Isidore Soucy

Starting in the early '20s, Isidore Soucy reigned over the French-Canadian fiddle scene like some kind of hefty king. He was the first to cut records of many tunes that remain in the standard repertoire of this genre. And although he had a successful career for close to half a century, he always remained poor, a factor most biographers attribute to his having fathered a dozen children. Soucy learned fiddle from his father, Elzeor Soucy, who also performed professionally. The father's repertoire was passed along to his son completely by ear, seemingly the approved method in this type of music. Young Soucy began recording shortly after he moved to Montreal in 1925. His first sessions were done for Columbia, a label which was pushing the idea of French-Canadian music, sensing a possibility for heavy sales among the Québecois population living in New England. In his second year of recording, Soucy cut the famous "Reel Du Pendu" or "Hanged Man's Reel," which would become a staple in the French-Canadian fiddle book, later to be frequently played by second-generation fiddle star Jean Carignan. The song got such a good reaction that the label put Soucy back in the studio to do a new version using a more advanced recording process. Soucy became inspired to focus on his composing, and in tandem with his recording opportunities was able to document a series of pieces that few fiddlers since have been able to match. His style became wilder and wilder, leading one critic to compare his playing to "an opium addict's reconstruction of a fractured "Arkansas Traveler." Some of the pieces he recorded with harmonica backup sound similar to Cajun music. His brother Fernando Soucy provides piano backup on many of these recordings, the siblings pushing each other to frantic extremes. In the '30s he recorded for RCA Victor, continuing to modernize his style. He did some recordings with even larger ensembles, the backup often featuring clogging for percussion as well as piano, guitar, and harmonica. The recording of "Reel De La Guignolee" is considered one of his classics. In the 1940s, styles and audience taste began to change and the brothers reacted by creating La Famille Soucy, more of a pop music creation featuring vocals from Fernando and more emphasis on accordion than fiddle. And unfortunately for fans of his fiddle playing, Isidore's contributions continued to be downplayed as he recorded a series of albums for RCA featuring larger and larger ensembles playing a kind of country pop that lacked the personality and intensity of his earlier recordings. He is remembered not only for his own music, but by proving there was a market for this genre, thereby creating opportunities for many other performers. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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