‘Well, it’s Saturday night and I just got paid
Fool about my money, don’t try to save
My Heart says go, go! Have a time … ‘.
(Little Richard – ‘Rip It Up’ Bumps Blackwell/John Marascalso)
‘Saturday morning, oh Saturday morning All my tiredness has gone away
Got my money and my honey And I’m out on the town to play
Sunday morning, my head is bad
But it’s worth it for the times that I’ve had’.
(Fats Domino – ‘Blue Monday’ Dave Bartholomew/Fats Domino)
‘When I get off of this mountain, you know where I want to go?
Straight down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico
To Lake Charles, Louisiana, Little Bessie, girl that I once knew ..’
(The Band – ‘Up on Cripple Creek’ Robbie Robertson)
As dawn broke one morning during Christmas holidays I found myself suddenly, startlingly awake with the refrain:
‘Sugar bee, Sugar bee, Sugar bee, Sugar bee,
Sugar bee – look what you done to me’
looping over and over in my head.
While there is nothing approaching the orderly majesty of the Dewey Decimal system about my filing system for songs and song lyrics I am pleased to report that before the refrain had looped ten times a light bulb in my mind had illuminated the name, ‘Cleveland Crochet & Hillbilly Ramblers’ and presented me with a picture of a neon yellow Goldband Records 45 that was securely stored in my collection of essential Cajun singles.
Fifteen minutes later the record was spinning on my old portable deck and the whole house, guests and all, was dancing at a Surrey Woods Fais do-do! (Cajun dance party).
Now it’s only fair that you should have the opportunity to cut a rug and set this classic looping in your head too (and once it’s in your head I have to tell you it’s there for life!) So without further ado:
Sugar Bee was, in 1961, the first slice of pure Cajun music to break into the Billboard top 100. So the whole nation had the chance to catch up with the Saturday night delights that the Lake Charles patrons of The Shamrock and Moulin Rouge had been dancing and carousing to for over a decade.
It’s hot and humid in Lake Charles and when you’ve spent all week breaking your back working construction or in the oil fields you sure as hell need to go out to spend your money on Saturday night somewhere you’re guaranteed to have a whirling fine, fine time drinking and dancing, drinking and dancing – with a side order of flirting and fighting until itstime to fall down or be carried home.
And if that’s what you’re looking for a Cajun dance hall with a Cajun band like Cleveland Crochet and The Hillbilly Ramblers can’t be beat!
Cleveland’s up there on the Bandstand setting that fiddle on fire while Shorty Leblanc is cutting through the layers of smoke and befuddlement with his wake the dead accordion licks.
Keeping that dancing rhythm always alive is Charlie Babineaux on guitar and gliding over the top on the Steel guitar and laying down the vocals we have Jesse ‘Jay’ Stutes. Allons -y!
Sometimes the songs are sung in Cajun French sometimes in Cajun English – either way the message of loves won and lost and of a proud people celebrating their uncelebrated culture comes through loud and clear.
As Sugar Bee plays you can practically feel the hardwood floor bouncing up and down as the couples foot stompingly circle the dance hall.
This is gloriously rough and rowdy music with the kick of over proof corn liquor. And, the more you have the more you want – don’t worry about Sunday’s hangover it’s going to be more than worth it for the times that you’ve had! Ah! Lets get it man.
Cleveland was a 1919 born native of Hathaway, Louisiana who found, like so many, that Lake Charles offered regular work and all the luridly promised temptations of the city in full measure.
He had formed the Ramblers by 1950 and began recording for Folk-Star and Leader for the local Cajun market. Hooking up with Eddie Shuler’s Goldband Records in 1960, amplifying their sound and singing in English led to their great breakout hit (of course the record business being a cut-throat Business meant that Cleveland wasn’t exactly able to retire on the proceeds of his hit!).
But, he had made an immortal record that would go on to become a Cajun anthem and there are riches in Heaven for that.
And, I hear you ask – is the B side any good?
Damn right it is! ‘Drunkard’s Dream’ is for that time of the night when you and your dance partner are really in step and in tune (and likely more than three floors drunk!).
Now, you’re floating over the floor and the lights are gleaming like jewels and you don’t know or care what time it is and what time, if ever, you will get home. All you really know is that you wish this dance would never end. And the words of the song waltz and waltz around your mind ;
‘J’ai arrive hier au soir (z)a La maison
J’ai cogne, j’ai crie, j’ai pas de reponse
J’ai connu, (z)au moment que t’etais pas la
Quel espoir, quel avenir mais moi j’peux avoir?’
Monday morning, Blue Monday, will, as it always maddeningly does, come around and you will have to sweat and strain through another week of loveless labour. Yet, just at the limit of your vision is always the promise of another Saturday night when the Sugar Bee will fly again and all the drunkard’s can dance and dream to their hearts content.
The hard to find Cleveland Crochet compilation on Goldband is well worth the search. Individual Hillbilly Rambler tracks are scattered across many fine Cajun collections.
I recommend versions of Sugar Bee by Canned Heat, Wayne Toups, Jimmy C Newman (live on the excellent Marty Stuart TV show), Jo-El Sonnier, Dr Feelgood and The Interns and Gene Taylor.’