Song Of The Day 6/28/2015: Willie Nelson – “Night Life”

One thing Spotify is good for is stumbling upon hacked-together compilations from the distant past from obscure record labels and even obscurer artists. Case in point: earlier this year when I somehow backed into a ten-volume compilation from someplace called “Crazy Cajun Records.” Judging from the music on this compilation, not knowing any of the history, Crazy Cajun is my dream label. Which is to say: Split Personality Central. Some very fine country, rock, western, R&B, Tex-Mex, straight pop, funk, and of course Louisianan and Cajun music.

A lot of the names rang big bells too: Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm, Jean Knight, Billy Gibbons and Ronnie Milsap, alongside “new” old favorites like Roosevelt Jones, Black Dog, the South Funk Flv. Blues Band and Ernie Chaffin. I loaded all 10 albums onto a Spotify playlist (which you can play yourself at the bottom of this page) and had a really wonderful Saturday afternoon, deciding there on the spot that I’d give Crazy Cajun its own theme week… which I had to cancel about two days before it was due to start.

The reason? Dead research trail. Even with the scads of our back pages now easily accessible via the internet, I couldn’t find more than two or three paragraphs about Crazy Cajun Records, and almost nothing on the more mysterious artists whose music I really wanted to feature.

What I did learn was that Crazy Cajun was formed by Huey P. Meaux, a Louisiana record producer who ran Crazy Cajun and three other boutique labels in the ’60s. A few of his productions were big hits: Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover,” and Freddy Fender’s “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.” Then in the ’90s Meaux was caught with child porn and put in the slammer until 2007. He died in 2010. And that’s the beginning, end and rest of the story, according to the internet. I had virtually nothing to work with, and Nietzschean super-drive wasn’t going to save me.

So I saved two songs from the comp for spot placement this summer. Willie Nelson’s “Night Life” is one of them. This song dates back to the day when Nelson looked a lot more like a Fort Worth real estate agent, and well before he became one of country’s signature singers and herbal philosophers. He was, however, already one of the top songwriters in the genre. I’d first become aware of “Night Life” through B.B. King’s near-perfect version, but Willie’s has an off-kilter, quietly cracked edge to it, especially in the vocals.

How did Willie get involved with Huey Meaux and Crazy Cajun Records? I don’t know. What did Willie wind up doing for Crazy Cajun Records? Can’t find any information. Why is this song on the compilation album? Search me. If you happen to have any inside knowledge, leave a message with Brenda, or give me an all-expenses paid trip to Louisiana so I can do some digging.

In the meantime, here’s that Spotify playlist featuring 151 songs from whatever in God’s name this Crazy Cajun Records was. It includes a bunch of entries from a “Mystery Guest” or “Mystery Singer.” Normally that implies a special superstar making an appealingly low-key, anonymous record – but in this case, I’ll bet it’s simply that nobody knows who he is. The music, however, is mostly great. Enjoy your Sunday.

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