he Thibodaux, Louisiana, Civic Center is a huge ultra-modern hall that stands on a small rise off a road leading out of town. It is ribbed and windowless; rather inconspicuous during the day but after dark the floodlights lend it an imposing air.

The same night that a local soul band occupies the main auditorium, Vin Bruce is performing there at the Volunteer Firemen’s Ball in a long barren room refrigerated past the point of comfort. Vin plays a solid rhythm guitar but his smooth, mellow vocals are the main attraction. Most of the selections are standard country and western numbers sung in English, and for these the highly respected fiddler, Doc Guidry, reverts to an electric five string mandolin played through Leslie organ speakers. This gives the music more of a rock and roll flavor than the average Cajun dance hall fare.

Vin intersperses the English songs every once in a while with his French hits like Jolie Blonde and Big Mamou. The firemen and their wives come bedecked for the occasion in their gaudiest plumage, and they smoke cigarettes and drink beer as heartily as the least adorned of dance hall denizens. A "ready-made crowd," the bass player describes them, and they seem completely satisfied with their choice of entertainment.

  Vin Bruce

  in Bruce was expecting us earlier that day. His agent said he had just run down for a drink. When he returned he was instantly recognizable from the record jackets but it was something of a surprise to discover that he is not tall. Despite the drowsy heat of the August afternoon, he looked crisp as a country club member in his seersucker suit and white shoes. His small face was capped elaborately by a thick graying wave. A diamond pinky ring flashed as he raised his right hand to shake mine.

"Comment ça va?" His speaking voice is as rich as his singing voice.

We waited in silence for the tape recorder so the official interview could begin. Shyly, he offered me a cigarette. "Thank you, I don't smoke." "Well, don't mind me, chère, I'm just an old country boy. And we're simple folk down here. We just want you to feel at home. Let your hair hang down. I mean, whatever you wanna do is alright with me." He seemed self-conscious at the prospect of being interviewed. With the microphone pointed in his direction he began to speak of his background.

He grew up the son of a farmer and trapper near the small town of Cut Off, which lies about sixty miles southwest of New Orleans. Vin heard very little accordion music as a child. He could recall only one man who played the Cajun accordion and of him Vin simply said, "Ernest Cherami used to play the accordion, but not like the people from out west. It wasn't like that around here." Vin's grandmother was a musician and his brother played the fiddle but Vin learned his trade listening to his father. "I started by singing French songs. I used to watch my daddy playing fiddle and I caught the guitar and played a little -- I caught a few notes, but I'm no musician, now." He was excessively modest, almost to the point of denying his own achievements.

LYRICS and TRANSLATION
"La Valse de 99 Ans"

in was eighteen and singing primarily English songs at a New Orleans radio station when he was discovered by a Columbia talent scout in 1951. Among the 78's that Columbia released was a French tune entitled, Dans la Louisianne. This sold half a million records and Vin mentioned shyly that for a short while he had a fan club with members from all across the country.

With the advent of rock and roll his popularity dwindled and his Columbia contract ran out. He spoke without bitterness of this downward turn in his career. Vin played locally for a long time until he could no longer support himself by singing. He started to roughneck on the offshore oil rigs.

For some years after he was dropped by Columbia. Vin recorded on the Swallow label. His last album was released by la Louisianne, a small company in Lafayette. Now he has his own recording facilities in a posh suburb of Thibodaux where the district attorney, who is a close friend of Vin's, converted a big red barn into an eight track studio.

Vin Bruce is never very far from home. "I've only been known around so many parts," he reflected. His personal appearances extend almost exclusively over southeastern Louisiana. He rarely travels as far north as Lafayette. But his brand of country song is known to many people outside this region.

Jimmy C. Newman in Lafayette, l974

immy C. Newman is a performer, who, like Vin Bruce sings Cajun music shot through with country licks and country music heavily influenced by Cajun songs. Formerly of Mamou, Louisiana, Newman now makes his home in Nashville, where he performs in the Grand Ole Opry twenty times annually. Blinking lethargically behind sunglasses in the glare of the Lafayette Howard Johnson's, he told us, "I very seldom walk in any place that they don't instead of saying 'howdy' say,'AAAEEE!' It's amazing." Most of Jimmy Newman's in-person appearances are in the area from Texas east to Maryland, but Doug Kershaw, a fiddler from Jennings, La., has a nationwide audience. For many years he performed locally in dance halls with a family band called PeeWee Kershaw and the Continentals. Now he guest stars on everything from the Porter Wagoner Show to the late night network rock concerts. He rivals the flashiest rock freak in appearance but his music is solidly rooted in French Louisiana.

 he mixtures of Cajun and country music often produce a smooth, almost syrupy blend. The performers of this modern Cajun-country music strive for a Nashville sound, and indeed, most of them leave at one time or another to seek their fortunes in Nashville. Since the early fifties Vin Bruce has been playing his music for his neighbors in south Louisiana.

 

copyright 1974 and 1999
Ron and Fay Stanford

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