Originally created 05/04/01

Ramblin' Rhodes: Cajun singer feels at home at bluegrass festivals



The 14th annual Lewis Family Homecoming and Bluegrass festival boasts four Grand Ole Opry acts, including Cajun star Jimmy C. Newman, making his first Lewis festival appearance.

Mr. Newman and his Cajun Country band perform at 4 and 10 p.m. Saturday at Elijah Clark State Park, 10 miles east of Lincolnton, Ga., on U.S. Highway 378.

Other Opry acts in Saturday's lineup include the Osborne Brothers (Sonny and Bobby) and Jim & Jesse (McReynolds) and the Virginia Boys.

Opry member Ralph Stanley performs with his band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. today.

Entertainment starts today and Saturday at noon and continues until 11 p.m. Tickets are $25 each day, $15 after 6 p.m. Tickets for ages 6-13 are $12 each day. Children younger than 6 get in free. Take lawn chairs or blankets for seating.

Cajun music is a good fit with bluegrass, according to Mr. Newman.

"We've been playing quite a few bluegrass festivals over the last three years," he said in a telephone interview from his home in Murfreesboro, Tenn. "Cajun and bluegrass are both traditional music that runs parallel, and the same people usually enjoy them both.

"People are starving for real country music, and that's why bluegrass and Cajun music are so big."

In spite of the popularity of Cajun music, there are just a handful of major stars identified with the French-influenced musical style out of southern Louisiana, including Eddy Raven, Doug Kershaw and Jo-El Sonnier.

Early influences for the 73-year-old Mr. Newman were Jimmie Rogers, the Carter Family and Gene Autry.

By the late 1940s, the High Point, La., native was recording for an independent label owned by J.D. Miller. Dot Records signed Mr. Newman in 1953, and he scored his first national hit the next year with Cry, Cry, Darling.

He already had achieved regional fame as a member of the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, La., where he became close friends with artists Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley and Augusta-area resident Ginny Wright.

"I did two Texas tours with Elvis in the mid-'50s," said Mr. Newman. "I was there when he came to the Hayride (October 1954), and there when he left (March 1956). He ran off the older crowd when he came. And when he left, the younger crowd left, too.

"He came to the Hayride shaking, and he left shaking. He was a very different hillbilly, if he was a hillbilly, with his pink shirt and black pants. He was as nice as he could be, and very shy."

It also was with the Hayride cast that Mr. Newman acquired his stage name.

"My real name is James Yeve Newman," he said. "It was Hayride announcer T. Tommy Cutrer who first called me Jimmy C. Newman, with the `C' standing for `Cajun,'."

Mr. Newman marks his 45th anniversary with the Opry in August. Although country music today is a young people's game, he has survived.

"People who are new to country music but who are running it say, `Well, it's time for the young people to have their chance because these old people already have made theirs," Mr. Newman said. "Well, that's bull. We never had a chance to make it because there was no money to be made from country music in the late '50s and early '60s.

"Rock 'n' roll was giving us country artists a rough time. My 1954 release, Cry, Cry, Darling, was a smash hit in 1954, but it didn't do anything really in the amount of sales," he said. "Today, country music is more about corporations than the music. It got big like we hoped it would do, but us older artists got left behind when it grew."

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 30 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at ramblin@morris.com.