Cajun Honky-Tonk: The Khoury Recordings – The Early 1950s
review by Art Menius
The years following World War II proved the peak era for commercial Cajun music. Oil brought the money that fueled a network of night spots, and a popular musician could find work every night. Harry Choates enjoyed regional success with “Jole Blonde,” while Moon Mullican’s cover took Louisiana French song farther than it had ever traveled before. Still, the Cajun market consisted only of east Texas and southwestern Louisiana, and 3000 records sold made a hit.
Regional independent labels, therefore, provided 78s for the juke boxes, radio stations, and those few folks in the area with phonographs. In 1949 Lake Charles, Louisiana businessman George Khoury, who retailed records and served juke box operators, financed a new label called OT Records. When it soon struck pay dirt with Nathan Abshire’s exuberant “Pinegrove Blues,” Khoury launched his own eponymous label, as well as a subsidiary, Lyric.
Cajun Honky-Tonk collects 26 cuts, a whopping 75 minutes, of Khoury, Lyric, and OT 78’s. Only a dozen of these ever made it on to LP, on a pair of 25 year old Arhoolie releases. Khoury didn’t hesitate to recruit from the OT roster; this disc kicks off with Abshire & His Pinegrove Boys performing “Crying Pinegrove Blues.” Two of the sides Choates cut for OT appear, the wonderful “Valse De Lake Charles” and “Jolie Blon’s Gone.” I never said Khoury was original. We also hear Marie Falcon sing “Jole Brun,” on a recording credited to Shuk Richard.
Khoury recorded Cajun music just as the accordion resurfaced. During the 1930s and 1940s the western swing influenced sound of the Hackberry Ramblers and Choates had placed the fiddle at the forefront. Khoury captured plenty of both sounds. The late Dewey Balfa, eventually the old master Cajun traditionalist, makes his recording debut singing and fiddling with steel guitar player Elise Deshotel & the Louisiana Rhythmaires, who included one Esther Deshotel on drums. Abshire and Lawrence Walker provide the resurgent accordions. Walker receives credit for nine tracks, easily the most of any artist on Cajun Honky-Tonk, although some purists decried his frequent English language recordings.
The music on Cajun Honky-Tonk generally kicks. These records were calling cards for dance musicians. The power of working dance bands at the peak can rarely matched. These folks had to bring dancers to the floor and keep them happily dancing and partying well into the night. These may not be the quintessential Cajun singles of their time, but it’s delightful, high energy, representative music throughout. The sound, transferred from 78s, 45s, and even acetates, merely suffices.