Carriere Brothers

Biography by Eugene Chadbourne

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When fiddler Joseph "Bebe" Carriere passed away from a heart attack in 2001, it was considered the end of a musical era. Bebe and his brother Eraste Carriere were masters of the old-time style called…
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Artist Biography by Eugene Chadbourne

When fiddler Joseph "Bebe" Carriere passed away from a heart attack in 2001, it was considered the end of a musical era. Bebe and his brother Eraste Carriere were masters of the old-time style called "la la" music, and as the Carriere Brothers were a bridge from traditional Creole styles to the later, but still rural, zydeco style. Nobody had ever come along that could play the way this fiddler did, perhaps because nobody had the right window screen. This is actually a reference to the manner in which this great Creole fiddler fabricated his first instrument as a young whippersnapper. Although he played a normal fiddle from the age of 15 on, nothing does a better job of summarizing the intense sound of the Cajun fiddle -- known to send wimpy listeners running into the night screaming -- than the tale of how Bebe Carriere made his first fiddle out of a wooden cigar box, stringing it with wire yanked out of a busted window screen. His older brother Eraste Carriere was born in 1900, and the brothers were members of a share-cropping family that descended from slaves. The family, including the musically famous brothers, stayed in the Lawtell, LA, all their lives.

It was the early '20s when Bebe began playing with the famous black French accordionist, Amadie Ardoin, a huge influence but certainly not the only available playing partner as long as his older brother was around. The Carriere Brothers started out playing house dances or "bals de maison," furniture literally being shoved out of the way to make rooms for merriment. This is the way the music scene went on for several decades, until the rise of "le honky tonk" following the end of the Second World War. The fiddling of Bebe Carriere was making waves, even attracting a major-label talent scout who wanted the young fiddler to hustle over to the big city of New Orleans for a recording session. In a career move that is quite typical of the Cajun scene, the session never happened because Bebe admits " just kinda slipped my mind." Recordings were eventually made of the brothers, but their participation in a project such as Rounder's superb anthology entitled Zodico: Louisiana Creole Music is more typical of the way they liked to work. Recording engineers went right into their living rooms to record the tracks. Until Bebe retired from performing in the '60s, the brothers frequently performed live with the Lawtell Playboys at venues such as the Slim's Y-Ki-Ki in Opelousas, LA. The band name of Lawtell Playboys was inherited by the members that played on after the brothers retired, including cousin Calvin Carriere, who sometimes uses the English spelling of the surname to become Calvin Carrier. The San Francisco-based Andrew Carrier, who plays accordion and rub-board, is the son of Bebe. He is also using the anglicized spelling but otherwise carrying on in the musical traditions of his father in bands such as the Cajun Orchestra.

Eraste Carriere was the more conservative musically of the siblings, as befits an older brother as well as anyone named "Eraste." His kid brother occasionally got him to stretch out, however, even getting him to play "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," perhaps not such a strange subject with so much undiscovered oil at their feet. Eraste played the diatonic button accordion, in the style he learned from his father beginning at age 15. This type of playing, which Eraste managed to conserve intact with a deaf ear for later Cajun influences, dated back to at least to the late 1800s, when the senior Carriere would merrily gig at the same kind of informal house parties and festive feasts. Bebe fraternized with hillbilly musicians and worked country tunes such as "Kentucky Waltz" into his repertoire.