Legendary Mamou Fiddlers

Mar 04, 2019

Hi, I’m Mitch Reed. Welcome to my vlog. My vlog today is on fiddling and fiddlers from the Mamou region. Mamou, Louisiana is considered the capital of Cajun music. I’m going to explain why that is. So basically, most of the greatest fiddlers you had were from Mamou or the Mamou region. The Mamou region is composed of Mamou, but you also have some little bitty communities on the outskirts of Mamou, like L’Anse Meg and Duralde and Chataignier. And then eventually you have Eunice there too. Also in a place called Prairie Ronde, which had some great fiddlers and fiddling. I thought maybe I would just focus on a few of those fiddlers and maybe tell a few stories about them, or what I know about them, and play one of their tunes.

My uncle was Revon Reed and he was really the guy who started the live radio broadcast at Fred’s Lounge in the mid-sixties. His house band was Nathan Abshire, Sady Courvelle, Preston Manual. And this went on for a good while on Saturday mornings. And then Saturday night or Saturday afternoon, they would have a private social club that they just called it the Mamou Supper Club. One Saturday you might get invited, the next Saturday you might not get invited. So, you know, it’s up to Revon and they would have it at different houses in Mamou. And basically, he and Paul Tate would select a few musicians and they would cook a supper. They usually cooked a catfish court bouillon or crawfish etouffee or something like that. And they would buy a big old bottle of whiskey, a bunch of beer, and they would cook drink and play tunes and tell stories.

And Revon was probably one of the first guys in Mamou to have a recorder. So he had this little reel to reel recorder that looked like a little makeup box. Ladies in the 60s would carry around these little makeup kits. But it was a reel to reel recorder and he recorded a lot of this stuff. And in the mid-eighties, he was getting really sick and he knew his time was up. And so he passed all his recordings on to me and I was able to go through all this stuff, check it all out, and I put it all in the archives at UL. So if you’re interested in this stuff, you can actually listen to it. It’s at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, Louisiana, ULL. So anyway, I thought I would just talk about some players and maybe play a tune.

So first of all though, I’ll just say Mamou is an amazing place. There’s no other place like it. There’s so many stories and I mean, I should do a podcast on it, actually, the tall tales of Mamou. But since this is a music channel, I’m just going to talk about music. So one of the probably one of the most famous people I think I’m going to leave out… Dewey Balfa is one of my heroes, Dewey and Dennis McGee. I think I’m going to leave them out only because I talk about them so much. I talk about them probably every week I do a vlog. So I thought it’d be kind of cool to talk about some of the players from Mamou that were amazing, that didn’t get the recognition because they didn’t do the recordings, and maybe talk about them.

But one of the first guys I think to talk about is Adam Landreneau. And Adam Landreneau was actually from L’Anse Meg, so he didn’t grow up in downtown Mamou, but he was a farmer and he lived in the outskirts. So if you weren’t a barber, or a mechanic, or something like that, then you were a farmer. And that meant you lived in the outskirts of Mamou. So like communities like Duralde and L’Anse Meg and there’s a lot of tunes about those places too. So I’ll play a tune from Adam. So just to talk a little bit about Adam, he played with an accordion player named Cyprien Landreneau. And you can actually check these guys out on YouTube. They were on the Rainbow Quest Show, Pete Seeger show. So if you go on YouTube, look up Rainbow Quest, Mamou Cajun Band and that was my uncle Revon on triangle and Adam and Cyprien. It’s an amazing show. It’s a great show. They teamed up with the Clancy Brothers from Ireland.

So anyway, I’ll talk a little bit about Adam Landreneau. So, you know, Adam’s family was French. And one of the things about Mamou was you had this interesting combination of two cultures. You had Scotch-Irish people who came during the Spanish land grants probably from Appalachia. And then you had people who came directly from France. So they weren’t Acadians from Nova Scotia, Canada; they were directly from France and they had been sent there to basically colonize or just be on the property of some land that was owned by Napoleon. And then, later on, he sold it, so he needed people there. So he sent a bunch of French people and that was the French people that he sent. And Mamou ended up being this neat little village where you had that combination of Scotch-Irish and French. And so you can hear it in the fiddling. So this is Adam Landreneau and I’m going to play a tune and Adam called this La Prairie Ronde and it goes like this. [06:23]

So the thing about Adam’s bowing is it was just kind of wild and kind of crazy and I love that. So it goes like this. [06:31].

