Well, it’s time to announce a brand new Valcour Records release! Like all of them we’re very proud of this one, but this one is especially special to me. For one, this is the first actual record that Miss Kelli Jones and I have ever made together. As most of y’all know, Kel and I have been playing together onstage and on records for over ten years, but we have never actually found time to record together for our own project until recently. There is quite a story that goes into these four little songs ending up on a piece of vinyl, so I thought it would be fun to recount to you all just how this came to be. It's called Toi, Tu Joues à L’amour. Hope you enjoy!
The story begins for me back in 1996 if I remember correctly. My parents’ old friend Ed Littlefield Jr. came down to visit us in Eunice from the state of Washington. By then I was playing fiddle and some guitar and we had a great time hanging out with Ed and his partner Julia- so much fun that it was decided that he and his recording engineer Daniel Protheroe, aka Ace, would return before too long to record my folks and the Savoy-Smith Cajun Band live at the St Thomas Moore Mardi Gras Ball (and Ed joined in on pedal steel guitar). They flew in with huge road cases of tube microphone preamps and other gear and I was fascinated by the gear and the process- instantly hooked! That summer I was invited to go spend some time up at Ed’s beautiful studio in Arlington WA to learn more about recording, and I also traveled with him and his crew to the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend WA, where I had not been since I was 3 or 4 years old. I spent an incredible week at Fiddle Tunes (it may have been two weeks that year for the anniversary), and returned home more eager than ever to learn, create, record and produce music – it was a very formative part of the rest of my life. (Coincidentally, today I am the Artistic Director of that same festival!) I returned to Fiddle Tunes and Blues week with Ed several more times over the next few years and accompanied him on some other amazing adventures, but let’s fast-forward a bit to October of 2015.
Ed and some of his friends and bandmates regularly take these wonderful trips hosted by the Castles and Concerts group on what happens to be the world’s largest fully-rigged sailboat, the Royal Clipper. Kel and I and the fam were invited to join them on several of these, but in October of 2015 we were invited to go spend a week with them wining and dining in the Bussaco Palace of Luso, Portugal. It was nothing short of amazing – beautiful concerts and meals every night, and we had a blast hanging out with Wilson and his girlfriend Rachel and my old friends who I had known since the early days of Fiddle Tunes (who are the offspring of Ed’s bandmates) and their partners. Every night was a new adventure, but one night we got a little more wild than maybe we should have and we started exploring the castle- particularly the parts that we weren’t allowed to explore… I won’t go into details, but while exploring, the ever-musical Kel found this old dusty French Petula Clark 45 rpm record in a pile of trash and wanted to check it out. Anyway, it ended up in her suitcase. So we eventually get home to Eunice and that 45 ends up in a stack of other 45s and gets forgotten. Not long after that, I was finally able to purchase a jukebox I had been eyeing for some time from my friend Todd Ortego- a vintage 1958 Seeburg 222 – the first stereo jukebox ever made I believe. Guess what? It didn’t come with records, so that stack of 45s in my living room found a new home and guess which one started getting played a lot? This one by Petula Clark from the 1960s with two songs on each side, the last song on the B Side being a melancholy pop song called “Toi, Tu Joues à L’amour”!
You might think the story ends there, but there’s more!
So we have been friends with Ed for a long time now and he’s recently built an absolutely incredible masterpiece of a recording studio up on his farm up in Washington, north of Seattle. We still see him often – definitely at Fiddle Tunes every year, and after a week at an intense music festival there’s nothing like spending some time at the farm to unwind, which is exactly what we did last summer. And since we were going to be there for a few days we figured we might as well record a track or two for fun so Ed graciously enlisted his recording engineer Jordan Cunningham to spend a day with us. Kel and I had never tried to play “Toi, Tu Joues à L’amour” before, much less on fiddles, but we decided that since we were at Ed’s, without whom we would not have discovered the song, we had to record it then and there. So the night before we were to record we sat up late in the great room at Ed’s house learning it and working up the arrangement. The next day we sat down with our fiddles, facing each other only a few feet apart in the main room of the studio and played music together, LIVE – they way that I wish I could always record – and Jordan did a great job of capturing the feeling of the day. The other three tracks we recorded are equally special to us, but without the globetrotting background.
On a 7” 45rpm record, you can fit 5 minutes or less per side, so we could only include one other track on the vinyl, so it seems fitting to me for the B Side to pay homage to two contemporary Cajun fiddle heroes of mine, my “uncle” Michael Doucet and my friend the late Al Berard. The two tunes in this set, “The Attakapas Trail” by Al and “Reel de Nez Picqués” by Mike are wonderful examples of new Cajun fiddle tunes that are being written in Acadiana today. The other two tracks had to be included as a download since they made each side too long. Kel and I have been playing this Dennis McGee Medley for a while- Dennis’ recordings from the 20s and 30s remain to this day my favorite Cajun music. The first tune comes from another Valcour release “Dennis McGee, Himself” and he calls it the “Reel de Marcantel” on that record. The second tune is called the Barza Reel and this version is a spin on an arrangement that I used to play a lot with another contemporary Cajun fiddle hero of mine, David Greely.
The last track we cut is a song called “Dedans la Louisiane” and it comes from the great Cajun songwriter Vin Bruce from down south in Cutoff Louisiana. I’ve heard my parents sing this song as a duet since I was a baby and I love the lyrics (slightly adapted here by me and borrowed from some other versions, including a great version by Cheese Read). I played Heather Littlefield’s gorgeous Santa Cruz 00-21 guitar on this one in a drop tuning.
So you can see, everything has a story. We cut these four songs live and I loved Jourdan’s rough mixes so much we didn’t touch ‘em. To me, there’s nothing like making mixes either during or right after the recording session – even if they’re not perfect they always seem more connected to the music – more emotional somehow. So this is us, the way we are. Two best friends playing fiddles together in a gorgeous room with no reverb or nothing, and I hope you will enjoy our effort to make quality, honest, real music. A huge thanks to all those mentioned here, too. For everything!
Now you may ask yourself why release this on a 7” 45rpm record? Believe me, when I first looked at the numbers (see the breakdown below) I was asking myself the same question. But there’s a good answer. I’ve just spent an entire morning writing about how special this thing is for me- the music, the story of finding and learning the songs, the history of the songs and the connections to the people that made them, and the remaking of these songs with my dear friend Kelli Jones. We wanted to make a special product that reflects the way we feel about the content. So we dressed it up and pressed 300 copies on opaque white vinyl in nice full color jackets with a card in each one to download all four tracks for those who don’t have a record player. So here’s the deal: there are only 300 of these in the world and we ain’t makin’ no more, so if you like what we made here and would like to be part of this little story, please buy a copy.
Thanks for listening and until next time, lâche pas la patate!