Monday, January 21, 2008


Cleveland Crochet, Sugar Bee.
Cleveland Crochet, Drunkard's Dream.
Rusty and Doug, Louisiana Man.

I spent five years trying to find a Cajun band that could play rock and roll. Everyone thought I was nuts.

Eddie Shuler.

Cajun music had begun gaining a wider audience ever since Huey Long built highways through the Louisiana bayou country in the '30s, connecting the Cajuns with the cities. There was Harry Choates, the Cajun equivalent of Bob Wills (here's Choates' "Louisiana Boogie", from 1946), and a few Cajun-inspired songs appeared in the '50s, like Clarence Garlow's "Bon Ton Roula." But in 1960, for whatever reason, the Cajuns began making hit records.

The fiddler Cleveland Crochet was from Lake Charles, Louisiana. He headed a group originally known as Cleveland Crochet and the Hillbilly Ramblers, and in 1960 the group went to Eddie Shuler's Goldband Records, a label based in Lake Charles, and asked for an audition. Crochet's band had taken some Cajun standards--"Sugar Bee" and "Drunkard's Dream"--and had tarted them up, adding a backbeat and steel guitar. Most importantly, they had a true rock & roll singer--Jesse "Jay" Stutes, a truck driver for a local beer distributor, who played steel and sang as though his throat had been sandpapered.

Released in late 1960, "Sugar Bee," by early '61, had become the first Cajun record to crack Billboard's top 100, prompting Crochet to tell a local paper that he hoped to quit farming. "I sure hope I'm all through worrying about acreage allotments and marketing quotas," he said. He wasn't. Stutes soon deposed Crochet as leader of the band, which was renamed the Sugar Bees, and which broke up around the time of the British Invasion. (Details from the Southern Folklife Collection.)

Still, "Sugar Bee" is one of the finest rock & roll songs of the decade, and to quote the late John Peel, who's heard at the end of "Sugar Bee," a statement that could also serve as the "Locust St." motto: It is my sacred duty to play you these records every once in a while because you do need to hear 'em, you know?

"Sugar Bee"/"Drunkard's Dream" was released as Goldband 1106 in November 1960; "Sugar Bee" is on This Is Louisiana, "Dream," to my knowledge, has never been issued on CD.

Rusty, Nelson and Doug Kershaw were Cajuns from Tiel Ridge, Louisiana--they were born in a houseboat, and their father was pretty much as they describe him in "Louisiana Man": a trapper and fisherman who roamed the bayous. As boys, the Kershaw brothers formed a band called the Continental Playboys, who got some airplay on local radio station KPLC, and by 1955 Rusty and Doug were performing as a duo, cutting a number of singles for producer J.D. Miller. They had some modest success, but in 1958 both brothers were drafted into the Army.

Upon getting out of the military, Rusty and Doug went to Nashville and recorded the swinging "Louisiana Man," which eventually hit the country top 10. Doug Kershaw, after splitting with his brother in the mid-'60s, became known as "The Cajun Hippie" and was a favorite of Johnny Cash.

"Louisiana Man," recorded in Nashville on 18 October 1960 with Hank Garland (g), Pete Drake (steel), Floyd Cramer (p), Floyd Chance (b) and Murrey "Buddy" Harman (d), was released as Hickory 1137 c/w "Make Me Realize"; on Bubbling Under.

Top: Monica Vitti, alienated but chic, in Antonioni's L'Avventura.

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