Mitch Reed- Creole Documentary

Apr 29, 2021

Hi, I'm Mitch Reed. The way I got into Creole music was my father and my mother would take me to Mulate's in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. I was probably about 12 years old at the time. My father played Cajun accordion and we would go there on different nights. But I remember Wednesday nights was when Canray and Bois Sec played. And I remember we went there one night and their music really stood out from the other bands that were playing at Mulate's at the time. And I remember asking my father why they sounded so different. And my father said that's Creole music. And I remember him explaining to me that it's a lot more complex with rhythm. There's a huge African influence in that music.

And so the rhythm is way more complex than Cajun music. But at the same time, he explained to me too that Cajun music was really influenced by Creole music. So there's a lot of similarity in the music. But I think what I liked about it was... at the time I was playing guitar and funk bass, and I remember just being attracted to Creole music more than Cajun music because of the funkiness of it and the syncopation, the way it was all so syncopated. I also liked the way the melody was simple. Even though the rhythm was very complex, the melody was simple and it was very kind of hypnotic and tribal. I just totally got into it. And I love the sound of Canray's fiddle. He had these certain tones, and especially... He had a tune that he played [02:13]. So he called it Les Barres de la Prison and it was like [02:18].

Yeah. So you can just hear crying in that music; you could hear suffering and crying. I just imagine what people of color had to go through when those tunes were being composed and I felt so many emotions hearing that stuff. And so yeah, so that was kind of really what made me want to pick up the fiddle and play the fiddle. As far as the fiddle player who impacted me the most... I didn't realize until later that it was probably the Carrière family. I met the Carrière's through traveling with Dewey Balfa and we had a gig at the Smithsonian. It was the big folklife festival that they have every summer.

I was playing bass with Dewey Balfa and we were there for about two weeks and we played early that day. And I remember I saw that the Lawtell Playboys were going to be playing on the schedule and I wanted to go check them out. And when I heard that fiddle, it was different than Canray. It was just amazing. It sounded almost like a harmonica or something. It was so bluesy and funky. And so I watched them play and that was Calvin Carrière and Delton Broussard. And I think some of Calvin's kids were in the band as well, and maybe Delton's kids, and they were called the Lawtell Playboys and I was watching them play.

And what blew my mind was the reaction when they cranked it up the reactions of the regular people around because living down in Louisiana you hear stuff like that. And people just... We take it for granted, that sound and that music, but you could see the people that were around me had never heard that stuff before. And I just, I love seeing their emotion. It just really brought out so much joy but like emotion. And it was really cool because it was the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. The festival basically had hired people from all the Francophone nations. And so there were a lot of people from Africa that were there. These Africans heard that music, they came into the tent and they were dancing, like in this African style, to the music. It was awesome. It was so cool. So yeah. So let's see. Maybe I can play a Calvin tune. Yeah, let me play it.

And now, okay, so Calvin learned from Bébé Carrière. Bébé Carrière was his uncle. And I never got to meet Bébé, but I did hang out a lot with his music partner, which was Goldman Thibodeaux. Goldman played rubboard with Eraste and Bébé and they were from Lawtell. And so Calvin taught me a few tunes. Of course, this one is like a classic. And this one I think is what helped people to kind of discover me as a fiddler. I had to always tell people, I didn't write the tune. I learned it from the Carrière's. And so this is one I learned from Calvin and Bébé wrote it and it's just called Blue Runner. So it goes like this: [06:42]

So, yeah, that was one Calvin showed me. And I still to this day, couldn't figure out exactly what he was doing. I mean, his fingers were doing these slides and stuff. There was a cool slide that he would do. I heard Calvin do this. I'd never heard of Bébé do it, but Calvin would do it. And he did show me this one, but I just called it like a double slide, but he had this thing where he would go like [08:11]. I think he did it when he did Baby, Please Don't Go. So they'd do [08:18]. Something like that.

So yeah, the Carrière's were just amazing people. So after the show at the Smithsonian, I went and told them, Hey, I'm from Lafayette. And y'all sounded amazing. And I said, I play fiddle, but I'm playing bass with Dewey Balfa, but I play the fiddle. I'm learning fiddle. And Calvin and Delton were so nice. And they said, Look, what are you doing this afternoon? Or what are you doing in a little while? And I said I don't know. And they said, "Well, come back, come up and meet us in our hotel room. And we'll play some tunes. And I was just blown away. So I went and met them up there in the room and such sweet guys, and they were totally so open about sharing the music with me and willing to show me and teach me stuff.

And right away, they started telling me stories about their lives, and their struggles, and all that stuff. I mean, I just felt like I instantly became part of the family. So yeah. And then when we got home, I'd actually go and visit Calvin probably every other weekend. I would call him and say, Hey, Calvin, what are you doin'? And he was like, I'm not doing nothing. Bring your fiddle; come meet me. And what was cool, Calvin also was a great accordion player. So he would play the accordion and I would play fiddle. And he really enjoyed that. And then we would do twin fiddles too, and then every now and then Goldman Thibodeaux would come over and he would bring his washboard. It was kinda interesting 'cause I don't know if Goldman was playing accordion at the time. But Goldman had some great stories, and we really became good friends through Calvin. And after Calvin passed away, me and Goldman remained really good buddies. And I would go visit Goldman and he would tell me all these amazing stories about Creole people, and the struggles, and the music.

