Jimmy C. Newman grew up in French Louisiana, hearing Cajun music as well as Gene Autry and other country musicians. He began playing with Chuck Guillory’s Rhythm Boys. Later he played on the Louisiana Hayride, and in 1956, he joined the Grand Ole Opry. Even with commercial success as a country music star, Newman recalled his roots, introducing a wider audience to Cajun sounds. After his passing in 2014, producer and musician Joel Savoy teamed up with Jimmy’s son Gary Newman, to record a tribute, Farewell, Alligator Man, released on Valcour Records in 2017. Here’s Gary.
Gary Newman: He grew up right outside of Big Mamou in a little community called High Point, Louisiana, and he did various jobs around the area. I think he helped his older brother, Uncle Walter, in the oil field as a welder’s helper. One good thing that came out of that was Uncle Walter showed him how to play the guitar and kind of turned him on to Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest Tubb. He started playing music with a local band, Chuck Guillory and the Rhythm Boys and was a rhythm guitar player and occasionally he would sing a French tune. His popularity I guess kind of grew from there. My earliest memories were when Dad was on the Louisiana Hayride. Dad would drive up there, and I can remember sitting in the back of his ’54 Buick and listening to parts of the Louisiana Hayride. I grew up around country music and Dad’s friends, so you know in the early days it was George Jones who would come over to the house. He and Dad were close. They kind of came up and started their careers together. When Dad was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1956 I think it was, we moved up there and then of course we’re going to parties, and you know there’s legends, Johnny Cash, Roy Acuff, and just all the superstars back in the day in the early ‘50s and 60’s.
Nick Spitzer: “Cry, Cry Darling” was one of your father’s big records, and it’s an English language record. I mean if you didn’t know his personal history, you would just assume he was a regular Nashville star.
GN: Right, yeah. That particular song put him on the Opry. Back in that period of time in the ‘50s, if you were a country singer, the ultimate goal was to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was a national country music star, and it became a national hit. I think it got up to maybe number 4 in the country charts.
NS: How do you think your father personally sorted out this question of Cajun, American?
GN: Well I do know he was very, very proud of his heritage, and he realized that it was a unique part of America. He promoted the Cajun culture throughout his whole career so in all of his shows he always threw in Cajun numbers with the standard country songs he became nationally famous for.
NS: Well one of the great dreams it seems to me is Valcour Records’ Farewell, Alligator Man, Joel Savoy, Kelli Jones, Caleb Klauder, and Reeb Willms, with Gary Newman on bass. Gary, in the end, what does Farewell, Alligator Man mean to you, hearing your father’s music made new?
GN: I’m really proud to be part of it, and I’m really happy it was done, but I wish Dad was still alive to hear it. I think he would really appreciate it.
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