A brief history…
Don Fontenot & friends of Louisiana have been performing together in restaurants, clubs, and festivals throughout Louisiana and neighboring states since 1995. They have won numerous CFMA Awards, including Song of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, and more. Although they specialize in authentic Cajun-style music, they often enjoy spicing things up a bit with a little Zydeco & Swamp Pop music thrown in, thereby keeping their fans on their toes, dancing to the beat. Never a dull moment with this group, as Les Amis will always keep their fans entertained!
Don Fontenot – accordion and vocals / Don was born in Opelousas, LA and began playing accordion in 1992 when he received one as a gift.
Kurt Daigle – drums / Kurt was born in Lake Charles, LA and took an avid interest in music when he was fifteen years old, learning to play guitar first, and later drums.
Karl Deshotels – guitar and bass / Karl was born in Ville Platte, LA and began playing music at the tender age of eight years old. He also plays accordion.
Layton Thibodeaux – bass, guitar, and vocals / Layton was born in Lake Charles, LA and began playing music at twelve years old.
Mark Young – fiddle and keyboard / Mark was born in Mamou, LA. He began playing music at an early age and joined Cajun great, Austin Pitre’s group in 1976.
With their 2010 release, Wide Open, Don’s group changed their name to the English translation, “Don Fontenot and Friends of Louisiana.” In addition to Don, Karl & Layton, new band members are:
Robbie Miller – guitar / Robbie is from Eunice, Louisiana & started playing at age 13.
Travis Hebert – drums / Travis is from Lake Charles, Louisiana & is a self-taught musician who began playing at the age of 12.
Darryl Fontenot – keyboard, vocals / Darryl is from Lafayette, Louisiana and is the newest member of the group. He has played, written, arranged and produced for some of the most prominent name bands and artists to come out of Louisiana.
Male Vocalist of the Year – Don Fontenot (CFMA 2001)
Wide Open (SW 6222)
When Donald Fontenot and his then-christened group Les Amies de la Louisianne (Louisiana Friends) first bust onto the crawfish circuit in the mid-1990s, they were as trad Cajun as they come. But by the time the group released its third disc, Ride The Donkey, in 2004, they were already infusing swamp pop and crunchy zydeco into a reasonably strong Cajun repertoire. Now, with an official name change to its English counterpart, Friends of Louisiana, and the disc’s telltale title, Wide Open, hinting at the lack of musical boundaries, this is hardly something for the purists. There are a couple of wonderful Cajun tracks like the peppy “Dans mes bras” and the gorgeous fiddle-led “La vieille berceuse,” but these are the only ones. Instead, a lot of this aligns with the current trend in Southwestern Louisiana, where more groups play a hybrid of zydecajun, swamp pop, southern rock, R&B, and country, in addition to a few carefully-crafted “French” selections.
Based on these criteria, Fontenot and Friends of Louisiana seem to have made that jump well. Most tracks aim for the party jugular (“Pop A Top,” “She Likes to Party”) with Darryl Fontenot playing a huge role here with his whirling keyboards and boogie-bombing ivory rides. Listen closely and you’re bound to recognize a recycled 1970s rock hook here or there. The bluesy “Where You Gonna Go” is an adaptation of Loggins & Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” while “You and Me Makes We” intro resembles the Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music.” Closer to home, Southwest Louisiana listeners are sure to find elements of Travis Matte party zydeco in “The Funky Monkey.” While it may not always be 100% original, at the same time, the various, well-designed hooks are sure to reel the average listener into the party at hand.
But the most obvious cover adaptation is Lynrkynd Skynryd’s “Simple Man” that’s rendered here as “Simple Cajun Man.” At one point during this arena rock opus, the arrangement slithers into a few measures of “Free Bird” before easing back into “Simple,” not a bad ploy for something of this ilk. Though it’s well done for what it strives to be, Wide Open will likely appeal more locally than on a national level.