Amédé Ardoin... he saw Amédé play when he was young. But he also gave me the backstory on the Creoles, the Carrière family, and how they came together and made the music that they are famous for. So the way I look at it, Goldman's kind of the last old guy that's left. He's so important; I need to call him. Now that I'm living up here in Maine, I really miss him. But yeah.

And then I met Joe Hall and that was really cool because I had a gift store. I had a Cajun gift shop and Joe came by one time just to look at some records. I sold all kinds of stuff. I sold Cajun music, Zydeco, Creole music, and Joe came in and I was also selling some accordions and Joe said is it alright if I look at those accordions? I said, yeah. So he was playing and I heard him playing and I was like, "Man, you have a really old style." Like, where did you learn from? And he told me, he said I'm learning from Bois Sec Ardoin. And I was like, "Oh my God!" I said well, I play fiddle. Canray is one of my heroes. We need to get together and play some tunes. And so we started doing that and we started getting together in the back of the shop. I had a room and we'd get together and play. And I told Joe, I said we could be like Amédé Ardoin and Dennis McGee, 'cause they were an amazing duo.

And what was interesting about their whole thing was Dennis McGee was Cajun and Amédé Ardoin was Creole. And this was back in the 1930s when they were playing. And those were rough times for Creole people, black people, especially mixing with white people. And they would play a lot of house dances together and Amédé went through a lot of scary times. I mean, just trying to, he was hired by white people to play. But certain bullies would show up and racist people would show up and try to intimidate Amédé and make him feel bad. And he had Dennis McGee right there with him. So anyway I just thought that was interesting. I always wanted to play with a Creole accordion player. So me and Joe hooked up and we had some adventures. I never forget how I kind of felt like Amédé and Dennis McGee, 'cause we went up into the Ozarks and played up there. And I remember that was definitely new territory for black musicians to go up in that area. And yeah, it was really neat. I kind of felt some of the anxiety that Joe was feeling. Of course, being Cajun myself, Cajuns are also very misunderstood and there was a lot of racism towards Cajuns in the old days with people from Texas and North Louisiana and things like that. So we had some good adventures together and we did a record together, a couple of records and I still love playing with Joe, I did a tour with him.

So the other person that I was able to do and learn so much was from Michael Doucet when I joined Beausoleil. Michael spent a lot of time with Canray Fontenot and Michael did a lot of research with Amédé Ardoin, and Dennis McGee, Bois Sec, the Carrière's.

So again, I got a lot of lore about that kind of stuff. I remember Michael telling me the story about Gris-Gris how the Creoles used Gris-Gris to go into a trance. And he wrote a tune about it called Zydeco Gris-Gris. That was really cool. But traveling with Beausoleil was amazing because I really had to perform and rehearse at a super high level that I had never had to do before. And so I thank Michael Doucet for that. And also I thank Michael Doucet for really supporting the fiddle when it was kind of almost dying out. In the late eighties, everybody wanted to play the accordion. 'Cause Wayne Toups was really popular and there weren't really many young fiddle players coming up. Michael was a young fiddle player at the time. And he was hanging out with Dennis McGee, the Carrière's, Canray Fontenot. And it was like he took all their sounds and put them into a blender. And what came out was what Michael was able to do. So I like this one. This is a good one I'll play [16:02]. It goes like this; this is a Canray and Bois Sec tune and it's just some of Canray's One Steps. It goes like this. [16:15]

So the other person I was really lucky to hang out with... He wasn't a fiddler but was Bois Sec Ardoin. And through the fiddle camp Augusta, they actually got me to go pick up Bois Sec and take him to the airport. I was going to be like his chaperone. I think he'd had like a mild stroke and he was doing good, but he just had a hard time walking. So just to make sure that he made the flight and all that stuff. So I went and picked him up and my uncle was Revon Reed who did the Fred's Lounge Radio Show live from Fred's Lounge. And Revon was really good friends with Bois Sec and Canray. And he even brought them on a couple of tours up to the Northeast to do some folklife festivals and things like that.

So when I met Bois Sec he said you're a Reed? I said yeah, I'm a Reed. He said, "Well, if you're a Reed, why you not drunk?" I said I don't know. He said, "Well, all the Reeds stay drunk all the time. That's the Reeds I know from Mamou." And he laughed. He thought it was so funny. I thought that was so funny. 'Cause, actually it's very true. My uncles on my mother's side- my mother was a Reed also. On my mother's side, they all love to drink and they drank, they were, they were a.m. ale-ers, they drank during the day. Wonderful people, great storytellers, but they just loved to drink beer and whiskey and tell stories.

