Louisiana Music Archive and Artist Directory
Satchmo.com's guide to New Orleans music and Louisiana music
For over six decades, The Hackberry Ramblers have played a toe-tapping blend of Cajun music and western swing, with a dash of Gulf Coast "swamp pop," rock & roll, and classic country. This exuberant sound bursts out of the band’s Grammy-nominated album Deep Water (Hot Biscuits # HOTBI 5001, released in 1997). Besides the core members of The Hackberry Ramblers, Deep Water features several distinguished guests. Marcia Ball shares lead vocals on "C. C. Rider" and "Les blues de Bosco," a Cajun classic that captures her debut recording in French. Rodney Crowell shares lead vocals on "Frankie and Johnny" and sings back-up on a truly unique version of "Proud Mary." Michael Doucet plays fiddle on several numbers including the aptly-entitled "Steppin’ Fast." And Jimmie Dale Gilmore shares lead vocals on the title track, the Bob Wills classic "Deep Water."
These guest performances are historic inter-generational collaborations with a band whose history dates back to 1933. That’s when The Hackberry Ramblers were brought together by fiddler Luderin Darbone and accordionist Edwin Duhon, the spry duo that still leads the band today. Besides their great appeal to dancers, the Ramblers brought two important innovations to the South Louisiana music scene. They blended the Cajun repertoire with western swing and "hillbilly string band" songs, and introduced electronic amplification to area dance-halls via a sound-system that was powered by the battery of Darbone's idling Model-T Ford.
By 1935 The Hackberry Ramblers' growing renown led to a long-term recording contract with RCA Bluebird. Their hits, released on 78 r.p.m. records, included "Jolie Blonde" and "Wondering, Wondering." When Cajun music waned during the 1960s The Hackberry Ramblers contemplated retirement. But Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records encouraged the band to stay active, recording them anew in 1963 and reissuing some of their Bluebird classics, and the Ramblers continued playing dances along the Louisiana/Texas border.
The pace quickened again with the Cajun-music renaissance that began in the early ‘80s and continues today. Since 1988 The Hackberry Ramblers have performed annually at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and appeared at diverse events from coast to coast, including Superbowl ‘96, in Phoenix, and The Presidents’ Summit On America’s Future, held in Philadelphia in 1997. The Ramblers also play weekly in their home base of Lake Charles, La. The group's sound has evolved over the years, but remains authentic; electric guitarist Glen Croker, a Rambler since the late '50s, changed the band into today’s swaggering honky-tonk combo.
By the early 1990s The Hackberry Ramblers’ rich history and undiminished vitality began to pique media interest. Cashbox stated flat out that "The Hackberry Ramblers has to be one of the coolest bands in the world," while the Dallas Morning News called the band "party animals" who "traffic in jubilation." The French journal Big Bear echoed such sentiments with "ils sont irresistibles." In 1993 The Hackberry Ramblers released their first album in thirty years. Cajun Boogie inspired national profiles on shows including Entertainment Tonight, Music City Tonight, and NPR’s Weekend Edition, plus critical acclaim from the likes of The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Musician. New Country astutely commented that "the Ramblers rock like nobody's business", and Goldmine raved that "these guys just tear into it all with a fervor unmatched by few bands even half, or a third, their age!!"
Deep Water has sparked equal enthusiasm. It reached #23 on the Gavin Americana chart. The New Yorker said "One word: hot," while The New York Times previewed a date at The Bottom Line by calling the band "expert purveyors of a good time." No Depression speculated "Maybe Ponce de Leon was just a state too far east when he went looking for the fountain of youth." USA Today praised the band’s ability to "still kick out the jams." "So joyous that it sounds like Bourbon Street after closing time on Saturday night," raved The Chicago Tribune, while Musician extolled Deep Water’s "vitality and folksy charm." CMJ commented that "Sixty years of setting skirts a-twirling might make The Hackberry Ramblers the longest-running band in the country, but they’re also one of the best, too." Men’s Journal lauded Deep Water as "the definition of ragged-but-absolutely-right"; Gambit Weekly dubbed it "a raucous sampler... brimming with more energy than many recordings from today’s young pop stars." A September, ‘97, set on public radio’s Mountain Stage was followed by a TV profile on CNN Showbiz Today. 1998 was highlighted by the Grammy nomination, and a pre-Grammy appearance on MTV Live, in New York; a Memorial Day performance at the Kennedy Center, in Washington; and a feature article in the Southern Music Issue of The Oxford American.
1999 will be climaxed by the Hackberry Ramblers’ long-awaited debut on the Grand Ole Opry, on December 4. The band will also visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, in Nashville, on December 3, as Luderin Darbone donates a fiddle for display in the Hall’s new museum that is currently under construction. Since March of ‘98, independent film-maker John Whitehead of St. Paul, MN, has been documenting all these latest adventures for broadcast on PBS. The Hackberry Ramblers are having big fun on Deep Water, so dive on in with them! (November, 1999)More on The Hackberry Ramblers: