Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Singles, Part 8 – Catahoula Jukebox
Welcome to our big Labor Day singles spin-a-thon … I believe I mentioned earlier that the first single I ever bought was “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys. Naturally, I still have it in a box some place. So yesterday I’m looking for it, and as I flipped through the stacks of old 45s a wave of memories came flooding back to me.
My grandmother on my mother’s side and her second husband (not my grandfather) owned a pool hall/dive bar back in the 1960s, in Catahoula, Louisiana. Called Knott’s, the place was a ramshackle building on brick pilings (to keep the bayou waters out) with plywood floors. Even in broad daylight, inside it was usually dark as a cave. And in one corner there was a jukebox.
As kids we’d go over to visit with my parents, and because my grandmother was usually tending the bar and cash register, we’d hang out in the pool hall. She noticed we always asked for nickels for the jukebox, so once when the guy came over to change out the records she asked him for the old ones. Naturally my brothers and I played the shit out of those singles, and later I shared them with my friends in high school.
There were some regional acts, playing traditional Cajun music but there were some swamp rockers and blues guys too. Some golden oldies from the 1950s stayed on the jukebox but the record guy had to frequently replace them with fresh copies. Plus the occasional Tom Jones 45, some country (which we never listened to) and of course Elvis. Usually they came in the wrong paper sleeve, sometimes with a simple handwritten notation in the corner: “Knott’s.” There was one from the early ’70s, a single of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which said it was from the motion picture Lifehouse. At the time I didn’t realize there was a Who’s Next album, with an even longer version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Maybe the LP hadn’t come out yet, I don’t remember for sure. When those 45s came in what appeared to be the correct paper sleeve, you could guess the record didn’t get much play on the Knott’s jukebox.
Even after I grew a little too teenaged-cool to visit Catahoula regularly, we still got those records. Well into the 1970s, my grandmother remembered how we liked the music so she’d usually send a stack back with my parents. Knott’s eventually shut down, Knott himself died and finally my grandmother passed about five or six years ago. I could probably try to play those old 45s but they’d crack and pop so bad you wouldn’t hear the music. Or I could just close my eyes … and remember.
But I want you to hear them too. So I downloaded ’em!
Rockin’ Sidney was Sidney Simien, a zydeco musician who also played everything from blues to country. He had a big hit in the 1980s, “My Toot Toot,” which was a payoff for Sidney’s years of kicking around the roadhouses of South Louisiana and Southeast Texas. I always liked his old stuff, which rocked out. Recording sometimes as Count Rockin’ Sidney, he put the blues into the swamp and it came out nothin’ but fine, fine, fine. This one’s from 1961, when Sidney was recording for Floyd Soileau’s Jin Records.
I didn’t need Knott’s Pool Hall to alert me to Jivin’ Gene Bourgeois. He was actually our neighbor in Groves, Texas. When I was about six or seven, my dad pointed him out on TV – it turned out to be either Jan or Dean; my old man didn’t know shit about pop music. But we’d go hang out at Gene’s house and listen to him rehearse with his band. When we tried to form our own band in the late 1960s, Gene would come over to the garage and tell us to turn it down. Then he’d give us a bit of advice that we quickly forgot. And there you go – I was never a rock star. Jivin’ Gene was, and he is at his best in 1959 on “Going Out With The Tide.”
Another golden oldie from the ’50s that we got was by Jerry Lee Lewis on the Sun Records label. This had to be some kind of reissue or B-side, because “Big Legged Woman” was too dirty to get played on the radio. It was a favorite at Knott’s however; I played it once in the pool hall on a Saturday morning and some guy walked over and stuck another nickel in the jukebox to play it again. He laughed his ass off as his buddy racked up for another game, and I thought to myself, “I want that record.” The copy I have now is probably the same one we played that day.
When I first heard a record by Happy Fats, I didn’t get Cajun music. This was
old-timey stuff, and my aunts and uncles – as well as my grandmother and Knott – used to dance to this stuff all time. They would go to this place in Breaux Bridge, a club called La Poussiere, and they’d rock out. Happy Fats was this huge local celebrity named Leroy LeBlanc and I seem to recall he had a TV show on a Lafayette TV station – my old man drove us by his house one time, and it was this white nightmare with wood guitars stuck all over. I figured even Elvis wouldn’t live in a house this tacky … hahaha.
In 1971, every radio in my corner of the world played “Opelousas Sostan,” this Cajun-sounding thing by Rufus Jagneaux. It was Cajun, but it was also hippie – Rufus Jagneaux wasn’t a dude, it was a band. When we got our copy of “Opelousas Sostan,” it was so overplayed we could hardly hear the music.
My all-time favorite single by Elvis Presley is actually a song from 1964, “Such A Night.” I used to listen to this 45 and imagined Elvis doing all this wild shit in the recording studio: jumping around, shaking his ass and doing wild windmills with one arm while he kept himself from becoming airborne by hanging onto the mic stand with his other arm.
Phil Phillips was a huge act in South Louisiana – he cut “Sea Of Love” in 1959 in Lake Charles and this monster hit was truly born in the swamps. By the late 1960s, Phil must have been pretty desperate to cut something like “The Evil Dope,” which wasn’t music but some WTF? spoken word recording. Guess it didn’t get too many spins in the Knott’s jukebox.
One more. When I got my 45 of “Mendocino” by the Sir Douglas Quintet, I figured Mendocino had to be some place in Mexico. These guys sounded Mexican, or maybe Cajun – to a teenager, that stuff sounded all the same. Turns out they were from Texas, which made me kind of correct either way. Sir Doug and the boys cut this song in 1968, but I didn’t get my copy from Knott’s until a few years later. Every time I play it, I wonder what it sounded like coming out of a jukebox in Catahoula, Louisiana. Probably just as great as these all sound right now.