Angola to Zydeco

Angola to Zydeco: Louisiana Lives

R. Reese Fuller
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvcx1
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  • Book Info
    Angola to Zydeco
    Book Description:

    Angola to Zydeco: Louisiana Livesis a collection of creative nonfiction pieces about the lively personalities who call south Louisiana home. Originally published in newspapers based in Lafayette-Times of AcadianaandIndependent Weekly-the twenty-five profiles and features provide intriguing glimpses into the lives of well-known Louisianans such as James Lee Burke, Ernest J. Gaines, Elemore Morgan Jr., Buckwheat Zydeco, Marc Savoy, Boozoo Chavis, Calvin Borel, Santy Runyon, and Eddie Shuler. Author R. Reese Fuller also details the sometimes zany and sometimes tragic subjects that populate the cultural landscape of south Louisiana, from Tabasco peppers to Angola prison to cockfighting.

    Fuller brings years of experience in the newspaper industry to bear on this collection, offering behind-the-scenes access not available elsewhere. Of particular note are his interviews with musicians and local celebrities, who reveal how their love of the region has influenced their work. Fuller's natural approach to storytelling creates a book that is a joy to read and truly represents the people of south Louisiana.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-130-4
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Angola Bound
    (pp. 3-8)

    Ominous dark clouds lurk in the distance. The tour bus crawls though a field of soybeans, just one of the crops on the eighteen-thousand-acre plantation. The tourists recline in comfortable purple chairs, equipped with overhead air-conditioning controls for each seat. Occasionally they glance at the tour guide at the front of the bus. He speaks into a microphone connected to a loudspeaker and describes the lush forest and fertile fields they pass. “This is some of the most fertile land in all of Louisiana,” he says. “I wish I owned it. It wouldn’t be a prison.”

    Wilbert Rideau, Prisoner No....

  6. Thanks for the Memories
    (pp. 9-13)

    Joe Burge looks menacing sitting on a barstool behind the counter. He wears a red T-shirt with large dice and cursive white letters that read, “Hi-Rollers—Beau Knows Zydeco.” Next to the cash register sits an open can of Dr. Pepper and a glass ashtray full of discarded butts. He flicks the ashes from his Marlboro Light into the trash can at his feet. A sawed-off lever from a posthole digger rests against the wall, a deterrent for arguments out in the parking lot.

    It’s a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon in Basile. The front and back doors are open....

  7. Marc of Distinction
    (pp. 14-25)

    In a field east of Eunice on U.S. 190 sits a large green building surrounded by trees and meandering chickens. If you’re driving sixty-five miles an hour down the four-lane highway toward town, you might not even notice it if it weren’t for the large white sign with black letters that reads “Savoy Music Center.”

    Marc Savoy is an imposingly tall man. His voice is a deep baritone and, whether speaking in French or English, his words are terse. His large hands could effortlessly wring the neck of a chicken. Instead, they spend hours connecting reeds, springs, buttons, stops, and...

  8. Line of Vision
    (pp. 26-28)

    Elemore Morgan Jr. sees the fine line between the rice fields and the sky above him. You can call it the horizon. He’ll tell you that it’s where our planet ends and where the limitless universe begins. For more than four decades, Morgan has been blurring that delicate line and exploring the soil and the sky that compose it.

    “They all deal with a similar theme,” he says, “which is the curvature of the earth. That’s really what this is about for me. One reason why I love the prairie is the meeting of the edge of the earth and...

  9. Down Home with Buckwheat
    (pp. 29-33)

    Tex greets you with an uncertain look in his eyes. He’s either going to go straight for your jugular, or he’s going to lick you to death. His eyes are pools of blue and gray like a cat’s eye marble with a tiny black dot in the middle. He has short gray hair and pointed ears. He looks like he’s half Catahoula cur and half coyote. He jumps up and throws his front paws on you and with a quick flick of his tongue, bathes your cheek in warm slobber.

    There are half a dozen puppies and their small mother...

  10. Inside Santy’s Studio
    (pp. 34-40)

    He can tell you the story behind every ax resting at his feet or he could go into detail about all the cats he’s played with, but Santy Runyon would much rather just blow.

    At ninety-four years old, he’s at the age where whenever “I go into a restaurant and order three-minute eggs, they make me pay up front.” But it doesn’t show. He wears a red baseball cap with a fishing hook attached to the bill. Behind his wire-rimmed glasses, his bright eyes follow the notes on the sheet music in front of him, and his fingers run up...

  11. A Fighting Chance
    (pp. 41-56)

    It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon, perfect weather for La Grande Boucherie des Cajuns.

    The pink cheeks of children are painted with butterflies, rainbows, and clouds. The adults wear sunglasses and grip plastic cups and beer cans. Most of them are decked out in Mardi Gras beads, some the size of walnuts.

    Under one of the oaks, there’s a large circular trampoline frame wrapped with wire. Next to it are four caged roosters. They scratch at the leaves under their feet and peck at the ground. Behind the gathering crowd, a band sets up on a flatbed trailer.

    A heavy man...

