Posts Tagged ‘Dennis McGee’

Happy One Step: Southern Marvel #7

February 11, 2012

Dennis McGee and Ernest Fruge

edited from http://www.fieldrecorder.com

The Cajuns of Louisiana are the descendents of the earliest colonists from northern France who settled in Acadia, Nova Scotia, and devoted themselves with dogged persistence to their language, their culture, their Catholicism, their freedom. They had to, or lose it all in the welter of endless wars between France and Britain. England having won dominion over Acadia during Queen Anne’s War of 1713, the British were understandably alarmed at Acadians’ strong cultural identity. Oath after oath of allegiance was defied as the Acadians refused to bear arms against their French countrymen, refused to give over rich farmlands to the English, refused to feed British soldiers on their own precious fish, cattle, corn, etc.  When in 1748 they again refused to swear the English oath, their lands and possessions were confiscated and their men deported while the women and children watched their homes burn.

During the next 11 years, the British continued to exile Acadians, more than 8000 in all, 4000 of whom died at sea of smallpox and other diseases. The survivors were scattered in major cities across the Eastern Seaboard and west in Canada and the States… In time, they found their way to Louisiana, where they were welcomed by the already-established French and Spanish Catholic population. They settled in the southwestern corner of the state with the blessings of the French governor.

The Louisiana twin fiddling of Dennis McGee and Ernest Fruge (“The Complete Early Recordings of Dennis McGee, 1929-1930,” Yazoo 2012) is one of the great treasures of recorded southern fiddling, past and present.

An intricate tapestry effect is produced by Dennis McGee and Ernest Fruge, whose seconding reproduces more closely the highly ornamented melodic line played by the lead fiddle, complete with cascading trill after trill. No dead space: every square inch filled. No rests – just as there are no rests in certain traditional music of say, Sweden and Norway. The resemblance in fact of this archaic Cajun twin fiddle tradition to the older style of fiddle-playing in central Europe is striking, especially with respect to those cascading rolling trills one on top of another, like overlapping folds of surf, neither ending or beginning.

Dennis McGee and Ernest Fruge play “Happy One Step”:

Advertisements

Dennis McGee

December 4, 2011

For all fans of southern fiddling, a new Dennis McGee CD was quietly released last year called “Myself,” on Valcour Records.   Find it here.

Dennis McGee plays “Courtilienne” (Cotillion):

From Gerard Dole:

“Dennis McGee, who was Irish-American on his father’s side and French and Seminole Indian on his mother’s, was born January 26, 1893, at Bayou Marron (Evangeline Parish). He died in Eunice (Evangeline Parish) October 3, 1989. A fiddle player and singer, he recorded and performed between 1927 and 1934 with Sady Courville and Ernest Frugé, Angelas LeJeune, and with black Creole accordion player and singer Amédé Ardoin.

I had the chance and privilege to be introduced to Dennis McGee by Sady Courville in his Eunice furniture store during a field trip to Southwest Louisiana in the summer of 1975. My journal entry for the next day reads:

‘Wednesday, August 27, 1975: At around 3 in the afternoon, I went to Eunice to visit Dennis McGee in his little house. The old barber is so talkative that he almost immediately began telling me stories about his past and playing me old dances on the fiddle. He may very well be the only person who still knows them.’

With his consent, I opened my Nagra reel-to-reel tape recorder, hooked up a mike, and recorded this legendary fiddler who, to tell the truth, had been nearly forgotten by most people at the time.

[Himself] is a lengthy excerpt from those field recordings, in which you will be able to hear Dennis McGee play 19th-century ballroom dances, with clarity and energy, in his specific old-time Cajun style: Contra Dance, Varsovianna (“Valsurienne”), Mazurka, Gallop, Polka, Waltz, Cotillion (“Courtilienne”), Reel and Two-Step. To the greater delight of the listener, Mr. McGee occasionally comments on the variety of fiddle tunings and about the tunes themselves.”