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. Through a set of happy coincidences we met Eraste and found out that he and his brother are musicians. Eraste rode with us to Joseph's little country house to make some recordings, and Joseph greeted us, more than a little amused by our interest in his music. "I didn't think American people was interested in this French music," he told us with shy laughter.

  Eraste's house in Lawtell

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!"

  Bébé on fiddle, Eraste on accordion

t was not their music that kept the Carrières alive, however, but their unrelenting work in the corn and cotton fields. Both are quick to say that they did not relish the sunup to sundown schedule of planting, hoeing, and harvesting and that they would both have given it up if they had had the chance. Eraste had no schooling at all – a school had not yet been established for black children when he was a boy. Joseph went through the fifth grade, but his parents were pressured by the landlord for whom they were sharecropping to take him out of the classroom and put him hack in the fields.

Today he reflects on the frustration that his leaving school has caused him: "If I had got more schooling, I could of got on some good job maybe. Instead I had to work all my days in the doggone fields mostly for nothing. Hell, I didn't earn nothing like that. You couldn't sell your crop. They’d give you so little for it you'd come out with nothing. You had to make a little credick (credit) account through the years, and it would take mostly all your cotton to pay the doggone thing. You'd come out maybe with a twenty, maybe twenty-five dollars at the end of the year. Oh, I'm gonna tell you, it was really tough."

Children harvesting yams, l973

raste and Joseph agree that times were at least as hard before they were born. For as far back as either can trace, both sides of the family lived near Lawtell. Their parents, Ernest and Edmonia Carrière, were sharecroppers; their father’s parents, Cyprien and Natalie Carrière, owned their own small piece of land; Eraste's and Joseph's great-grandparents, as the family history has it, were slaves.

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.

Abandoned sharecroppers shack

n addition to a large number of standard Cajun waltzes and two-steps, many of which they have learned over the years from radio broadcasts, Bébé and Eraste know a curious potpourri of tunes: Baby, Please Don't Go, a blues first recorded by Big Joe Williams; Kentucky Waltz, a sentimental piece by Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys; Waiting For A Train, a yodeling song by Jimmie Rodgers; and Home Sweet Home, with which they, as many other old-time musicians ended every dance.

Bébé's Blues, the other of the Carrière's songs on this record, is a fiddle number which Bébé says he learned from a record long ago; he can't remember either the original title or the lyrics, which he recalls were in English. The song, both men say, was extremely popular when Bébé played it at the old dances. "I made many people dance off of that song," he reminisces. When I played that tune they cut up the floor. Many time I had to play it twice, you know, clapping their hands like that, I'd have to go back and play the same thing again."

Eraste's living room

he musical trading between blacks (Creoles, as they call themselves) and whites (Cajuns or Coonasses) has gone on for so long in south Louisiana that it is often difficult to determine the original owner of a given tune or musical quality. While the Carrières have drawn heavily on white traditions, and for that matter have played for white audiences with white musicians, their music remains, primarily because of rhythmical and vocal subtleties, unmistakably black. That, however, has never been much of a concern of' Bébé or Eraste – they have simply been playing music for people to dance to. Eraste told me that in the old days they might play a single tune for over a half-hour without stopping, and there would be hardly any pause before they went into the next one.

A little country house packed with dancing people, kids peeking in from their bedroom, two or three musicians on a table playing for hours for little money and with little rest. Bébé spoke probably most ac- accurately on the old times: "A person wouldn't even imagine how it was."

 

 

copyright 1974 and 1999
Ron and Fay Stanford

Robe a Parasol

Blues à Bébé

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