|copyright 1974 and 1999
Ron and Fay Stanford
by Ron and Fay Stanford, from notes to the 1974 Swallow record “J’Etais Au Bal,” and at http://www.hechicero.com/louisiana
ver forty years ago a talent scout for a large record company heard Bébé Carrière play some fiddle tunes in a country store near Lawtell, Louisiana, and was so impressed he made arrangements for Carrière and a band to travel to New Orleans to make several 78’s. With some regret Bébé (Joseph) recalls that he never made it to New Orleans: “I was only about eighteen, you know. I just had other things on mind. Anyhow, I was a young fell and I was playing dances most every other night and it just slip my mind.”
As Bébé and his brother Dolon (Eraste) would put it, they are “agedly.” Eraste, 73, lives just outside the village of Lawtell with his wife, daughter, and a granddaughter In a house next to Highway 190, the main truck route between New Orleans and Houston. Bébé and his wife live several miles away in an extremely isolated part of the rice and soybean countryside between Lawtell and Church Point. “I didn’t think American people was interested in this French music,” he told us with shy laughter.
ntil about twenty years ago, Bébé and Eraste Carrière played house dances regularly, not just around Lawtell, but as far away as Lake Charles, sometimes together, often with other musicians, and even alone (Eraste played many dances by himself). They have performed for countless audiences, both black and white, at innumerable, forgotten parties and dances, the likes of which are only a memory in Louisiana.
In the days before the many taverns and dance halls of today, people had dances in their homes, as Joseph describes: “They’d take out all the furniture of the biggest room – sometime you’d have to clean two room ’cause the crowd was too big. It was like that.” He expands on his words by crossing all his fingers together to indicate a crowded room “Sometime the people wasn’t too civilize at that time,” Bébé explains. Both blacks and whites will tell you that the old days were rough, even deadly, particularly in the old-time dances. Bébé goes on, “Sometime fights would break out – with all them people drinking whiskey like water. Once I play a dance where they stab a man, they cut him to death. That happen around Lake Charles years back. I came outa there, and I say, ‘Well, well!’ You talk about something that stay on my mind a long time!”
The Carrière brothers’ repertoire, a large and varied list of dance tunes and songs, reflects the music of their ancestors, as well as the popular genres which have come and gone in their own lifetimes. La Robe à Parasol, one of the tunes on this record, is an old-time dance tune called a mázulka, the local pronunciation of mazurka, a dance originating in central Europe. Eraste says that the tune is even older than his father and was probably popular in the time of his grandfather’s youth. The lyrics describe a style of dress apparently called the “parasol,” which according to Eraste is a full, hoop skirt.