Nathan Abshire is, along with Iry LeJeune and Lawrence Walker, one of the greatest Cajun singers and accordion players of all time. Though Nathan Abshire made a small handful of records in the prewar era, it was beginning in 1949 with his recording of “Pine Grove Blues” that he rose to fame, if not fortune, in South Louisiana. You can read all about his life and music in the excellent journal Louisiana Music (see link below). I’ve put together a playlist of some of my favorite Abshire recordings, from the early 50s through 1973. He made a number of recordings of his big hit “Pine Grove Blues” over the years, all truly fine, but I have chosen one he recorded in later years with the Balfa Brothers for the LP market. Nathan plays accordion on all songs, sings on “Pine Grove Blues,” “Petite, Jolie Juliette” (kind of a drunken take on “Jolie Blonde”), “La Valse de Jolie Fille,” and “Cannon Ball Special.” Dewey Balfa sings on the clip-clopping “Mardi Gras Song” and that’s Lazy Lester playing harmonica behind La La Laverne’s vocal on the hypnotic “La-La Blues.” There’s lots of great Cajun steel playing as well, by the likes of Atlas Frugé, Jake Miere, Darius LeBlanc, and J. W. Pelsia.
Photo of Nathan Abshire courtesy of Lyle Ferbrache and Louisiana Music. You can order a copy of Louisiana Music, Volume 1, Number 1 at Pine Grove Press.
Lou Curtiss of Folk Arts emailed this morning with a link to a YouTube video of Sonny Boy Williamson, one of my long-time favorites. It turned out to be a solo version of “Lonesome Cabin,” filmed in a Copenhagen club in 1964. Just Sonny Boy and his harp, it’s totally captivating, with plenty of nice upper and lower register harmonica runs between verses. Check it out below. Then have a listen to the studio version from five years earlier with the Chess house band. I’m kinda leaning toward the solo version. . . . How about you?
Amazingly, Gail Harris was only about 15 when she so soulfully covered Etta James’s “All I Could Do Was Cry” at a dance at the Spanish Castle in Seattle. Down in Austin, Joyce Harris (no relation) was all of 21 when she screamed out her version of “I Got My Mojo Working;” hard to believe it wasn’t issued at the time. And Margaret Lewis was somewhere around 20 when she made this demo of her song “Reconsider Me” which later was a hit for both Narvel Felts and Johnny Adams.
Lightning Hopkins made hundreds of recordings beginning in the late ’40s, solo, with small bands, and as an accompanist. Here are a few of my favorites. And as much as I’m knocked out by his amazing guitar playing, I seem to be a big fan of his simple, loping keyboard style as well.