Somewhere on an autumn night when the sudden chill in the air betrays the truth that there will still be warm days, ahead the melody might hit you. If you’re in a Cajun dance hall it begins with a rollicking fiddle solo, the same if an aged jukebox begins to play as the scratchiness on the record adds patina to the sound. At a football stadium in Lake Charles, there’s the echo from the blast of a marching band as the McNeese Cowboy orchestra takes to the field. Then comes the up-tempo and all the Cowboy fans in the stadium know to sway in unison to a march-time rendition of what is the university’s fight song and the Cajun anthem.
Before 2017 fades way let it not be overlooked that a piece of music born out of Louisiana passion dominated the country charts 70 years ago, in 1947. There were five variations of the song (some with different spellings) on Billboard’s Top 100 Country Music chart that year, with what would be the most popular rendition, “Jole Blon,” by Cajun fiddler Harry Choates having climbed to number four in the nation.
Choates and his band, the Melody Boys, had recorded the song in 1946 for the Houston-based Gold Star label. Other performers liked the song’s infectious swing-time danceability and began recording various versions so that by 1947 there were, among others, a recording by country legend Ray Acuff as well as “New Pretty Blonde” and “New Jolie Blonde” by Moon Mullican and Red Foley respectively. (Number One that year was, “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Gene Autry.)
There were earlier versions of the song with the first recording in 1929 made in in Atlanta by the Breaux Brothers. Debate remains about the song’s author and just who was that pretty blonde. The song was recorded in French and English and the message is the same in both: She left here and went back home. He laments that she is in the arms another. He concludes that there are plenty other pretty blondes around and that he will find another.
Pretty blond, you thought there was just you,
There is not just you in the land to love me.
I can find another pretty blond,
Good God knows, I have a lot.
Harry Choates could have been a Cajun superstar except for the demons — booze, hard living and womanizing got to him.
He was born and raised in Louisiana, near New Iberia. The state shaped his music and career though much of his time was spent in Texas. In July, 1951 he was hauled to an Austin jail for non-payment of child support. There he began to act crazy, possibly because of the shakes from not having an alcohol fix, and started banging his head on the cell bars. He was found unconscious. Harry Choates died July, 17. He was only 28.
Choates reminds me of a Hank Williams-type character. Both performers had similar demons; both died unexpectedly. On Jan. 1, 1952 Williams was found dead in the backseat of a car outside a restaurant. The cause was likely heart failure due to alcohol and morphine, He was only 29.
“Jole Blon” and Williams’ “Your Cheating Heart” are part of the ongoing saga of man and woman embraced, yet tormented by each other.
For Choates’ recording, this year is a milestone. Blessed is a song that can inspire both love stories and a fight song.