"Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" is a song written and recorded by American country music singer Hank Williams that was first released in July 1952. Named for a Creole and Cajun dish,jambalaya, it spawned numerous cover versions and has since achieved popularity in a number of music genres.

Authorship[edit source | editbeta]Edit

With a melody based on the Cajun song "Grand Texas", some sources, including Allmusic, claim that the song was co-written by Williams and Moon Mullican, with Mullican uncredited but receiving ongoing royalties.

Released in July 1952, crediting Williams as the sole author, it was performed by Williams as a country song. It reached number one on the U.S. country charts for fourteen non-consecutive weeks.[1] "Jambalaya" remains one of Hank Williams' most popular songs today.

Cajun roots[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Since the original melody of the song was from a Cajun French song called "Grand Texas," the song is a staple of Cajun culture. Although Williams changed the lyrics, he kept a Louisiana theme. After Williams released his version, Cajuns recorded the song again using Cajun instruments. However, they used Williams' lyrics translated into the Cajun French language. Over the past few decades, the Cajun French version has been performed by many Cajun bands including Aldus Roger and Jo-El Sonnier.

Theme[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Williams' song resembles "Grand Texas", a Cajun French song, in melody only. "Grand Texas" is a song about a lost love, a woman who left the singer to go with another man to "Big Texas". "Jambalaya", alternatively, is about life, parties and stereotypical food of Cajun cuisine. The song has a Cajun theme, possibly inspired by Williams' time with the Louisiana Hayride, though Louisiana Hayride was recorded in Shreveport, a city with very little Cajun cultural influence. Referenced within the song are such Cajun dishes as jambalaya, crawfish pie, and filé gumbo. Some listeners are confused by Williams' reference to "my ma chaz ami-o", which is Cajun French for "my dear friends" ("mes chèrs amis" in French). Williams uses the term "ma chaz ami" as one word, thus the "my" in front of it. The "o" at the end of "ami" is a poetic/lyrical device making the line match the phrasing of the previous line and rhyme with it. The refrain "son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou" has become a well-recognized and often repeated phrase.[citation needed] One line that most performers sing incorrectly is "The Thibodeaux, the Fontenots, the place is buzzin'." Thibodeaux ("tib a doh") and Fontenot ("font a noh") are common family names in South Louisiana, which is the setting for the song, and Williams sings them as plural names: "the tib a dohz," " the font a nohz."

Williams composed a sequel to the song from the female perspective, "I'm Yvonne (Of the Bayou)", with Jimmy Rule. It was not as popular. As with "Jambalaya" there is speculation that Williams may have purchased this song from Mullican.

Later researched by a member of Moon Mullican's family, a story emerged about how the song came about in the first place, and it was said that while visiting a small bar located just south of the Choupique Bayou and owned by Yvonne Little, the song "Jambalaya" referred to some truly wonderful times had there.[citation needed]

Chart performance[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Chart (1952) Peak


U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 1
U.S. Billboard Most Played By Jukeboxes 20

Cover versions[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[1][2]Sheet music of "Jambalaya" with Jo Stafford

A version of the song was recorded by Jo Stafford in 1952, reaching #3 on the Billboard pop charts (and making the song well known to people other than country music fans). Mitch Miller had originally intended "Jambalaya" to be recorded by Jimmy Boyd for Columbia Records. Boyd turned the song down and Miller recorded it with Jo Stafford. Years later Jimmy Boyd did record it for Dot Records. It was further popularized in a Rock'n'Roll version by Fats Domino.

The Carpenters featured the song, in an uptempo MOR version with country flourishes, on their 1973 album Now & Then. Their version was released as a single outside the United States in 1974 and sold well in the UK (peaking at number 12 in the charts)[2] and Japan.

Other artists who have performed the song includeThe MetersJerry Lee LewisJimmy C. NewmanLeon RussellCharley PrideJimmy BuffettJeff Healey on his 2008 album Mess of BluesEmmylou Harris included it in her 1976 album Elite HotelMoon MullicanJohn Fogerty (whose version hit #16 in 1973 under the name of The Blue Ridge Rangers), The MuppetsGerry and the PacemakersBrenda LeeHarry Connick, Jr.Lucinda WilliamsNitty Gritty Dirt Band (whose version peaked at #84 in 1972), Billy "Crash" CraddockGeorge JonesThe ResidentsLeo KottkeWes PaulDolly Parton, Roomful of Blues, Andy KaufmanProfessor LonghairShocking BlueFreddy FenderThe White StripesTab Benoit, and Tommy Funderburk (appearing in the film Steel Magnolias), Van Morrison andLinda Gail Lewis on their 2000 album You Win AgainDoug Kershaw and The Residents among many others.

A recording by The Tanner Sisters with orchestra Cond.: Don Carlos was made in London on September 25, 1952. It was released by EMI on the His Master's Voice label as catalog number B 10418.

Ex-Hong Kong female singer, CHANG Loo (張露), covered this song twice. The first version was covered in Mandarin Chinese entirely, under title name of 小癩痲 in the mid-1950s. The second one was covered, in alternate English and Mandarin Chinese, under title name of Jambalaya/小癩痲, on her LP album An Evening With Chang Loo in 1963. In 1978, another Hong Kong female singer, Paula Tsui (徐小鳳), covered the Mandarin Chinese version made by CHANG Loo, on her LP album 風雨同路.

In 1974, Singapore-based female singer, Ervinna, covered this song, on her LP album Top Hits Vol. 2 with the local White Cloud Records.

In India, Usha Iyer (now Usha Uthup) recorded a version in 1968 on the HMV label, that became the best selling song until then, by an Indian artist in English.

Džo Maračić Maki released 'Jambolaya' in the Croatian language.[3]

International, translated or derived versions do exist at least in ChineseDutchFinnishFrenchItalianPolish (as 'Baju-baj, proszę pana' recorded by Anna Jantar), German and Estonian. In 2005, two versions of "Jambalaya" surged in Mexican folk music, one by Banda Limón and the other from the Duranguense group K-Paz de la Sierra. However, in Mexican music, the most famous cover version is by Los Felinos.

Country star Hunter Hayes made his debut, at four year old, covering the song on the accordion with Hank Williams, Jr.[4]

External links[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Preceded by

"It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" by Kitty Wells[5]

Best Selling Retail Folk (Country & Western) Records

number one single by Hank Williams and His Drifting Cowboys September 6, 1952[5] December 18, 1952[5]

Succeeded by

"It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" by Kitty Wells[5] "Back Street Affair" by Webb Pierce[5]