Lennis Sonnier

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Guitarist and vocalist Lennis Sonnier was an early member of the Hackberry Ramblers, which means one thing in Cajun terms: he's an old-timer. The Hackberry Ramblers are considered the genre's oldest existing…
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Guitarist and vocalist Lennis Sonnier was an early member of the Hackberry Ramblers, which means one thing in Cajun terms: he's an old-timer. The Hackberry Ramblers are considered the genre's oldest existing group, founded in 1930 by fiddler Luderin Darbone. An expert in hillbilly fiddle tunes, Darbone created a hybrid that was really just Cajun string band music, a style with other pioneers such as Leo Soileau, Happy Fats, and Doc Guidry. In the '30s and '40s, the Hackberry Ramblers had its own radio program broadcast throughout southwest Louisiana and east Texas.

Sonnier first recorded with the Ramblers in 1935. The group recorded many songs, most famous among them the tale of the immortal "Jolie Blonde." The brothers Floyd and Lonnie Rainwater were the other original Hackberry Ramblers, but, although the group has remained under Darbonne's direction, the membership has shifted as often as an unpaved shoulder on a road running along the bayou. The group's first sides were recorded in French, with Sonnier the ace vocalist in that language. An affiliation with the Montgomery Ward company on some radio performances led the group to want to record in English, and this is how Sonnier and some fellow Ramblers wound up backing up the guitarist and vocalist Joe Werner. Only for these numbers the group became the Riverside Ramblers, not coincidentally the same name as a new brand of tire the sponsor was shilling. In this combination the group created a small hit, "Wondering," which would later be re-recorded with much greater impact by country icon Webb Pierce. The original did well enough to garner Werner an eentsy solo contract with Decca.

The band broke up at the outset of the second World War, but re-formed in 1946 for a series of Deluxe sides. There was also a popular Saturday night residency at a Lake Charles, LA, club for a decade. It was an older, and strictly part-time version of the band that cut an album for Arhoolie in 1963, but this label managed to help create an entirely new, and much more national audience for Cajun music in the late '60s onward. Sonnier packed up active duty sometime in the '80s. He will be remembered fondly by fans, especially by Cajun guitar players. They will mostly remember the man's wrists, having spent countless hours watching him to try and figure out the rhythms he strummed.