Dennis McGee (1893-1989) is perhaps Cajun music’s most influential fiddler, an early recording pioneer who contributed a sizable repertoire that illustrated what pre-20th-Century Cajun music was like prior
to the advent of the accordion. Between 1929 and 1934, he recorded what would become standards, most notably with legendary Creole accordionist Amédé Ardoin and longtime fellow fiddler Sady Courville. Later in life, a number of folklorists and musicians visited him where he was often “recorded” but not quite at the quality of this field recording made by French folklorist Gérard Dôle in 1975.
Over the course of 33 tracks and 41 minutes, McGee plays sans accompaniment and converses only in French. The session mostly focuses on the oldest dance tunes that McGee could remember, 19th-Century ballroom dances that were prevalent in both Europe and the United States, which have long been extinct in Louisiana. McGee gladly complies, fiddling an impassioned host of reels, waltzes, polkas, mazurkas, contredanses and others, dispelling any notion that Cajun dancing has always consisted solely of two-steps and waltzes. One dance, a ‘galop,’ emanated from the cotillion and resembles a jig, while another, “Ballot,” where everyone waddled, must have been fun. Though the liner notes are fairly academic, Dôle does a beautiful job of linking the common dances between the continents, explaining their origins and evolution. No doubt this will give budding fiddlers another source to devour McGee tunes in the years to come and possibly assist in the revival efforts of their respective dances. For a translated transcription of the interview, visit ValcourRecords.com.