Rory Partin tells us about the song "Jambalaya (On The Bayou)" from his new self-titled album that features late music legend Jimmy C Newman and some of the last surviving members of legendary big bands like Tommy Dorsey, Bobby Darin. Here is the story:
It's been a pretty crazy process recording my latest CD. It's my second album, but my first self-titled, and really my debut as an artist. I decided to self-title it "Rory Partin" because this album expresses many of my musical influences growing up, and touches on my roots as an artist. Last September we (me, my wife, and my PR firm) had the idea for me to record a new project. A new album was certainly long overdue, but we didn't have the money to record one. Given the fact that my big band has 18 people in it, and I like to take everyone in the studio together and record all the tracks as a band, we just couldn't afford it. But we decided to take a big leap of faith. We booked the session and band for October 21, 2013 in Nashville, TN, my birthday! We were on the hook now, and had to get the money to pay for it. We needed at least $20,000. So we decided to do an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign. We launched the campaign in early October. And I gotta be honest, I was disappointed that we didn't have better response online. Those who gave were amazing! And I am SO thankful for every one of them. Still, I was let down that more didn't choose to get involved. But, as time went on, we discovered that our largest donors wanted to give outside of the online campaign. And all in all we raised enough to move forward, and had people still giving after the official "campaign" had ended! We always had enough to take the next step in the process when we got to it. And then, the huge, unbelievable, undeserved occurred…
It was October 2013, just days after my recording session with my big band. My wife and I, and my in-laws, were all backstage at the Grand Ole Opry with my friends Reggie and Ladye Love Smith. Ladye was singing backup for the different artists that night, and was able to get us in. What a great night! We were meeting legends, and current stars - watching them perform, getting our pictures with them - basically hobnobbing (yes, it's a word). The lights on stage were bright, and the outfits were often brighter. Yet backstage in the wings it was dark, and my eyes were having trouble adjusting and seeing clearly. But I knew that Jimmy C Newman had just finished singing "Jambalaya," a song I've known and sung as far back as I can remember, and I could tell he was making his way off stage in my direction. People were pawing at him, and trying to get a moment with him. But he was steadily and politely moving past people, determined to get past the crowd and into his dressing room. My hope of meeting him was evaporating as I watched his determination to get through the throng. I didn't want to be a bother. But an idea had been planted in my head by Ladye Love and her husband Reggie, "You should ask Jimmy C Newman to sing on your new project," they said. "He's from south Louisiana too. You could have him sing on 'Jambalaya!'" (Which was one of the tracks I had recorded a few days earlier.) "Oh, yeah…fat chance that will happen," I thought to myself. "Jimmy C Newman is in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, AND the Cajun Music Hall of Fame, and he sings pretty much every week on the Opry. Why would he be interested in singing on my album?" But this was my one chance; I had to make a decisive move. So as Jimmy passed near me, and Ladye Love reached out, hoping to get his attention and introduce me, I rang out in Cajun French, "Comment ça va, cher!?" He stopped dead in his tracks, looked around to see who had spoken to him in Cajun, saw me grinning, and started rattling off in Cajun. It was loud backstage, and I could hardly hear a word he was saying. But he was smiling, so I knew that whatever it was, it was good! We tried to converse in French for a time, but with the noise and my rusty French it was a challenge. That's when I thought I heard him invite my wife and I to come and hang with he and his accordion player, and dear friend, Bessyl Duhon in his dressing room. What??? Did I hear that right? I took a chance, "Uh…of course! We would love to hang with you in your dressing room!" Either he was too polite to embarrass a fellow south Louisiana, Cajun boy, or I had heard right. Either way, it was on! We sat in his dressing room and talked about south Louisiana, family, and the song "Jambalaya." That's when he took out his guitar and we sang a bit of the song, and he told me the history of how it had come to be written. I pressed my good luck. I told him I was recording a new project, and was currently in the process of tracking vocals. Then I dropped the bomb, "I would love for you to sing 'Jambalaya' with me on my new project if you would be willing and interested." He didn't even hesitate, "Sure. If you would like for me to, I'll help you out however I can." Say what??? Jimmy C Newman said "YES!" Woohoo!! The celebration began!
Between both our schedules, and Jimmy's health, it was difficult finding a day that worked for both of us. And the process of getting me and Jimmy in the studio together took until late February of this year, 2014. But once we settled on a day, I purchased a ticket to Nashville, booked some time in my friend's studio and headed east. I had mentioned to Jimmy that it would be fun if he would sing a verse of "Jambalaya" in Cajun French. But he responded that he didn't have a verse in Cajun, and that direct translations don't work very well. So I told him English would be great, whatever he was willing to do would be fantastic. Then several days later he called me, and in the excited voice of someone who still loves what they do, he left me a voice-mail, which I'm thankful to still have. "Hey, Rory! I hope you're doing okay. This is Jimmy C Newman, in Murfreesboro, TN. I'm looking forward to seeing you Monday; and I wanted to let you know I just wrote a second verse to 'Jambalaya' in French that I really like, and I hope you do to! So I look forward to talking to you!" He's been singing "Jambalaya" longer than I've been alive, without a verse in French. But he took the time to write one to sing on my project. What a wonderful gift!
Jimmy drove well over an hour to get to the studio in west Nashville. And being the wonderful, giving man that he was, called while en route to ask if he could invite a friend, Paul Gregoire, who plays Cajun accordion to come to the session. He said once I met Paul, a fellow south Louisiana Cajun, I might also want to put him on the track. He was right! We ended up tracking Paul on Cajun accordion that day, as well. And as it turns out, Paul is a fantastic guy, with whom I am continuing to build a friendship. The conversations in the room kept switching back and forth between Cajun and English, and through all the fun, we ended up getting a fantastic recording.
In my humble opinion, this version of "Jambalaya" is probably the best version of the song ever recorded. And the thanks goes to many people: Tim McMillen, my SW Louisiana friend, and the arranger who took my vision of what I wanted the arrangement to be, and was able to put it on paper; the amazing musicians in my band who took the notes on the page, and made truly great music out of them. And last, but certainly not least, Jimmy C Newman, who gave to the track his amazing talent, and one of a kind personality. He added a spark that set fire to the entire recording. And though Jimmy is now gone from this world to a better place, his fire still burns bright here below. What a privilege I have to work with such amazing people and musicians. I am truly thankful and blessed. Sing on Jimmy! AHH EEEE!
Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen for yourself and learn more about the album right here!