Rufus Thibodeaux

'Knock-out' Cajun fiddle player
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The Independent Online

Rufus Thibodeaux was arguably the pre-eminent Cajun fiddler of the past half-century. Best known for his long association with the country star Jimmy C. Newman, he also performed alongside such figures as George Jones, Bob Wills and Neil Young, and became a much-loved ambassador for the music of the bayous.

He was born at Ridge, Louisiana, in 1934, and learned to play the guitar before graduating to the fiddle. As a youngster he was exposed to the music of the greatest of all Cajun fiddle players, Dennis McGee. McGee's work, in the late 1920s, with the Creole accordionist Amédé Ardoin successfully built upon existing twin-fiddling styles to create a blueprint for virtually every Cajun recording that followed and proved a particular influence upon subsequent generations of bowmen.

By the age of 16 Thibodeaux was a regular fixture at the clubs that proliferated around the Lake Charles area and was spotted by the singer Jimmy Newman, who later remembered: "I first heard him play at a little club outside of Rayne and he just knocked me out. I knew I had to have him play with me." Newman, who hadn't at that stage adopted the middle initial "C" in tribute to his Cajun roots, recruited the younger man and Thibodeaux played on his breakthrough hit, "Cry, Cry, Darling" (1954).

He spent the next few years working as a session musician at J.D. Miller's studio in Crowley, Louisiana, and can be heard on the discs Miller issued on his pioneering Feature and Fais Do-Do labels playing alongside local performers such as Nathan Abshire and Aldus Roger. When Miller then began to explore the local R'n'B scene, his house fiddler got in on the act and, as a result, got to play with bluesmen like Slim Harpo. In 1958 he began an 18-month association with Bob Wills, the "King of Western Swing", later citing it as "the most beautiful experience I ever had".

By 1963 he was again performing with Newman and in that year appeared on his landmark Folk Songs of the Bayou Country, an album notable for its Cajun-French lyrics. He can also be heard on the singer's "Lache Pas la Patate" (1970), the first Cajun single to be certified gold. As a some-time member of the star's band, Cajun Country, Thibodeaux regularly appeared on the stage of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry and made a great impression upon British country music fans when they crossed the Atlantic to perform at the then-popular Wembley Festivals.

In 1978 Thibodeaux surprised some of his admirers by appearing on Neil Young's album Comes a Time and repeated the experience in 1985, supporting the Canadian folk-rocker on his country-tinged disc Old Ways.

Paul Wadey

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