Cajun Stomp: Savoy Family Band at the Catonsville Knights of Columbus, Nov. 6
When Wilson Savoy plays with his regular band, the Pine Leaf Boys, he usually plays a single-row button accordion, the bleating instrument that’s the bedrock of the Cajun dancehall sound. But when Wilson plays with his parents and brother as the Savoy Family Band, that’s not an option, because the quartet already boasts the man who led the 1970s resurgence of the diatonic instrument—both as a player and as an instrument maker. That’s Marc Savoy, and he sat in a folding chair at the Catonsville Knights of Columbus Saturday night, grinning through his thick brown mustache and manhandling the small squeezebox in his lap.
So Wilson retreated to his original instrument—boogie-woogie piano. On the evening’s second number, “The Bosco Stomp,” he gave the old Cajun standard a rollicking blues feel, not only with his ivory-tickling fills but also with his bellowing baritone. When Wilson belted out “Let the Good Times Roll” or “Girls in Short Dresses” in Cajun French, he backed up his vocal shouts with syncopated piano-pounding. It was as if Jerry Lee Lewis had joined the Balfa Brothers, and it gave the Savoy Family Band a different sound than the Pine Leaf Boys, the Savoy-Doucet Band, or any other Cajun band in South Louisiana.
When Wilson’s mother Ann took over the lead vocals, as she often did, the emphasis shifted to the lilting romanticism of her soprano. Whether she was crooning a slow blues such as David Greeley’s “Marie Mouri” (which she has recorded as a duet with Linda Ronstadt), a spirited two-step (“Jolie Bassette”), or a sweet waltz (“Marie”), the black-banged singer in the pleated skirt made it all sound effortless.
Eventually Wilson left the piano and picked up the violin to join his brother Joel for a mini-set of twin-fiddle tunes. The two siblings, who learned their craft at their parents’ Saturday-morning Cajun jam sessions at the Savoy Music Center in Eunice, La., have been playing together so long that they blend seamlessly on old numbers such as “Mamou Two Step” and “La Valse d’Eva.”
Joel, a founding member of the Red Stick Ramblers, now runs Valcour Records, the most interesting Cajun record label around. Last month the label released new titles from the Pine Leaf Boys, Cedric Watson, and Dennis McGee. Earlier this year Ann Savoy and Her Sleepless Knights (featuring Baltimore guitarist Tom Mitchell) released their new swing album Black Coffee. The four members of the Savoy Family have so many projects going that it’s a rare occasion when they can coordinate their schedules to tour together. When they do, it’s a treat not to be missed.