With a career spanning eight decades, the illustrious Hackberry Ramblers doubtlessly rank among the most prolific and well-known bands of the Cajun country, and surely among the earliest to gain note outside of their region of origin.
The long and storied history of the Hackberry Ramblers starts in the beginning of the 1930s, when fiddler Luderin Darbone met guitarist Edwin Duhon in Hackberry, Louisiana. Darbone was born on January 14, 1913, in the Evangeline Parish of Louisiana; his father worked in the oilfields, and moved the family around the southwestern part of the state and the corresponding region of Texas while Luderin was growing up, eventually settling in Orangefield, Texas. He got his first fiddle at the age of twelve and learned to play through a correspondence course; his playing was influenced by the burgeoning western swing music in Texas at that time. Duhon was born on June 11, 1910, to a French-speaking family in Youngsville, Louisiana. He took up the popular instruments of guitar and accordion in his teenage years. Both young Cajuns moved to Hackberry, Louisiana, in 1931, and soon started playing music together. Darbone and Duhon (alongside Texas steel guitarist Bob Dunn) gained the distinction of being among the earliest to amplify their music electrically, using a public address wired to Darbone’s Model A Ford. Soon, other local musicians joined in to fill out the ranks, and the duo became a proper band. The band took the name “Hackberry Ramblers” in 1933, after the town of their origin, and began playing on the radio and at local dance halls. Duhon left the band soon after as work made him travel, and his role of guitarist was filled by Lennis Sonnier. Guitarist Floyd Rainwater and his brother Lonnie on steel guitar also joined, their own places later filled by Floyd and Danny Shreve—with Darbone being the only constant member. The Ramblers played a repertoire as varied as their membership, consisting of traditional Acadian French melodies like “Jolie Blonde”, blues songs like “On Top of the World”, western swing like “Just Because”, jazz such as “You’ve Got to Hi-De-Hi”, and even popular tunes like “Sonny Boy”. On August 10, 1935, they made their debut recordings for RCA Victor’s Bluebird label. Their engagement with RCA Victor lasted until 1938 and resulted in a total of eighty-one sides, of which all but one were released. A sponsorship deal with Montgomery Ward changed their name to “Riverside Ramblers”—after Ward’s eponymous line of tires—on radio and some of their records. The group temporarily disbanded at the end of the 1930s, when Darbone quit music for a time. They reorganized after World War II when Harry Choates’ version of “Jole Blon” brought Cajun music to the charts, and recorded again, for DeLuxe Records in 1947 or ’48, and continued to make records sporadically in the following decades. The group remained active, with Darbone and Duhon at the helm, until 2004. Edwin Duhon died on February 26, 2006, at the age of ninety-five. Luderin Darbone survived him by nearly three years, until his own death at the same age on November 21, 2008.
Bluebird B-6926 was recorded on February 22, 1937 in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was released on April 28, 1937. The Riverside Ramblers are Joe Werner on harmonica, guitar, and vocals, Lennis Sonnier on guitar, and Luderin Darbone on fiddle.
First, Joe Werner sings his own composition, “Wondering”, which found greater popularity when it was covered by Webb Pierce in 1951, becoming the young country singer’s breakthrough hit and earning him the nickname “The Wondering Boy”. Even on a sentimental song such as this one, they cannot fully shake off the rough and ragged, good-time feel endemic to Cajun music.
On the reverse, they play and sing a rousing rendition of Riley Puckett’s “Dissatisfied”.