  12. The Return of Swamp ’n’ Roll
    (pp. 57-67)

    The room looks like an electronics morgue. Cables are piled on shelves. A large desk sits in front of a wall draped with wires. On top of the desk is a compact disc player and a plastic owl. There are two folded metal chairs and an amplifier.

    You can hear Muddy Waters whipping the crowd into a frenzy. He belts out a few guitar licks and sings, “Everything’s gonna be all right this morning. Oh yeah. Whew!” The drums and harmonica kick in, and the song’s in full gear.

    The door to the set swings opens, and Todd Ortego and...

  13. The Man behind Dave Robicheaux
    (pp. 68-83)

    James Lee Burke has seen and heard enough to fill a book. Actually, make that twenty-two books.

    Burke is best known for his novels featuring Dave Robicheaux, an Iberia Parish detective who sees the world in black and white, a man who is haunted at times by his own alcoholism and his desire to do right in a world ruled by insanity.

    At sixty-five years old, Burke is a demure man with small, penetrating eyes and a disarming smile. His laughter sounds as if it’s rattling itself free from his bones. There are times he laughs so hard it ends...

  14. Signs and Wonders
    (pp. 84-92)

    Greg Kerr runs small ads in the local newspapers with his photo and his phone number. He’s dressed in a white suit with long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail and a long, flowing gray beard. The ad says he is “An Anointed Cherub” and that he’s “Blessed by Jesus Christ with the gift to heal any pain or disease!” He looks like he’s in ZZ Top, not like he’s in the healing business.

    Photographer Terri Fensel and I drove to his home in Opelousas. I wanted to find out what kind of man would make such claims and...

  15. The Last Perique Farmer
    (pp. 93-101)

    Percy Martin farms 235 acres in St. James Parish. With the help of his five sons, the eighty-four-year-old raises tomatoes, bell peppers, and sugar cane. He’s planted twelve acres of his farm with perique tobacco, and those twelve acres contain the bulk of the world’s supply. Perique grows only in St. James Parish, along the Grande Pointe ridge, just outside the town of Paulina, in the rich alluvial soil of the Mississippi River.

    Tobacco experts generally point to three qualities that make perique distinct: the St. James soil, the perique seed, and the fermentation process. Martin says some scientists believe...

  16. Driving Jimmy to His Grave
    (pp. 102-114)

    Jimmy Martin is being driven to his grave. He rides in the passenger’s seat, heading north on Old Hickory Boulevard through Madison, Tennessee. Driving over the Cumberland River, he’s singing “Knoxville Girl,” the tragic tune of a man who takes a Sunday evening stroll with his girlfriend, beats her to death, and throws her body into the river.

    Martin wears a red jumpsuit and a pair of white canvas Converse sneakers. His long white sideburns peek out from beneath his cockeyed baseball cap.

    He’s seventy-five years old and the King of Bluegrass. He’s also known as Mr. Good ‘n’ Country...

  17. Strung Out on a Dream
    (pp. 115-125)

    It doesn’t matter that it’s been raining all week or that the water is rising in the streets. It’s a joy ride for Santeria. Things haven’t gone their way for so long that it’s just part of the journey. If the clouds parted, the sun shone, and the water subsided, it would be just plain weird.

    They’re cruising down Bayou Milhomme, just outside Morgan City, on an aluminum party barge. They have a gig later that night at the Hi Ho Lounge in New Orleans. Dege Legg is the band’s singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He sits at the helm of...

  18. Going Home
    (pp. 126-139)

    When Ernest J. Gaines was a kid growing up on the banks of False River in Oscar, he never dreamed that he would one day build his home alongside the big house of the plantation on which he was raised. In the town of Oscar, south of New Roads in Pointe Coupee Parish, the bare trees extend into the gray sky overhead. The open fields, once planted with cotton, corn, and potatoes, now grow sugarcane and soybeans. It’s the land of Gaines’s fictional Bayonne, the setting of his stories depicting early-twentieth-century Louisiana, when black and white sharecroppers worked the land...

  19. Handfuls of Fire
    (pp. 140-146)

    On a warm September morning, the sun slowly ascends over Avery Island’s harvest. A layer of fog blankets the thirty-five acres of Tabasco pepper plants. About thirty pickers—mostly black and about half a dozen Laotians— wear hats to protect them from the approaching rays. They bend over to pick peppers in one of the green fields dotted with yellow and crimson peppers. They’re only after the ripe ones—Tabasco red, with a tinge of sunset orange.

    Lillian Gregoire knows exactly which ones to pick and which ones to leave alone for now. “I’ve been here long enough,” she says....

  20. Another Man’s Treasure
    (pp. 147-154)

    The community of Hidden Hills near Grand Coteau is aptly named. Behind the wooden-gated entrance, with its no trespassing sign, narrow winding roads surround the thirty-five-acre Hidden Hills Lake. The neighborhood—a mix of small, unpretentious houses and larger, more elaborate ones set far from the street on oversized lots—is home to some sixty families.

    Nothing appears to be unusual today in the idyllic neighborhood, until Frank Rogers Jr.’s home comes into view. His multicolored, two-bedroom home resting on a quarter of an acre along the lake is hard to see from the road. It’s obscured by dense vegetation...

