“Cajun Interstate”: Cajun-Built

Thanks to the bibliographic notes in 2003’s The Cajuns:  Americanization of a People by Shane K. Bernard, I was able to affirm that “Cajun Interstate” by Rod Bernard is, indeed, about the building of the highway that traverses the bottom of Louisiana – Interstate 10:

Atchafalaya Basin Bridge

Atchafalaya Basin Bridge

As Shane K. Bernard writes:

“South Louisianians were fascinated by the construction of I-10, particularly an eighteen-mile section known as the “Atchafalaya Expressway” [which opened in 1973].  The monumental elevated causeway cut directly through the Atchafalaya Basin, a vast, snake-infested wetlands that to many symbolized South Louisiana’s cultural isolation.

‘They said it couldn’t be done — building a highway over the swamps,’ mused a journalist.  The engineering feat so impressed one South Louisiana musician that he composed ‘Cajun Interstate,’ a rock ‘n’ roll paean to the structure that also manifested a growing grassroots ethnic pride movement.”

Here comes the superhighway,

That superhighway boss,

But it’s gonna take a Cajun crew

To get that road across…

Fifty mile of concrete,

Fifty miles of steel,

Louisiana sunshine,

Shining down on me.

Mama make a gumbo.

Tonight we’ll celebrate

And sing about your Cajun boy

That build that interstate.

Released on Shelby Singleton’s SSS International label in December 1970 — backed with “A Tear in a Lady’s Eyes.”  Both tunes were written by Rod Bernard (who, earlier in his career, helped pioneer a musical mix of New Orleans rhythm & blues, country, Cajun and black creole known as “swamp pop“), along with “E. Futch” — birth name of country singer/songwriter, Eddy Raven, who would later write a song also voicing praise for the Cajun work ethic, “Alligator Bayou,” on which he sang, “Working on a board road running through the swamp for a dollar and a half an hour / A Cajun man with a love for life and a whole lot of muscle power.”

Cajun Interstate 45

Thanks to Shane K. Bernard, who provided the back story on Eddy Raven (above) as well as the tip to Rod Bernard’s 1964 labor lament of working for the “Boss Man’s Son” – featuring the backing of Johnny and Edgar Winter:

“From the Bottom of My Heart”: Wilbert Harrison in New Orleans

A fun bit of rockin’ blues with a slight go-go groove, “From the Bottom of My Heart” by Wilbert Harrison – singer of 1959’s #1 hit, “Kansas City” – was recorded in New Orleans in 1966 and later included on 1971 album Anything You Want, issued by Wet Soul, a Huey Meaux-affiliated label that was distributed by Shelby Singleton Productions

Wilbert Harrison LP

Freddy Fender’s Prison Album of Mystery

In 1975 – the same year Gusto Records acquired Starday-King Records from Tennessee Recording & Publishing – Gusto released an album entitled Freddy Fender: Recorded Inside Louisiana State Prison.  I suspect Gusto might have been trying to capitalize on the popularity (as well as notoriety) of Johnny Cash’s prison albums of the late 60s in addition to Fender’s then current chart success for the ABC/Dot label.Freddy Fender cover art

What’s really strange about the record is that it sounds absolutely nothing like a prison concert, as there is a complete absence of crowd noise.  Not a speck of applause.  Neither a whoop nor a holler.  Why is that?  Freddy Fender might have been approaching his commercial peak in the mid-70s, however, as it turns out, these recordings were made in 1962 – at a time when he was being incarcerated for illegal drug possession.  Which begs the obvious question:  did the Louisiana State Prison have an in-house studio where this recording was made?

Village Queen – Freddy Fender

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play “Village Queen” as sung by Freddy Fender.]

It’s humorous the way the liner notes awkwardly dance around this issue – essentially bolting from the room after finally (and obliquely) admitting that Freddy was not an honored guest but rather a resident member of the Louisiana State Prison population:

Freddy Fender’s fantastic success with “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and  “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” have made him a Super Star in the Pop and Country music fields.  Though this success came seemingly overnight, it was     many years in the making.  Freddy traveled a lot of hard roads before teaming up   with producer Huey Meaux and reaching that ever elusive pinnacle of success   sought after by every entertainer, and attained by very few.

After all the disappointments, the years of living with a dream of success and watching others with similar ambitions give up without fulfilling their dream, Freddy didn’t give up.  He kept right on trying, and he was one of the few lucky ones that made it.  For every entertainer that reaches success, there are a thousand or more who don’t.

In this album, Freddy gives you more of the type songs that put him on top, done in the fashion as only he could do them.  An experience that you will never forget is Freddy Fender, recorded inside Louisiana State Prision [sic] in 1962.”

Piecing Together Starday-King’s History

In 1975, Tennessee Recording and Publishing (owned by Lieber & Stoller with Hal Neely & Freddy Bienstock) – still running under the Starday-King name – sold the masters to another Nashville concern, GML, Inc., who operated the Gusto label. Gusto reissued much of the King catalog by the mid 1980s, and is still doing so today through licensing to other labels. Tennessee Recording & Publishing, meanwhile, kept the publishing rights to the whole Starday/King catalog, and quietly became rich.  As one of the TRP executives noted, copyrights don’t argue with you or demand new contracts — they just sit there and generate cash.     [Excerpt from The King, Federal & DeLuxe Story – Edwards & Callahan]

Musical Roll Call pt. 1: “Soul Train”

Little Royal‘s musical roll call of soul music luminaries – “Soul Train” from 1972 – is connected to the post-Syd Nathan era of the King Records story after Starday Records had purchased King and henceforth became known as Starday-King:

“Soul Train”     Little Royal      1972

Interesting to see which artists were chosen for the various work assignments aboard the train – i.e., Wilson Pickett as engineer, Ike & Tina as faretakers, Staples Singers as cooks, Isaac Hayes as bandleader, and Elvis (oddly) as banker.  Most surprising of all is the inclusion of The Osmonds (as conductors) — I can only assume this is in response to the their funky hit of the year prior, 1971’s “Crazy Horses.”  Click here to check out a live clip of the overly-rocking Osmond Brothers stomping their way through this American Indian-inspired piece of hard-charging funky rock – with suitable stage attire that must be seen to be believed.

Tri-Us was a groovy little label that was not long for this world, alas.

Soul Train - Little RoyalClick on this link to view the label’s releases, most of them Huey P. Meaux productions devoted to Little Royal.   According to Little Royal’s bio on the website, Last.fm:  “Little Royal’s Tri-Us recordings are worth checking out, as they are fine pieces of Southern soul in its final hour.”