And so I picked Bois Sec up and we went to the Lafayette airport and Bois Sec had dressed up in a three-piece suit. I mean, it looked great. And while I was driving, this was, I guess, in the mid-nineties or something, we were about halfway there and he said, oh no. Wait, wait, wait, hold on, hold on. I said, "What?" He said, "My ticket. I don't have my ticket." And this was before you can just show up at the desk with no ticket and they could look it up on the computer. You had to have your paper ticket. So I said, well, yeah, well you have to have that ticket. So we went back and got his ticket.

And by the time we got there, we missed the flight. So I said we got on another flight. But we've got some time before we catch that flight. So he came back to my house and it was awesome. We ate lunch together. And he told me all these stories about Mamou and the Creoles, and even about my family. He knew a lot of people in my family that were from Mamou, and told me stories about Canray too. And then we caught our flight and I never forget on the way coming back home. When I dropped him off, he was by himself 'cause his wife, I think, was in the nursing home. He asked me, he said hey, come in here. Can you help me read my mail? He said help me go through all my mail. He said I got bills and I don't understand all the time what they say. So I was helping him read his mail and yeah, we just became really good friends.

And then Canray... Actually, I had a great experience with Canray. Again, I was asked to go pick up Canray and bring him to New Orleans to this local TV station. And the guy wanted me and Canray to play fiddles together. He said he thought it would be really cool to show how the elders are passing the music on to the next generation. So I was so excited, so I called Canray and he was totally into it. He was like, oh yeah. And at this time he was, I think doing chemotherapy, he had lung cancer. So he was very weak and tired, but he was a champ and he loved music and he loved people and he wanted to get out and do it. So I went and picked him up and I never forget, I said, I'm hungry or do you want something to eat?

And he said, oh, I don't know. I said I'm going to go through this McDonald's. We were in LaPlace, almost on the way to New Orleans. And I said I'm buying. I said I'm going to get me a cheeseburger. So what you want? And he said I'm going to get some nuggets. I said four piece, six piece, 10 piece. He said, four piece, give me a four-piece. And he ate like one nugget. And we got to the studio and there was another funny time where they started putting all this makeup on us. I guess, so we didn't have shine on our skin or whatever. And Canray turned to the girl that was putting makeup on me. He said what'd you try to do, he said, make him black and me white? He was so funny. So funny. Oh yeah. And the other thing, what was funny about Canray is that he didn't really use a tuner he would just, he would pluck the strings [22:50] like that kind of thing. So he knew when strings were tuned together, but he'd just crank until they were all right. He was like, all right, let's go. [23:02]

And I'm trying to play along. And I'm like Whoa, whoa, what key are we in? And it turns out his D string was in C sharp or something like that. So thank God after that first tune that was kind of shaky, they were interviewing Canray and he was talking and he loved to talk. So he was talking a bunch. So I was like trying to get my fiddle in tune with him. And after that, I would go visit him. And I had a friend from Denmark who was really good friends with Canray and her name was Elisabet. And she had met Canray, like in the sixties when Canray and Bois Sec traveled to Denmark and Europe to play. And her name was Elisabet, but he'd call her Lizzie. And I remember when I showed up at Canray's house with Elsebeth one day and Canray was like, Lizzie! He's like, let's play those Danish tunes. You know, the Danish tunes you taught me. And I'm like, Oh my God, Canray plays Danish music?! And sure enough, he starts [24:18]

And just memorized. I mean, just out of the blue was playing right with her, you know? So he was amazing. And he remembered so much. I mean, he knew so many stories about things that happened. I remember I was driving him home and on the side of the interstate, there was like this group of trees. And he was like, see those trees over there? He's like right there where we just passed. He said, there was a murder right there. He said this guy was killed by these two sisters. One was 16 and the other one was 18 and they killed this guy. I mean, just these wild stories and he was just amazing. Just a walking encyclopedia of the local history, and culture, and language, and food. I mean, he knew everything.

So yeah, I was very, very lucky to have spent time with all those guys. Who was my favorite Creole fiddle player? All of them, because they all played different. Canray had that crying sound, he just had that way of making the fiddle cry. The Carrière's, I loved their modal tunes that they played and their rhythm, the type of rhythm that they use.

So they were all different. So yeah, I was just so lucky to have been born into that when I was. My father was a musician and he introduced me. He was willing to go and introduce me to all these old guys. I feel bad for the generation after me because those guys like Canray, Dewey, and Dennis had all passed away. And so my friends like Wilson Savoy and Joel, and all those guys... Of course, Mark Savoy was their dad. And so they were all these characters, but that younger generation when they came around the old legendary guys had already passed away, but you have YouTube now. You have videos; you can go back and watch Canray play, and you can see Bébé play. There are not too many videos of Calvin. But when I go on YouTube late at night, I'll go watch Dennis play, Canray, Bébé... It's like going back in time, you know?

So yeah, well, thanks so much for interviewing me. And I hope that those were some good stories and experiences that I had to pass on about Creole music and why I love it. Thank you.

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