—Dan Willging (Denver, CO)
Wide Open (SW 6222)
BluesRag, April 2011
Since Forever, the Cajun Nation has known how to party. Its springloaded music offers little alternative. And, since 1995, accordionist / vocalist / songsmith / merrymaker Don Fontenot has stoked more than his share of that fun. For starters, credit him with “Ride The Donkey”— the sensation that’s heard in every bar, and blared from every radio, across Louisiana (and a few overseas too, as indexed by its British YouTube animation). But packing far more horsepower in its madcap kick is the new sequel, “Funky Monkey.” That goodtime energy busts Wide Open here. So Fontenot and his Friends of Louisiana (the artists formerly known as Les Amis de la Louisiane) still hardly pause for breath, now barreling from the cheery, beery bounce of “Pop A Top” through the dancehall stampede that is “C’Mon, C’Mon” and “You Will Be Mine.” But their name change parlays into less French, more English lyrics and the farthest move yet from being a two-step and- a-waltz kind of band. Instead, a brand of Southern mash gets blended from whatever styles: 1) get their groove on, and 2) keep the endorphins peaking. Here, that means Cajun, zydeco, Swamp Pop. And Lynyrd Skynyrd. So, with the most modest of tinkering, the “Simple ‘Cajun’ Man” encore rockingly exits with guns blazing— and guitars and accordion soaring like free birds. Hoist those lighters high.
“Donkey” novelty kicking in Cajun country
NEW YORK (Billboard) – Every trip to Cajun country brings a new music discovery — or rediscovery, as it were. This time it was “Ride the Donkey,” a novelty hit that is sweeping the French-speaking Acadiana region of Southwest Louisiana.
“It’s the hottest song out right now in the Cajun/zydeco genre,” says Todd Ortego, owner of the Music Machine store in Eunice, La., the unofficial Cajun prairie capital. He also co-hosts “The Swamp & Roll Show” on local radio station KBON.
“It was the best seller through the holiday season, being that it was cute so the little kids really liked it, too,” Ortego says. “And it was a Cajun-type song that the grandparents bought for their grandkids … it might be a door to exposing younger people to Cajun and zydeco music.”
The title track to the latest Swallow Records album from Don Fontenot et Les Amis de la Louisiane, “Ride the Donkey” is the latest reworking of a Cajun standard going back at least as far as Nolan Cormier & the Louisiana Aces’ 1971 Swallow hit “Hee Haw Breakdown.” It was later adapted into “Zydeco Hee Haw” by Boozoo Chavis.
“It’s a variation of the Mardi Gras jig that many bands have covered,” Ortego notes. He says that Fontenot’s version is distinguished by its story line. “A guy goes to the livestock auction barn and buys this cute little donkey, and his friends pick on him for it. But it has this little sexual double-entendre where he meets this lady and she wants a little ride on the donkey, so you can take that as you may — but it’s not that obvious for kids.”
Unlike most of Fontenot’s recordings, “Ride the Donkey” is in English, as are such previous Cajun novelty hits as Rockin’ Sidney’s much-covered (and similarly suggestive) 1985 zydeco smash “My Toot Toot” and Keith Frank’s 1995 zydeco interpretation of “Movin’ On Up,” the theme to TV show “The Jeffersons.”
THE SOILEAU CONNECTION
“It happens now and then,” Ortego says of the occasional Acadiana novelty hit, “and it usually traces back to Floyd Soileau.
Soileau is the venerable head of Ville Platte-based Flat Town Music Co., home of the legendary Swallow label (Soileau is pronounced “swallow”), zydeco label Maison de Soul (home of Rockin’ Sidney and Frank) and Flat Town Music (BMI) — publisher of “Hee Haw Breakdown.”
“Previous CDs by Fontenot were all traditional Cajun, all in French,” Ortego says. “Then they popped out with this novelty song, and Floyd in his wisdom made it the title cut of the album, even though it seemed out of character from what the band had done before. I was even kind of leery of his decision, but it paid off once again. I just got another 10 of them in today.”
Chris Soileau, VP of his father’s company, says that “Ride the Donkey” so far has garnered greater attention from radio than Horace Trahan’s bootyful novelty hit of two years ago, “That Butt Thing,” which Flat Town distributed. Seconding Ortego, he says, “It’s getting a broader response from all age groups (because) parents don’t have as much problem with the content.
But Soileau also notes that “Ride the Donkey” has served Flat Town and Cormier well by “reintroducing the public” to a venerable copyright.
“It’s a win-win situation for the original writer and the current performer, so everybody’s happy,” Soileau says. “Mr. Cormier should be pleased at the end of the year when he gets his royalties.”