail and that ain’t no joke. Now, that, it happened. It did happen. They said, “Tomorrow we’ll find out who are. You’re going to stay longer than you think in jail if we don’t find out.” At the end of the dance when we played the last number everybody left. They had a habit to go inspect the yard all around, if there wasn’t no people drunk that would be laying down or could get hurt or something, or someone would try to bust in or something. They’d go around before they before they leave. So it was only but one car left there. They went in the glove compartment. They find some letters. Who you reckon was doing all that? A preacher from Houston. A preacher. That ain’t no lie, I swear on my holy communion. I’m Catholic. Now you know I wouldn’t lie. A preacher from Houston.
I made them laugh. You know what I said? I said, “I bet you when he went back and tried to preach to his people he’d tell them, ‘Don’t y’all go to them place where them beer joint and them dance hall and everything like that, ain’t no place for the good place to go.'” I bet you said …
Chris Strachwitz: That’s pretty good.
Joe Falcon: … I need that now, but later on maybe you wouldn’t somebody for a certain type of anything, you know, for help. She said, “How would you like that if he turned you down like you him down?” I said, “That’s right, yes.” So I walk up to the door and I call him. I said, “Listen, I’m not going to play tonight.” But I said, “Thursday, if you haven’t find anybody give me a ring and I’ll go.” That was on Saturday night. Sunday morning he called me right away. He said, “Listen, I’m waiting for you.” But I had told him, I said, “I’ll play for you, but you have to hire my wife too.” I said, “I ain’t going by myself. My wife play the drum good for that French music.” I said, “If you take us both it’s okay.” He said, “Y’all get ready for Thursday.” He said, “Come meet me in Gueydan.”
That’s where he was playing that night. Then I took ahead. He told me, he said, “I can’t run the dance.” He said, “You go ahead.” He said, “You’re used to that. You go ahead take care of it.” He said, “I’ll leave it up to you.” He said, “You know more than me about it.” But I had quit for over two years. I didn’t want to play no more. I set up too much. I set up all my life, buddy. Right now I’m going to be 62 years old, September the 28th and I come …
Like last night, it’s a good friend of mine was to the funeral home, an old man around 80 years and he died. He was to the funeral. We knew him good. He used to come at Gueydan to our dance all the time. My wife said, can we go and pass a little while” I said, “Sure.” I said, “I’m not sleepy.” After the dance we just went on down to Kaplan He was in Kaplan Funeral Home. We went there and then after that we left, we come to bus station in Crowley. We stopped there. I ate me a good old hamburger and glass of milk. Come down back here and you know I had my eyes wide open. I wasn’t no more sleepy than if I’d just got out of bed. That’s funny. Look like a man of my age ought to be tired out, you know?
Chris Strachwitz: Well I think if you stay active you probably enjoy yourself.
Joe Falcon: That’s what everybody told me. That’s Saturday. I played until … I started 8:30. At 12:30 I was supposed quit my dance. Owner of the place come and he say, “Listen, we got too much people here to quit.” He say, “I’ll pay you extra.” He say, “How about playing half an hour.” I say, “Whatever you want.” I say, “Just so you pay I’m good for it.” And after the dance he asked my wife, he said, “Is Joe solid like that anywhere?” My wife said, “Anywhere you put him.” She said, “I never seen something like that yet, for his age.” It’s some part of us build with strength. You know what I mean? We the good system. Some of them they ain’t up 35, 40 years they rundown. That’s how it goes, you see.
Chris Strachwitz: Amazing how…
Joe Falcon: I was working building houses in Patterson. That’s between here and close to Morgan City on New Orleans Road on Highway 90. I put in 10 months of hard work, carpenter. You know that’s hard work. I’m going to tell you that.
Chris Strachwitz: Yes it is, yeah.
Joe Falcon: That’s a heavy lumber, you see. When you come with them 2 x 6 and 2 x 8. They got weight on that. I put in 10 months.
A discography of Joe and Cleoma Falcon’s 78 rpm recordings.
from: Ethnic Music on Record, a discography by Richard Spottswood
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Joe Flacon & Cleoma Falcon (Breaux)