Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hackberry Ramblers

They have been called the most important Cajun band of the 1930s. ten years before Harry Choates and the Melody Boys popularized the genre, the Hackberry Ramblers where cutting records. Also known as the Riverside Ramblers, they recorded Jole Blon over a decade before Choates. Suffice it to say their claim to fame is completely legitimate.

Accounts differ. One says the band was formed in 1933 by Luderin Darbone. Another says it was formed in 1930 when the fiddler Darbone met the accordionist/guitarist Edwin Duhon in 1930. Regardless the pair formed the nucleus of a band that was to play together for another 60 years. When they covered Jole Blon in 1936 they did so as a trio with with guitarist Lennis Sonnier on vocals. But more often Darbone himself handles the vocals.

In 1933 the band found work at 560 KFDM-AM in Beaumont, TX. Some sources put the station Lake Charles, LA but that's just the other side of the LA/TX border. The station was founded by the  Magnolia Petroleum Company in 1924. So by the mid 1930s it was an established 500 watt station. The confusion comes from their remote broadcast abilities. The trio was performing at the Majestic Hotel in Lake Charles, LA and broadcast live on KFDM. they started with a 15-minute spot on Monday mornings.

The broadcasts increased their fame across the region. They began playing more and better dance halls. then came the recording deal with RCA/Bluebird in 1935.  They added to the line up guitarists Glenn Croker, Lonnie Rainwater, Floyd Shreve, and Joe Werner, bassist Johnnie Parket.  Initially they preformed and recorded mostly in French. but another radio station was to change that.

In 1936 they made a deal with  Montgomery Ward to sponsor a program on KVOL-AM in Lafayette.  The band would perform and record under the name Riverside Ramblers named after Ward's brand of tires. However, these programs and their recordings would be in English.  Joe Werner provided most of the English vocals. They performed their program from a Montgomery Ward tire showroom. The arrangement produced just 8-sides.

The band continued to endure, even surviving a break for WWII. In 2002, Duhon and Darbone received a National Heritage Fellowship from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts. Duhon would die 4 years later. Darbone only in 2008.