Alright! So Adam Landreneau, fantastic fiddle player. So that’s a tribute to him. And, woo! I think there are some Mamou ghosts in this room. I really do. I think just talking about him, just brought them in here. I feel it. I feel the emotion, woo. Okay. I’ll try to try to hang in there. So anyway, the next person I think I wanted to talk about was a guy whose name was Shelby Vidrine. Really not many people know about him. The only way I found out about him was because of Revon’s recordings. And he had a little nickname; they called him Shower Man Shelby. I don’t know why, I guess he liked to take a lot of showers, but Shower Man Shelby… And Shelby was awesome. A lot of these fiddlers during this period of the 60s, late sixties, early seventies, when Revon was recording these guys, one of the things that they seem to really have other, other than Adam Landreneau who I just played, they have a lot of shuffle bowing. So, they did a lot of this shuffling. [09:33]

They did a lot of that bowing. And so I guess that was just kind of the style of that era that was popular. I know they were listening to a lot of country music and Texas swing and all that kind of stuff. Everybody had radios at that time, so they were picking up these radio stations from East Texas and that kind of thing. So Shelby definitely had that… [10:02] He played an interesting tune though. I liked this one. He called it the Mamou Contra Dance and it’s also an Appalachian tune called Old Molly Hare but he called it the Mamou Contra Dance and goes like [10:17]

Alright. Mamou Contra Dance. So you know, hearing stories from Dennis McGee and people like that, they did dance the Contra dance in the old days, so that was very popular. Shelby Vidrine was pretty old, so I’m sure he played some of these Contra dances. So it’s kinda interesting.

So let’s talk a little bit about Cheese Read. He’s another guy. A lot of people say, “Oh, are you related to Cheese Read?” Cheese spelled his name differently. He spelled it R-E-A-D. My family spells it R-E-E-D. I think they’re the same group of people. I think these were Scotch-Irish people that came from Virginia to Louisiana a long time agoYou had a ton of Irish names. Riley, McGee, McCauley, McDaniel, all these names. And they just intermarried with the French, French names like Deshotel, Marcentile, Devillier, Fontenot. You know, these were the names, all the names of Mamou, Vidrine, all those kinds of names. So you have a big melting pot of people and then not to leave out the Creoles, you know, that were there also and native Americans.

So yeah, Cheese Read was an interesting fiddle player. He played a lot of Scotch-Irish tunes, a lot of what the gang from Mamou referred to as mountain tunes. They’d say, ‘Awe Cheese, play some mountain tunes.’ So here’s one of Cheese’s mountain tunes and he called it “The Empty Bottle Stomp”. [13:16]

All right, Cheese Read. Great old-time fiddler from L’Anse Meg! That was the area that Cheese was from. So yeah, Cheese Read, a great fiddler.

All right, we’re going to talk about Aubrey Deville next. So Aubrey was a really interesting character. One of the things that I think is so funny about him is he got kicked out of the… He wasn’t allowed to go to the Catholic church in Mamou because he wore his slippers to church. They had a new priest come in and Aubrey would, you know… The priest before that would let Aubrey into Mass in his slippers. And Aubrey just always wore his slippers. And this new priest took over the church and he saw Aubrey in his slippers and he said, “who is that guy, you know, tell him he can’t come in here unless he puts on some shoes”, you know. And they said, well, that’s Aubrey. He always wears the slippers to mass. So it was a big deal and Aubrey wasn’t allowed in church and so he would just stay in the front of the church while the mass went on. He would just hang out outside and he’d whistle tunes and talk to people and smoke cigarettes. And then the mass would let out and he’d socialize with everybody. And so I always thought that was a really funny story. So Aubrey Deville, amazing fiddler. This is a tune he played called “The Bull”, “Le Beouf”. So it goes like this. [16:34].

 

Alright. So thank you so much for joining me today. I just wanted to talk a little bit about those four guys and how they were such an interesting crew of fiddlers in Mamou. There is a great recording called Folk Songs of the Acadians, which is kind of misleading because most of these people weren’t Acadians. They may have had some Acadian blood in them, but most of them were either Scotch-Irish or just French directly from France. But the Acadian thing I guess was confusing at the time, cause you could be also French, you could be Creole and you can be Acadian. But now it’s kind of, everything is so mixed up. So you’re Cajun. So this is very confusing. I just wanted to talk about those guys and talk a little bit about Mamou and just how it’s such an interesting place. You know, everything about it. From the contaminated water tower to the haunted cemetery mausoleum, to… Oh to the Mamou mountain, which was an interesting thing.

You know, Mamou is flat as can be, but somebody bought huge, huge amounts of dirt and had it delivered in Mamou and no one ever picked it up. And so there basically grew this mountain and people referred to it as the Mamou mountain. I don’t think it exists anymore because people gradually started stealing the dirt when they found out it was free. But at one time it was a mountain and there was a guy that used to camp on top of it in a little tent. His name was Peanut and he was a character and he did all kinds of things to the town of Mamou and that’s a whole nother vlog. So we’ll leave that out. But thanks so much for joining me. Definitely check out some of these guys if you can. Look them up on YouTube. If you ever head down to Louisiana go to Mamou, it’s an amazing place. The Mamou Mardi Gras, really famous, but just the town itself has some of the best boudin you’ll ever eat at T-Boy’s.

And thanks so much for joining me. Stay inspired. Keep on fiddling and I’ll see you soon. Thank you.

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