Photo by FREDDIE HERPIN
The blues music that once filtered across the Davis family’s Leonville-area household on tube-type radios and a hand-cranked Victrola, reappeared briefly Saturday afternoon with soft licks from vintage Fender guitars and vocals provided by a couple of legendary Zydeco performers.
Albert Davis, once a traveling musician and fixture in area nightclubs, briefly brought his music back home, as he filled the St. Landry Parish Tourist Center with the soulful notes he played as a guitarist and vocalist for Guitar Gable Perrodin’s popular 50’s Blue Eagle Band.
Davis’ guitar strings hit some familiar notes from Otis Redding’s “Sitting by the Dock of The Bay,” as well as some of the songs he remembered while touring the club scene with blues bands across Louisiana and Texas.
Rebecca Davis Henry, who operates the Creole Heritage Folk Life Center in Opelousas, drew attention with her dance floor moves performed with others as Jude Taylor, Joe Citizen, Murphy Richard and accordionist Ryan Perkins accompanied Albert Davis and a woman named Hogia, who brought her guitar along for backup during the jam session.
Resting on a table nearby was an iconic photo of a young Albert Davis dressed in a light colored tuxedo and holding a microphone, as he posed with drummer Joseph Zeno, saxophonist Freddie DeBien and Perrodin who comprised Perrodin’s Swing Masters.
Labeled as the Zydeco Capital Jam hosted by parish tourism executive director Herman Fuselier, the event provided talented parish musicians that often remained in the blues-era background, according to Rebecca Henry, an opportunity to again tell their stories about a time when their music served as a tonic for those attempting to otherwise forget their troubles.
“We wanted these performers to come here and tell about their musical lives. How did they get to where they were, why those chose their particular musical genres and maybe some untold accounts of the musical scene they were in,” Henry said.
Henry said brother Albert Davis and others like him were children of St. Landry farmers and sharecroppers, who worked the fields around the Bellevue, Sunset, Grand Coteau and Leonville areas with their families and then when they had time and money, purchased instruments and learned to play the instruments they like.
“Some of these musicians played alongside some of the top acts, but they were background musicians and backup singers. They were still there, alongside the best,” said Henry.
Along with long hours of work, there was available the comfort that music provided for her family, Henry added.
“There was always music going on in our house. I have the harmonica that my dad played. Back then on the radio and on records, it was always the blues and not Zydeco that we heard. Sometimes daddy had his harmonica and we would play on combs and a piece of paper. That’s how it was in our day,” Henry said.
Albert Davis told those who filled the Tourist Center that after listening to B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Lightnin’ Hopkins on records and the radio, that he was influenced by what he heard at home.
“I wanted to play (the guitar). But I was young and at first I really couldn’t wrap my hands around the guitar. I learned the songs I played by listening to the radio. I liked the guitar and I also liked to sing,” Albert Davis said.
In a published mojoworkin.com tribute to Guitar Gable, a Bellevue native who died in 2017, writer Larry Benicewicz said that Gable’s early bands played a blend of soul, blues and “blue eyed” soul music which later evolved into Swamp Pop, which became popular a decade later.