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Posted at 2:00 PM ET, 03/ 1/2011

Album review: "Mama I'll Be Long Gone: The Complete Recordings of Amede Ardoin"

By Bill Friskics-Warren

Plenty of myth-enshrouded Mississippi bluesmen who recorded during the Great Depression were eventually recognized as pioneers of the genre. Some, such as Charley Patton, Skip James and Robert Johnson, ultimately, if to varying degrees, found an enduring place in the popular consciousness. Not so with their Louisiana counterpart Amede Ardoin, the black Creole singer and accordionist whose astonishing recordings were as crucial to the evolution of Cajun and zydeco music as those of Patton and Johnson were to the development of Delta and Chicago blues.

"Mama, I'll Be Long Gone," Tompkins Square's new collection of the complete recordings that Ardoin was known to have made in his brief lifetime, could go a long way toward rectifying this oversight. Nearly two-thirds of the double-CD set's 34 tracks were made with Dennis McGee, the white Cajun fiddle player with whom Ardoin traveled throughout Louisiana and East Texas, playing to black, white and - in certain rural enclaves - racially integrated audiences at house parties and dances.

As evidenced by the blues, waltzes and one- and two-steps that form this set, the two men made music that was as lyrical as it was intense. At its core was a powerful mix of melancholy and jubilation, emotions born of the resiliency and persecution experienced both by the Acadian people who migrated from Canada to Louisiana and by the mixed-race descendants of the original Spanish and French settlers along the Gulf Coast.

Ardoin and McGee played with singular intimacy, the white man's fierce bow strokes and keening melody lines meshing instinctively with his Creole counterpart's hot, percussive chording. But maybe even more remarkable than this instrumental interplay were the high, ravaged vocals of Ardoin, his coarse, dirty timbres possessed of an otherworldly quality akin to leather-throated bluesmen such as Patton and Blind Willie Johnson. On the more up-tempo numbers here, his ardent bawling qualifies as a harbinger of the unhinged but melodic shouting of Little Richard and other early rock-and-rollers who recorded in New Orleans during the 1950s and '60s.

On the mostly medium-paced solo recordings here, Ardoin's small diatonic accordion carries the rhythms and the melodies, his vocals on the lilting "Aimez Moi Ce Soir" and the heart-rending "Les Blues de la Prison," for example, evincing great subtlety and range. Even on first listen, his influence on such Cajun and zydeco inheritors as Nathan Abshire and Clifton Chenier, as well as on the accordion-rich music of rock-era acts such as the Band, is undeniable.

It would have been fascinating to have heard how Ardoin's music might have evolved with the advent of the jump blues and rock-and-roll eras had he lived to see them. His death, under mysterious, violent and almost certainly racially motivated circumstances, however, deprived the world of this opportunity. The event was doubly cruel given Ardoin's inspired collaborations with McGee, a partnership that testified not only to a musical harmony but to a deeper racial accord that transcended the shame of segregation.

Recommended tracks: "One Step Des Chameaux," "Two Step D'Elton," "Aimez Moi Ce Soir"

By Bill Friskics-Warren  | March 1, 2011; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Album reviews  | Tags:  Amede Ardoin  
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When I started seriously listening to the music of SW Louisiana back in 1989, I was already familiar with both Cajun and Zydeco, but dancing to the music allowed me to become physically intimate with both genres. Try it with any genre, it works!

One of the first albums of the black music from that area I owned was by Amade Ardoin. I immediately heard his influence on both genres of SW Louisiana music, not just Zydeco, or it's predecessor, "La-La", or Creole music.

Fromm time to time, white musicians in America have "borrowed" black music, sometimes collaboratively, sometimes in a predatory manner. When I was growing up in the 1950's it seemed whites simply stole black music, including many copywrited pieces for their own profit and to further their careers. Fortunately, Chuck Berry came along and, well, who was going to cover his music? The door was open. Within weeks singers like Pat Boone disappeared from the Top 10 and the rightful owners of the songs, notably Fats Domino and Little Richard, took their proper place in the lists.

On the other hand, when I went to listen to and/or see jazz, I saw blacks and whites collaborating and playing together. And this appears to have been the case with Amade Ardoin and Dennis McGee.

Having blacks and whites collaborating in any way, much less playing music together in a public place in Louisiana (New Orleans mostly excepted) was simply not to be done. And certainly had Ardoin approached whites to play, his tragic demise might well have occurred earlier than it did, and probably every bit as violently.

But Dennis McGee approached Ardoin because he heard and felt something that drew him to this creative musician. A white person getting something from a black was not unusual, but collaborating was something different. McGee was not out to snag Ardoin's music and appropriate it for himself, he had a vision for what a blending of these genres could become, as did Ardoin.

The two of them played together, both privately and in public -- and for an extended period of time. And once that collaboration took place, neither the black nor the white music of Southwestern Louisiana was ever the same. The Celtic music of the Cajuns all of a sudden had a distinctive beat The beat driven music of the blacks appropriated many Cajun-Celtic songs. The music we dance to today was born.

I haven't heard this album yet, but I'm willing to bet I've heard many of the songs already. I've been listening to this music for probably thirty years, loving it all the way.

It's good to go back to the roots of a genre to remind yourself where the music you're currently listening to got started. Rock 'n' Roll fans need to listen to Louis Jordan, Bluesy Zydeco fans need to listen to Clifton Chenier, and what else do I need to say but "Bob Marley". Our reviewer makes a good point -- listen to Amade Ardoin and find out where the heart and soul of today's Cajun and Zydeco came from (and thank Dennis McGee, too).

Posted by: MikeheartsTerps | March 1, 2011 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Cajun Early Recordings, JSP7726, has 2 of Ardoin's 34 songs.

Cajun Country, JSP7749, has 18 of the 34 songs.

Rare and Authentic Cajun, JSP77115, has the other 14 of the 34 songs and they are already remastered by Chris King.

So at most it's possibly 20 of the 34 newly remastered. It's the Cajun Country cd that has some sound problems on Valse à Austin Ardoin and Valse des Amities. The Arhoolie versions of those two songs (on CD7007, I'm Never Coming Back) do not sound any better to me.

Posted by: poncedeleroy | March 2, 2011 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for these thoughtful comments, you two. You're welcome here on Click Track anytime!

Posted by: ChrisRichards | March 3, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

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