Every now and then a song comes out of South Louisiana that takes the region by storm.
This time it’s Cajun music impresario Joel Savoy and wife Kelli Jones-Savoy’s Cajun/zydeco-styled cover of the Ray Price 1954 country classic “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me).”
“At KBON, we haven’t had such a positive response to a particular song since, since, since…,” trails off legendary Eunice radio and TV personality Todd Ortego, who programs it on “Louisiana Proud” station KBON-FM.
“And that’s at least every time we play it!” notes Ortego, back on track. “I find it the perfect blend of old-timey, roots-country with the song choice and vocal performance. Then you have the ‘circus barker’ adding a contemporary feel that the kids just love today.”
The “circus barker,” or as Savoy calls him, the hip-hop “zydeco hype-man” who shouts out the lyrics opposite Jones-Savoy’s vintage country vocal, is none other than Linzay Young, fiddler/vocalist for the Red Stick Ramblers–of which Savoy is a past member.
“Linzay and his wife Emma came over for dinner the night after we recorded it and we played them the track,” recalls Savoy, who performs with his wife—also a member of Cajun band Feufollet–and the Youngs in the country quartet Double Date. “’Let me be the hype-man!’ he said, and Emma sang the high harmony part.”
They recorded “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)” in late June.
“Kelli is into early country music, and always said it would make a good zydeco song,” says Savoy. “We were packing for a one-month tour, but stopped and said, ‘Let’s go out in the studio and do it right now!’”
Savoy’s Studio SavoyFaire is in the back yard of his house in rural Eunice—just down the road from his parents farm. His folks, of course, are accordion builder/player Marc Savoy, and Cajun artist/historian Ann Savoy; together they lead the Savoy Family Cajun Band, also including brothers Joel and Wilson Savoy.
“Kelli and I played drums, bass, electric guitar, rubboard and accordion, and cut it in two hours,” he says. “We mixed and mastered it the next day. The whole thing didn’t take more than three hours.”
Rather than press up copies for sale, Savoy then emailed the recording to DJ friends like Ortego, “just for fun.”
“They played it and started getting requests for it—and now it’s a hit!” he says. “It always seems that the silliest stuff you do is what people latch on to the most!”
But the response to “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)” is anything but silly, and further corroborates Savoy’s observations regarding the viability of vintage country and old-timey music.
“There are communities of roots musicians around the country, that see each other at certain festivals all year long,” says Savoy. “Everybody plays different kinds of traditional folk music, but when they get together to sing songs after a show or around a campfire at a festival, a lot of the time it’s old country music: Hank Williams, George Jones, Jimmy C. Newman, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price.”
Jones is represented on Joel Savoy’s Honky Tonk Merry-Go-Round, a new album of classic country honky-tonk songs released on Savoy’s Valcour Records label and including standards like “Honky Tonk Angels,” “Four Walls” and Jones’ “The Color Of The Blues.” Musicians include the Savoys and Youngs and other young South Louisiana stars including Feufollet’s Anna Laura Edmiston, the Red Sticks’ Chas Justus and Valcour recording group the Pine Leaf Boys’ Courtney Granger and Wilson Savoy.
The album was recorded last December during rehearsals for a series of concerts described by Savoy as “live karaoke,” featuring his Honky Tonk Merry-Go-Round house band of him and other local luminaries like fiddler David Greely and the Red Sticks’ Eric Frey and Glenn Fields.
“We’d bring up different members of the Lafayette music community and sing vintage country stuff, and [Cajun country music legend] Jimmy C. Newman did several of the shows,” says Savoy. “Kelli is very into his early recordings. He’s a real sweetheart, and came out of retirement to do it—and he still has it! We did three very successful theater shows.”
Meanwhile, Savoy continues to bask in Valcour’s biggest achievement to date: the Grammy win earlier this year in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category for The Band Courtbouillon, featuring Wilson Savoy, Steve Riley, and Wayne Toups—who recorded for Mercury Records in Nashville in the 1980s.
“Wayne and I went to the Grammys and brought one home and it was amazing!” says Savoy. “Wayne’s been playing a much more modernized version of Cajun music forever, and was never recognized with even a Grammy nomination—and then makes this honed-down, traditional rootsy record and wins! To me, that speaks a lot for the simple music that gets right to the point and affects people.”
Savoy likewise hopes that Valcour’s new Pine Leaf Boys CD Danser will increase that four-time Grammy-nominated band’s recognition. Valcour has also teamed with the Festivals Acadiens et Créoles and the Archives of Cajun and Creole Folklore at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in the label’s Rubber Bootleg Series of archival recordings, so far including Best Of Festivals Acadiens et Créoles 2002, with artists including Wayne Toups, Steve Riley, Jo-El Sonnier and Balfa Toujours, and The Balfa Family: A Retrospective, featuring selected festival performances by various configurations and members of the historic Balfa Family, spanning 1977 to 2010.
But Savoy hopes that “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me),” while not a commercial release, will start a new phase for Valcour.
“In the past, someone might discover a song and go into the studio and record a 78 [r.p.m. audio disc] and get it into the hands of DJs as soon as possible—without taking a year to record or a month to mix,” he says.
He then points to “the I-10 corridor” between Austin and New Orleans—which passes through Lafayette.
“With all the different talent coming through our area year-round, we can assemble and record songs right then and there and just get them out instantly by email to DJs without even burning a CD,” he says.
“I love the process of making a beautiful album where each song is part of the greater picture,” notes Savoy. “But songs can stand on their own–and lot of people don’t have time to make well thought-out albums, especially musicians who are on the road all the time: It takes a lot to sit down for several months or half a year and record a whole album, but you don’t need an album to appreciate the value of a beautiful song—and you don’t need a physical product when you can release it online.”
With Studio SavoyFaire in the backyard and his ever-ready Valcour label—named, incidentally, after his great-great-great-grandfather Pierre Valcour Savoy—Joel Savoy is perfectly positioned to quickly turn out “emotionally charged” music like “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me).”
“It has the organic spontaneity and emotion and energy geared to that moment of making a song–that appeals to people,” he says. “So many times I prefer my rough mix–made right after I track a song in the recording session—to the final mix, because I’m so fired up and emotionally charged to every detail of the song.”
Besides archival releases, Valcour may well head into the direction of focusing on songs over CDs, concludes Savoy.
Subscribe to my usedview.com pages and follow me on Twitter @JimBessman!