  21. Shelter from the Storm
    (pp. 155-158)

    Outside the Cajundome, a line of cars snakes down Cajundome Boulevard into the parking lots. On the corner of Souvenir Gate, the Lafayette Police Department Mobile Command Unit stands at the parking lot entrance. The cars are filled with young and old, the healthy and the sick, and they all need one thing: shelter from the wrath of Katrina.

    Councilman Marc Mouton is directing a group of Ameri-Corps volunteers from UL Lafayette on how to collect and deposit the donations being made by local residents from the curb. “This is not a council function,” Mouton says. “This is a Red...

  22. No Room at the Inn
    (pp. 159-161)

    In the parking lot of the Cajundome, Al Pape Sr. and his son, Al Pape Jr., are watching the local news on a small television resting on the tailgate of one of their company’s trucks. The two Avondale men packed up their families—five adults, three children, three cats, and two dogs—and left their homes on Sunday. They spent $250 in gas moving their vehicles, and it took them eight hours to pack up, but Al Sr. says, “We still left a lot of stuff.” The two men transport waste tires to recycling centers for a living, and their...

  23. The Record Man
    (pp. 162-174)

    Country music superstar Dolly Parton has nothing but fond memories of her first producer. “Eddie Shuler was a gifted, special friend,” she says. “With him goes the passing of an era. I know he is in a special place in heaven.” Parton met Shuler when she was only thirteen years old. In 1960, she rode a bus with her grandmother from Sevierville, Tennessee, to Lake Charles. Parton’s uncle, Henry Owens, was living in Lake Charles near Shuler’s Goldband Records recording studio, and the two men were friends. Owens sent for his niece to come to Lake Charles, where she recorded...

  24. Don’t You Worry about Boozoo
    (pp. 175-184)

    Anthony Wilson “Boozoo” Chavis lived out his life in Lake Charles, on a few acres he immortalized in the song “Dog Hill.” Born in 1930, he spent his life farming and raising horses. In 1954 he recorded the seminal regional hit “Paper in My Shoe” for Eddie Shuler’s Goldband Records in Lake Charles. Chavis always contended that Shuler ripped him off, and Shuler always denied it. The experience left a bad taste in Chavis’s mouth, and for thirty years he didn’t record or perform. But in the 1980s, Chavis re-emerged from obscurity to international acclaim and is credited with revitalizing...

  25. A Fistful of Hope
    (pp. 185-196)

    A mound of trash, twelve feet long and four feet high, is piled up on the sidewalk—black trash bags, battered blue tarps, an old toilet, rotten boards, a door frame, and broken ceramic tiles. I’m standing in Bru’s living room, looking out the window of his front door at the debris across the street.

    “Has that trash been there long?”

    “Awhile,” Bru says. “At first they were pretty good about picking it up. It takes ’em a while now. They’ll get to it.”

    I met Bru (pronounced “brew”) in the seventh grade. He was a stout warrior on a...

  26. The Forgotten
    (pp. 197-207)

    The clouds, like giant dirty cotton balls, tumble in from the Gulf of Mexico, and the rain pours down. On a two-acre patch of land near Sweet Lake in north Cameron Parish, four campers sit in a row. In one of them, seventy-three-year-old J.C. Boudreaux and his seventy-one-year-old wife, Regina, are keeping an eye on their five-year-old grandson, Michael, who’s keeping his eyes on the children’s programWonder Pets! on the small television. Occasionally, Michael turns around on the couch and looks out the window to see if it’s still raining. When he gets bored and moves around the camper,...

  27. Ride of His Life
    (pp. 208-214)

    The newspapers and sports announcers refer to him by name—Calvin Borel. The jockeys call him “Bo-Rail,” for his preference of riding the rail when he races horses. But his family has a hard time calling him anything but what they’ve called him all of his life—Boo-Boo. His older brother Cecil says, “Sometimes I got to think twice when they tell me Calvin. He’s always been Boo-Boo. They just call him that Calvin stuff up here in Kentucky because they don’t know no better. His name really and truly is Boo-Boo.”

    The rest of the world didn’t know too...

  28. One Day in Jena
    (pp. 215-225)

    Driving northeast on Highway 28 just outside of Pineville, it’s still dark, but the sun’s starting to rise and the horizon is a hue of deep purple. The headlights of eighteen-wheelers and chartered tour buses cut through the last remains of the night. Just past Catahoula Lake, a still blanket of fog clings to the ground and sometimes creeps over onto the raised roadway. There’s an occasional police cruiser sitting on the shoulder of the road, just as there has been all the way from Lafayette. A line of cars is headed for the dead end at Highway 84, where...

  29. Mourning Elemore
    (pp. 226-228)

    One morning in 2002, while Elemore Morgan Jr. walked through the paintings he had stored in his studio, he told me how he priced his art. It was based upon the emotional attachment he had for each work. “It’s what it’s going to cost for somebody to take it from me,” he noted. It had nothing to do with the amount of acrylic paints he used, the size of the Masonite on which he painted, the wear and tear on his van to drive to the rice fields he rendered every day, the transportation cost and time to sell a...

  30. Index
    (pp. 229-240)