Although considered a top-flight Cajun musician, Wallace Cheese Read was never really a professional musician perhaps out of fear that critics would make jokes about his name. Cajun fans might savor his small but superb discography as one relaxed section of the evening or one of a series of courses in a French meal: a little cheese, a little reading, a little Cheese Read, and so forth. If the evening's relaxation also includes some Internet surfing, one possible stop might be a website devoted to musical artists who make reference to cheese in their names. This Cajun great, along with a dozen or so other members of this delectable music/food group, naturally makes the list along with the progressive bluegrass outfit from Boulder, CO, String Cheese Incident, as well as only mildly stinky lounge act Richard Cheese. The Cajun identification with "home music," or the importance of creating music in a non-professional setting, was the essence of this performer. He liked playing his music at home better than doing some kind of gig and best of all were the lively parties with a few friends and a band set up in the corner. Cheese Read was known as a booming, powerful singer and a fiddler whose bow work was more accurate than the best of Robin Hood's merry men. A mainstay of the Southwest Louisiana scene, he was a musician whose work was recorded with the sporadic randomness of a series of satellite photographs. One of the best-known Arhoolie sets combines 1979 recordings with previously unissued field recordings of Cheese Read done by ethnomusicologist Dr. Harry Oster in the '50s. At the time when the good doctor undertook his mission to document the folk songs of the Louisiana Acadians in the Mamou Prairie, scant attention had been paid to this aspect of American folk music. The older members of the community were the only living repository of music traditions, while the younger generations were being sucked -- surprise surprise -- into commercial, popular American culture. The tremendous importance of the Cajun culture and its continuing influence on the Southwestern United States has made minor heroes out of performers such as this, whose allegiance to their music and family traditions were one and the same. Cheese Read's repertoire of tunes includes the lively "Fiddle Stomp," the livelier "Bosco Stomp," and the liveliest "Cajun House Party," the latter treated to a superb recording in collaboration with Marc Savoy. Cheese Read was one of a group of historic Cajun performers profiled by filmmaker Yasha Aginsky; these portraits are available on video from Vestapol Videos.
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