What does it take to be a good fiddle player?
Well, talent doesn’t hurt. I come from a fiddle-playing family—I started at five years old. At seven my dad died and I had to start helping my mother make a living. By nine I was playing fiddle professionally. So I just learned. But, to be honest with you, it’s hard for me to say how to become successful at it. I just did it because I was hungry. Hungry to learn, you know? You have to have that burning desire to succeed at anything. I had that. Growing up with four brothers, we were always in competition with each other. I learned a lot from my family by just playing.
Do you mind being known the world over as the “Ragin’ Cajun”?
No, no–that’s good. I chose to do that. Because it seems like everybody back then had a second name to remember. Not only my records and my music, but television helped a whole lot—as Doug Kershaw or the Ragin’ Cajun or the Louisiana Man or something. And I feel good about that.
When people talk about your music, they try to put you in categories varying from country to Cajun to folk to psychedelic rock. Do you see any difference in those labels as far as your music?
I never wanted to be labeled, and here’s why: I learned how to play music, I learned how to write music, and I sing music. I do music. I don’t do country, I don’t do rock, I don’t do folk. I allow the people—not the record label, but the people—to tell me what they like. And, first of all, Cajun music was the French Cajun, which I helped bring along. But if I chose to just do that, I wouldn’t have gotten 60 miles outside of Jennings. Everything about “Louisiana Man” is the same thing we do at home, except it’s done in the English language. And that song happens to be the first song ever to be broadcast from space—it was transmitted from the moon by Apollo 12 astronauts back to Earth. That’s heavy.
You’re an engaging live performer, but you’ve also been called a “master recording artist.” Do you have a preference, stage or studio?
My preference is, of course, the stage. In the studio, it becomes business. I try to picture people, but I look and I see producers and musicians and that’s not exciting. I feed off of people. I feel what they want and I send it back.
How does it feel to play at the Ponderosa Stomp?
Incredible! The first records I did was myself and my brother, Rusty and Doug. All that stuff is considered rockabilly but, back then, we had no name for it. But now they think I’m rockabilly. And you know what? I guess I am.