In the early fifties, television was in its infancy and only seen in barrooms, dealers’ window displays or in homes of the very affluent. Radio was still the dominate home entertainment medium since our area had only one TV station, WDSU, showing mostly test patterns and few programs. A Federal Communications Commission freeze did not allow others stations until after 1954.
In our area we could hear 12 New Orleans radio stations clearly and Houma’s KCIL with static.
At night the giant 50,000 watts clear channel stations, WWL New Orleans (5,000 day time), WLS Chicago, WLW Cincinnati, and WSM Nashville, went full power. Mexican border stations sold baby chicks and patent medicine with 500,000 watts and Hillbilly music.
New Orleans radio stations WJBW and WWEZ each carried live programs with Gene Rodrigue’s Bayou Boys and Leroy Martin’s Southern Serenaders every Saturday. Although hard to believe today we received hundreds of cards and letters and dozens of telegrams even during the broadcast.
Country music, (called “Hillbilly” then), was the preferred music of the bayou folks and Columbia Records (world’s largest) had signed 18-year old Ervin “Vin” Bruce from Cut Off. He soon became a south Louisiana superstar.
Country music remained popular until Elvis Presley almost destroyed the industry. Rock and Roll was in and country music was out. Major artists lost their contracts and in 1956 Vin Bruce lost his. (My facebook friends, and anyone who wants to be, can scroll my facebook page to Leroy/Elvis for an interesting video.)
In the 1960’s new artist like Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and the movie “Urban Cowboy” revived the music and pressure from Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow renamed hillbilly to “country” music.
But the music we loved was eons away from Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban.
In 1962, as his manager, I got Vin Bruce a contract with Jin/Swallow records and organized a new “Acadians” band. With hit 45’s, (little records with a big hole), and hit albums, (big records with a little hole), a TV show (KHMA Houma), and a contract with the National Park Service (Smokey the Bear) to fly and play music at National Folk Festivals they sponsored in Washington D.C., St. Louis, MO, El Paso, TX and Atlanta, GA, among others, Vin Bruce and the Acadians were “in” again with better jobs and better contracts.
In the 1960’s country music station, WSHO, opened in New Orleans. The owners made us their “go to” band for appearances at car dealerships, real estate home shows, bank branch openings, and even Pontchartrain Beach backing Grand Ole Opry stars.
Around 1968 they built a high platform on the Canal Street neutral ground for Mardi Gras day where we broadcasted live as parades rolled on both sides of the street.
It was hectic having to set up early in morning, but what an experience! A room with facilities, electric fans and food and drinks for musicians, wives and staff was provided below the stage.
The float riders threw to us from everywhere and as the beads and trinkets piled up to our knees we gathered and threw them back to the crowd amassed below. Unforgetable! As the many throws hit Doc Guidry’s electric fiddle it resounded in his amplifier like machine gun fire. Riders who knew us threw extra hard. Ouch … A hectic but memorable day! Regretfully, we gave up after three years and WSHO followed suit.
A friend watching TV heard our music and turned on a tape recorder which we heard a few days later.
WDSU TV was broadcasting from a nearby booth with Mel Levitt interviewing New Orleans Mayor Victor Schiro. As our music bled through his mike we heard him angrily tell the Mayor: “What’s a Cajun band doing in our city of jazz?”, along with a few more uncomplimentary remarks.
A few years later when Paul Prudhomme burned a redfish, the city proudly reclaimed its Cajun and Creole heritage.
“Mardi Gras! Chick a la Pie” … ask your grandparents.
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Posted on Tue, February 24, 2015
by Leroy Martin, Contributing Writer