SONG: Allons à Lafayette
ARTIST: Joe & Cleoma Falcon
Listen to it here:
This is our first “B-side” classic. This song appeared on the B side of a 78 released by Joe Falcon and Cleoma Breaux in 1928. It’s based on an even older folk song called “Jeunes gens campagnard” and is widely considered to be the first recorded cajun song. In 1926 Columbia had acquired Okeh Records and were very interested in “hillbilly” music (we would probably call it country music). They sent a recording engineer and a talent scout down to Louisiana to a Saturday night party, and the two men were blown away by what they heard from Joe and Cleoma Falcon. The song’s lyrics are bizarre: the singer is asking a woman to go to Lafayette, Louisiana with him and to change her name to something a bit more scandalous: Mrs. Mischievous Comeaux. He also tells her that her beauty way outweighs her character. Sounds like a great guy.
Since this recording, several other musicians have recorded versions of this song. In 1958, Randy and the Rockets released a “swamp pop” song “Let’s Do the Cajun Twist” which uses the same theme and melody. In 1990, a Dutch band called Captain Gumbo reached all the way up to no. 30 in the Dutch music singles chart for their version of “Allons a Lafayette”.
Joe and Cleoma Falcon were a husband and wife team from Louisiana. Joe played the accordion and Cleoma played guitar. They became very popular in Lafayette, Louisiana, and were eventually picked up by scouts from Columbia Records. The two moved to New Orleans to record what would become their big hit, Allons a Lafayette, and went on to have a huge career travelling Louisiana and Texas performing Cajun music.
Joe was the youngest of 5 children and picked up the accordion when he was only 7 years old. His career as a professional started when he went to a dance and the band didn’t show up. The owner knew he played and insisted he get on stage to entertain the crowd. Joe later became friends with Amedee Breaux who began accompanying him on triangle for many of his gigs. Yes, accordion + triangle = dance band. Soon after, Amedee’s sister Cleoma, a talented guitarist and singer joined them on stage, and eventually married Joe Falcon.
Cleoma Breaux was born in Crowley, Louisiana to a household full of music. She and her three brothers formed a family band, and she was quickly recognized for her skill as a guitarist. When Cleoma was 10, her father abandoned the family, leaving them close to destitute. Their main income came from the siblings playing in a band together at local dances. When Cleoma met Joe, the two hit it off right away, married in 1930, and adopted a child soon after.
Joe and Cleoma Falcon recorded their biggest hit which brought them into fame in 1928, and though she was not credited on the record, the novelty of having a woman musician was part of what drove record sales. They continued to record up until the Great Depression, and then resumed recording for a little bit afterwards. Unfortunately, Cleoma died suddenly at age 34 (frailty due to a car accident), and Joe never recorded again after that.
Weird payola story- these weird stories always seem to crop up – that Brian Epstein bought thousands of copies of the Beatles’ first single, “Love Me Do” to boost record sales, that the Republican National Convention bought $95,000 worth of copies of Donald Trump’s latest book to ensure it would become a best-seller. The Falcon’s don’t actually come from a more innocent time: jeweller and friend of Joe Falcon’s only had to buy up front 500 copies of their hit record in order to get a record producer to agree to record the Falcons.
In probably one of the worst musical decisions of the guy’s career, the Columbia producer decided to relegate “Allons a Lafayette” to the B-side of the 78, and gave the A side to a slow, mournful, dirge-like waltz, whose title translates to “The Waltz that Carried Me to My Grave”.
Time signature? Chord structure? Doesn’t matter. It’s cajun! I actually like this song and arrangement and I think the guitar and accordion sound really good together. Although I’m more a fan of Louisiana’s later offerings (the Meters, Allen Toussaint), I can appreciate where the swampy sound came from.
I mean, they’re definitely good. I really like Joe’s accordion playing, Cleoma’s guitar playing is kind of background, and her voice is really interesting. It’s darker and lower than you would expect, and kind of works well against the super bright accordion. This kind of music is just not my thing, but I can definitely acknowledge how good these two are together.
Average mark out of 10:
*A mark of 8/10 or higher means this is definitely worth buying!
Randy and the Rockets’ swamp rock version – Let’s Do the Cajun Twist:
Captain Gumbo’s Version:
Listen with us!
Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: