MAKE ’EM DANCE: The Hackberry Ramblers’ Story

The Scrapbook

The Band

A couple dances in the foreground as The Hackberry Ramblers play a dance in their hometown. Ben Sandmel plays the drums.
Photos by Phillip Gould

“The Ramblers rock like nobody's business.”
—New Country

2003 marked the 70th anniversary of The Hackberry Ramblers. Now in their nineties, co-founders Luderin Darbone and Edwin Duhon have been playing music together since 1933. But longevity isn’t the only thing that makes this band special. Their innovative contributions to American music range from blending the traditional Cajun repertoire with western swing and country songs to being the first Cajun band to use electronic amplification.

In 1936, the Ramblers—Darbone, Duhon and guitarist/vocalist Lennis Sonnier—recorded their hit rendition of the Louisiana classic "Jolie Blonde.” Other hits were soon released, including "Une Piastre Ici, Une Piastre Là-bas" and "Wondering,” sung in both French and English and released on 78 rpm vinyl. As the band’s popularity rose, its sound evolved. Electric guitarist Glen Croker, who joined the Ramblers in the ‘50s, added blues, honky-tonk country, rockabilly and swamp pop to the mix. Faced by a decline in the popularity of Cajun music, and busy with their jobs and families, the band contemplated retirement in the ‘60s. But Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records encouraged them to stay active, reissuing some of their RCA classics and recording a new album.

When Cajun and zydeco music regained mainstream popularity in the 1980s, the Ramblers’ rich history and undiminished vitality sparked media interest. In 1993, they recorded their first album in 30 years, Cajun Boogie. Performances at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Super Bowl 1996 and the Newport Folk Festival followed, and the Ramblers’ 1997 release Deep Water garnered a Grammy nomination. In 2002, the band debuted in Europe, playing at the International Cajun and Zydeco Festival in Holland and the Country Rendez-vous in France, returning to France in 2003 for Nuits de Cajun et Zydeco. When not on the road, the Ramblers still play weekly, at home in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

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Discography
The Hackberry Ramblers have recorded extensively over the decades, including these albums:
  • Louisiana Cajun Music
    (Arhoolie Records, 1964)
  • Louisiana Cajun Music Vol 8: Hackberry Ramblers Early Recordings: 1935–1948
    (Old Timey, 1994)
  • Jolie Blonde
    (Arhoolie Records, 1993)
  • Cajun Boogie (Hot Biscuits, 1993)
  • Deep Water (Hot Biscuits, 1997)
  • Early Recordings 1935–1950 (Arhoolie Records, 2003)

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