Few people can be justifiably regarded as both an originator of a particular style of music and also as a conveyor of an older style of folk music in its own right. Fewer still are those who were aurally documented in the 1920s & 1930s and in the 1970s & 1980s who showed little loss of skill or recollection of repertoire. One such artist was the unique Cajun, Dennis McGee.
Not only did McGee record from 1929 to 1934 with such artists as Amédé Ardoin, Sady Courville, Wade Fruge, and Angelas Le Jeunne, but he also later recorded two “studio” albums in 1972 and 1977 with Sady Courville for Morning Star and Swallow, respectively. Every recording mentioned above was done either with a second fiddler and with McGee providing the vocals, or in the role of the accompanying fiddler behind an accordion player and vocalist.
This new CD, Dennis McGee – Himself, presents McGee in the role of solo fiddler, playing mostly previously unheard instrumentals without the company of a second fiddler or an accordion player. It is a revelation on par with “junking” a stack of unknown & unissued test recordings by one of the most majestic and unique fiddlers ever to draw a bow.
Since McGee was one of the earliest Cajun artists to record commercially, most musicians, collectors, and scholars regard him, along with the black accordion player, Amédé Ardoin, as the source of most traditional Cajun tunes and the techniques developed to play them; the true vine, as it were. What has been lacking, up until the release of this material recorded in 1975 by Gérard Dôle, were recordings of McGee performing unaccompanied and, perhaps more importantly, performing the more archaic and obscure types of Cajun fiddle tunes that were popular in the 19th century.
This is essential since mazurkas, polkas, gallopades, varsoviannas, and cotillions held a strong place in the early Cajun fiddle and dance repertoire but became less popular with the introduction of the diatonic accordion. One of the most revealing aspects of this collection, though not explicitly stated, is that traditional Cajun fiddle music is defined more by its repertoire than by its style. (more…)