Jambalaya (On The Bayou)


Hank Williams is the father of contemporary country music. He was a superstar by the age of 25; he was dead at the age of 29. In those four short years, he established the rules for all the country performers who followed him and, in the process, much of popular music.

So begins the bio of Hank Williams by Stephen Thomas Erlewine at allmusic.com and it is plain fact. We'll cover a number of his classic country tunes as part of the Community Guitar program, but none are better suited to a good jam than this one. There seems to be wide agreement that the melody for this song is lifted largely from another sung in Cajun French called Grand Texas. So by way of appetizer, here's a clip of Jambalaya's precurser as performed by Cajun fiddler Chuck Guillory (from his album Grand Texas on Arhoolie)

Audio Clip: Grand Texas performed by Chuck Guillory


Some say Williams wrote the words himself and that they harken back to his days as a regular on the Louisianna Hayride. According to one Wikipedia essay, during this time "he spent much of his off time in the community of Carlyss Louisiana, located about ten miles south of Sulphur on Louisiana State Highway 27, in a bar belonging to Yvonne Little." Hence, my Yvonne the sweetest one me-oh-my-oh.

Others say he co-authored the lyrics, while still others claim he bought the song flat-out from the original author. If he did buy it, he made a great purchase. Released in 1952, it was performed by Williams and reached #1 on the U.S. country charts. It remains one of his most popular songs today. Here's Hank Sr. himself having big fun with it:

Audio Clip: Hank Williams Sr. performing Jambalaya


The song has been recorded by countless artists since then in a wide variety of styles. Even a casual search of Jambalaya covers leads not only to decades of country performances but R&B, Rock, Latin, Jazz, Cajun, Children's Music and Easy Listening versions as well. Here's a folky take on it by a then-unknown singer-songwriter named Lucinda Williams. It's from her 1979 debut album Ramblin' on Smithsonian/Folkways. We've included the guitar solo for those of you who would like to try your hands at it. Give it a listen and, if you'd like, a try:

Audio Clip: Lucinda Williams on Jambalaya

Not surprisingly, the song has been popular among Louisianna musicians of all sorts including Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and the artist featured in this Zydeco version, Rockin' Dopsie Jr. (shown to the left playing washboard).

Audio Clip: Rockin' Dopsie Jr performing Jambalaya

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