Edwin Duhon

Hackberry Rambler
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The Independent Online

Edwin Duhon co-founded the veteran Cajun band the Hackberry Ramblers. The fruit of a partnership with the fiddle-player Luderin Darbone that stretched back to 1933, the band is credited with being the first act to fuse the music of the bayous with hillbilly, western swing and blues sounds. They were also the first Cajun act to use electric amplification.

The accordion-playing Duhon and the fiddle-playing Darbone met in 1931 when Darbone's family moved to the oilfield town of Hackberry, near Lake Charles. With the accordion then falling out of fashion amongst local musicians, Darbone suggested that Duhon instead take up the guitar. They were joined by another guitarist, Alvin Ellender, and began to perform together as a trio, the Hackberry Ramblers. Their fame grew, courtesy of a weekly radio show, but Darbone found himself increasingly frustrated by the sonic limitations of their lineup and purchased a public address system, powered, when necessary, by the engine of his 1931 Model-A Ford.

In 1935 the Ramblers made the first of a series of seminal recordings - featuring not only Cajun numbers such as "Jolie Blonde" (1936), but also jazz ("Vinton High Society", 1936), country ("Wondering", 1937) and even Hawaiian-influenced tracks ("A Little Rendezvous in Honolulu", 1936).

Duhon, however, did not participate. He had left Louisiana to work as an electrician in Central and South America and would return only periodically to the band's line-up. When he did so, he often found himself having to learn a new instrument, such as the piano or bass.

In the early 1960s the Hackberry Ramblers were among the major Cajun acts that saw their performing careers falter in the face of public indifference. Music had always been a part-time occupation for them - Darbone ran a service station and worked as a bookkeeper, and Duhon worked not only in the oil industry, but also as a chief of police - and they considered retirement. Then, in 1963, Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records asked if they would be interested in recording again. The resulting album, Louisiana Cajun Music, helped to re- ignite an interest in the music of south Louisiana amongst young Cajuns.

The band released their first album in three decades, Cajun Boogie (1993), and four years later Deep Water, which went on to receive a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Folk Album. In 2000 Duhon joined forces with the Cajun vocalist Linda Dodd Lapoint and cut a disc entitled Cajun Legacy.

In 2002, the Ramblers made a belated European concert début and that year Darbone and Duhon received National Heritage Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in recognition of their contributions to Cajun culture.

Paul Wadey