Jimmy C. Newman: The Happy Cajun
The “C” in Jimmy C. Newman’s name allegedly stands for Cajun. Even if the “C” doesn’t, Jimmy C does and that’s all that matters.
Born in the Louisiana bayou town of High Point, not far from Mamou, Jimmy’s early recordings took a straight ahead country route. His fifties hit “Cry, Cry, Darling” rose to #4 in the country charts. Artists ranging from Dolly Parton to Ricky Skaggs to Bill Monroe have recorded it. He joined the cast of the Grand Ol’ Opry in 1956 and continues to perform there on a regular basis, even though he’s well into his 70s.
During the 1960s, secure in his following and his position at the Opry, Jimmy C. started to incorporate some of the music he grew up with into his records, with remarkable results. He scored a country hit with Cajun spicy single “Alligator Man.” In 1963, he recorded the influential Folk Songs of the Bayou Country, regarded as one of the most influential (and certainly one of the earliest) Cajun recordings geared to a mainstream audience. His band has long featured musicians like accordion player Shorty LaBlanc and fiddler Rufus Thibodeaux. Suddenly, Cajun music started to seep into the popular consciousness.
Nowadays, you can hear Cajun music in commercials for cars and chicken, but back in the 60s, this lively two-step music was outright exotic. Jimmy C’s string of records through the decade alternated between the mainstream country of his adopted home town of Nashville and his roots in Mamou. He became the first real country success with Cajun roots and certainly the first Cajun in the Opry cast.
By the 70s, however, beyond the Opry, country fans had lost interest in Jimmy C. His chart hits dried up. Where some artists would find this a down-heartening, Jimmy C took it as an opportunity. It gave him license to explore his roots in more depth. Outside of the Opry he performed Cajun music almost exclusively, becoming one of the genre’s biggest advocates.
Jimmy C started touring incessantly. He found audiences among folk aficionados, bluegrass fans and Francophile Canadians with songs like “Lach Pas La Patate,” which earned the first gold record ever by a Cajun artist. His 1991 Alligator Man album – named for the 1963 hit on this CD – earned Jimmy C a Grammy nomination. He played all sorts of festivals. “I do quite a bit of bluegrass festivals,” he says. “Our music blends in with bluegrass because it is very basic and ethnic.”
In 1989, he took Eddy Raven, Doug Kershaw, Rockin’ Sidney and Queen Ida on a 20-city tour, claiming that it was the first fully Cajun and Zydeco tour in history. In a way, it made his long-time agenda clear. “I think we’ll be opening doors in different parts of the United States and probably in other countries before this is all over,” he said. “We’ll be exciting people more and educating them more about what Cajun music is. This will definitely mean a lot for our Cajun culture, and there definitely will be a good, positive effect for each and every act on the show. “
The Acadian Museum has recognized Jimmy C Newman as a living legend. After listening to The Happy Cajun you’ll know why.