MAKE ’EM DANCE: The Hackberry Ramblers’ Story

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The Film

Publicity shot of the band with their instruments, Lake Charles in the backgound.

“The Hackberry Ramblers are the crown jewel of the Louisiana-Texas gulf culture.”
—Country musician Rodney Crowell

“One word: hot.”
—The New Yorker

The Hackberry Ramblers serve up a spicy blend of Cajun music mixed with western swing, classic country, blues and rockabilly, with a dash of Gulf Coast swamp pop—and they’ve been doing it since 1933. MAKE ‘EM DANCE: The Hackberry Ramblers’ Story is the story of America’s oldest performing band and its incredible 70-year odyssey. Between playing venues ranging from a crawfish boil to MTV, these real-life "soggy bottom boys" recall the wild and woolly early days of life on the road and live radio: touring in a 1928 Model-A over unpaved marsh roads and shows in honky-tonks where, according to lead vocalist and guitarist Glen Croker, "they checked if you were carrying a knife, and if you didn't have one, they gave you one."

Fiddler Luderin Darbone and accordionist Edwin Duhon, in suspenders and cowboy hats, walking away from the camera.
Photo by Phillip Gould

Fiddler Luderin Darbone and accordionist Edwin Duhon pioneered the use of electrical amplifiers in Cajun dancehalls back in the days of the Depression. Today, at ages 90 and 93, the Ramblers’ co-founders are still leading the band in performances throughout North America and Europe, bringing its infectious sound to fans young enough to be their great-grandchildren. At the heart of MAKE ‘EM DANCE is a portrait of the enduring friendship between this unlikely pair: Darbone is a devout Catholic who never swears, while Duhon is outspoken, or as one friend describes him, "downright ornery." Despite these differences, their partnership has outlasted both their marriages and survived countless career left-turns.

The sons of itinerant oil field workers, the pair met as teenagers in Hackberry, Louisiana. Luderin Darbone grew up playing fiddle tunes in the "hillbilly" style, learning through a correspondence course because there were no music teachers nearby. Edwin Duhon played the Cajun repertoire known as “French music” on the accordion and guitar. At first, the two disparate musical styles didn't mix very well. As Duhon recalls, "It sounded so bad, goddamned bad, my Daddy chased us out." But with practice, the band soon had a weekly show on the area's first radio station, playing on weekends to packed local dancehalls and landing a recording contract with RCA.

As the players changed—Darbone estimates that he's played with 72 different sidemen under the Ramblers moniker—so did the band's sound. Cajun folklorist and cultural authority Barry Ancelet explains, "part of the band's longevity can be attributed to their ability to continually reinvent themselves." These reinventions have spanned the decades: western swing and big band sounds in the ‘40s; Croker’s bluesy honky-tonk style in the ‘50s; the addition of drummer, producer and road manager Ben Sandmel—in his fifties, the baby of the band—in the ‘80s. The band has reached new heights of success in recent years with a Grammy nomination, a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship, new CD releases and its debut performance at the Grand Old Opry—an event for which the Ramblers have waited seven decades.

As feisty and energetic as its subjects, MAKE ‘EM DANCE is a heartfelt tribute to a band that has had the rare ability, and privilege, of making three generations of Americans swing and smile.


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