Thursday, May 16, 2024

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Come for the Shame, Stay for the Scandal


Earlier this week I saw Mississippi bluesman Cedrick Burnside play at the Tumbleroot here in Santa Fe. As I suspected, Burnside, grandson of the late master R.L. Burnside, was fantastic and any Santa Fe blues fan who missed it should regret it.

But this post isn't about the music Burnside played. It's about a joke he told Monday night.

It was a funny joke, but I already knew the punchline. That's because I was familiar with this song I first heard by Gabriel Sanchez, aka Baby Gaby.

Here's that song:

Despite the name "Pepito" and Baby Gaby's exaggerated Mexican accent, I've always suspected that the dysfunctional family poked fun at in this tune might not be Mexican at all.

And in fact, that's the case.

The first known published telling of this tale was "Madame la Marquise." a poem satirizing French aristocracy by British-born poet Robert Service in his 1940 collection Bar-room Ballads: A Book Of Verse.

Here's how it starts out:

Said Hongray de la Glaciere unto his proud Papa:

"I want to take a wife, mon Pere." The Marquis laughed: "Ha! Ha!

And whose, my son?" he slyly said; but Hongray with a frown

Cried: "Fi! Papa, I mean -- to wed. I want to settle down."

The Marquis de la Glaciere responded with a smile:

"You're young, my boy; I much prefer that you should wait awhile."

Kind of wordy, no? It takes a few lines more before the Marquis gets around to warning his lovesick son about the dangers of possible incest.

And that leads us to a classic zombie movie ...

In 1943, the calypso star known as Sir Lancelot (Lancelot Victor Edward Pinard) wrote a song for -- and appeared in -- a creepy film called I Walked With a Zombie.  (But no, Roky Erikson never covered this)

Lancelot called the tune "Fort Holland Calypso Song" (Not "Fort Collins" as it's mistitled in the video below. My daughter lives in Fort Collins and if there were any zombies there, I'm pretty sure she would have told me.)

Check the scene below:

Notice the refrain and the melody are very similar to the song Baby Gaby sings. But there's no story about a lad wanting to marry girls his dad thinks are his secret sisters. 

But skip ahead about 20 years and another calypso singer, Lord Melody rewrote Sir Lancelot's lyrics, adding the basic ""Madame la Marquise" plot, and here we go. But I still don't know why he'd call his song "Wau Wau":

"Shame"-- or "Wau Wau" spread around the Caribbean. Puerto Rico-born pop singer Shawn Elliott had a hit in South America with his version:

Here's Peter Tosh of The Wailers, backed by The Skatellites in 1965:

Tex-Mex folk-rocker Trini Lopez also sang of this troubled family:

Also in the '60s, Buffy Sainte-Marie sang an Irish-style song called "Johnny Be Fair," which tells the familiar story, though Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke quotes The Buffy Sainte-Marie Songbook, (1971) where the singer introduces "Johnny Be Fair," saying her song was "based on a joke I heard from an Irishman ..." 

And this seemed like an affirmation to me. The strange idea that prompted me to look into this song was a weird and unsubstantiated notion I had that the story told in the Baby Gaby song I love might have originated in Ireland. "Pepito" is much closer to Lord Melody and the others posted above, but the plot is the same as Buffy's:

But as we all know, shame and scandal often leads to Madness! The British punk-ska group recorded this in 2005.

Now all us Cedrick Burnside fans need to convince the man to craft his joke into a song ...

Cedrick at Tumbleroot, Santa Fe, NM 5-13-24

For more deep dives into songs, check out The Stephen W. Terrell Web Log Songbook

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