Louis Boudreault

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This old-time fiddler was a show-stopper at folk festivals in the '70s, his tone sharp enough to slice through the chewiest rump roast and his feet clogging away to keep the rhythm like a fusion drummer…
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This old-time fiddler was a show-stopper at folk festivals in the '70s, his tone sharp enough to slice through the chewiest rump roast and his feet clogging away to keep the rhythm like a fusion drummer who can't find his bass drum pedal. Interest in the French American music tradition grew a great deal during this era, fueled not only by the American folk revival but by the Quebec independence movement. Louis Boudreault was a retired carpenter, and a superb fiddle maker as well, when he began a new career as a senior citizen performer. He took to the stage with grace, allowing the music to pour out of him, but also amusing audiences with his own anecdotes and tall tales. Sometimes it seemed as if each of the fiddler's pieces had a screenplay that went along with it. "Reel of the Bridge," for example, might be taken by a music student to be a quite typical reel in which the bridge, or second part, assumes a great importance, when in actuality it is about a floating bridge back in Boudreault's home of Chicoutimi. Any local character in need of money could attach weights to this bridge, making it sink, then charge hapless tourists a fee to raise the bridge so they could get across.

Boudreault learned fiddle from his father, Idas Boudreault, who played the violin and also made repairs on the instruments, like his son would also eventually learn to do. When his father had repaired a violin that was of a smaller size than normal, this particularly fascinated the "garçon," who took down the mini-fiddle and began looking for the notes of tunes he knew. At this time, fiddlers could be hired for weddings that sometimes went on for more than three days, or could even last longer than the actual marriages of some movie stars. It was actually considered to be quite unhealthy work, kind of a change in philosophy from the Appalachian musicians whose musical life was a refuge from dastardly conditions in mines and mills. Boudreault has complained about breathing the dust produced by the dancers' feet, claiming it was bad for his lungs and leading to a new appreciation of canned disco music as a way of helping musicians avoid such physical stress. At 15, he went to work with his father building houses, showing quite a knack for carpentry. He also began working as a lumberjack in the winters, which involved staying at a logging camp for up to five months at a time. These environments were legendary scenes for musical exchanges, as the exhausted men would gather around, anxious for the type of relief only good music can bring. By the time Boudreault was in his mid-twenties, however, musical tastes were beginning to radically change with the onslaught of dances such as the Charleston and the funky sounds of boogie woogie and rock & roll. He put his violin aside, but would still sometimes visit other fiddlers to learn music. He evolved into a kind of museum of fiddle music from his region and it was a good thing he did, because he wound up being the only Quebec musician to create an archive of the style of fiddling and the reels played by his father and other family fiddlers such as his grand-uncle Thomas Vaillancourt of Lac St. Jean. In the late '60s, Boudreault started playing violin again with a passion, winning first prize in a fiddlers competition at the start of the following decade. Performers and folk music archivists Mike Seeger and Alice Gerrard produced a full album of his music in the '70s and he also appeared on several compilations of French American music released in this period. Boudreault was part of a traveling folk festival Seeger put on the road in the '70s with assistance from the National Endowment for the Arts. The influence of this great fiddler has lived on, with younger groups such as Cordelia's Dad recording cover versions of Boudreault's fiddle repertoire, and a wide range of artists, including pianist George Winston, picking him out as a major influence. It can no longer be said that the great Quebec fiddle repertoire has no appeal for young people: one band that covers his material, Popcorn Behavior, has no member older than 15.