In recent years, Hypolite was a fixture on the Acadiana club scene, regularly playing at venues such as 307 Downtown, Artmosphere and Clementine's in New Iberia. When I last visited Hypolite at his trailer in Cade in the spring of 2004, it was a reminder of his signature warmth, determination and optimism. He never flinched in the face of the financial hardships and health issues, and our conversation was filled with his hopes for international festival shows and recording future albums.
I was honored to write the liner notes for his debut CD, Louisiana Country Boy, in 2001. The album introduced him to a whole new fanbase and received uniformly positive reviews locally and nationally. Hypolite was immensely proud of Louisiana Country Boy, and after his unexpected and tragic passing, the CD now stands as a testament to a moving musical legacy. The original liner notes for Louisiana Country Boy follow, and I hope they still pay tribute to a gentle giant who overcame immense odds.
Harry Hypolite finished his day's work at the Fruit of the Loom factory in St. Martinville, La., and Clifton Chenier came by to see him. Hypolite occasionally played guitar with Chenier, the King of Zydeco, but now Chenier was issuing him a challenge.
"He wanted me to play with him regularly," remembers Hypolite. "I'd told him before, I didn't think so, but he kept after me. That day he said, 'You feel like you want to play some music? Then you've got to go out and get it if you want to make it.'"
More than two decades later, those words speak volumes for Hypolite. After heeding Chenier's call and playing with the zydeco legend until his passing, and more recently touring and recording with Clifton's son, C.J. Chenier, 63-year-old Hypolite is moving from the shadows to the spotlight. Louisiana Country Boy is his debut release, a moving testament to the power of faith and conviction.
"Nobody gave me a chance before," he notes. "But I said, 'I'm going to show 'em what I can do.' For me, this comes deep down in my soul. I want to play the blues, and I want to tell people about my Creole heritage."
Although he toured the world with the Cheniers, Hypolite's heart has always been in south Louisiana. He was born in St. Martinville on April 19, 1937, and the landscape was literally in his blood. As a boy, he picked cotton, okra and sweet potatoes, and worked the rice and sugar cane fields. Shoes were considered a luxury, and a grueling day in the brutal summer sun might net 75 cents and a plate of potatoes on a good day. The struggle was magnified when his mother died while he was young. "I had hard times coming up," he says. "I never forget where I came from."
Music became an outlet for him, and he started buying records by artists like B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. He taught himself to play, but he wasn't just learning by copying the licks off 45-RPM records. St. Martinville was home to the Dew Drop Inn, a popular juke joint on the chitlin circuit (and no relation to the famed New Orleans nightspot), and Hypolite took a job there.
"I used to stack up those soda water cases made out of wood and then stand up on 'em outside and watch the guys playing inside," he remembers. "I got to see T-Bone [Walker] and Gatemouth [Brown], Albert King, Albert Collins. I got to see Guitar Slim many times. Lord have mercy, thinking about 'The Things (I Used to Do)' brings me way back, when I was a young kid. I knew this was a song that would never be forgotten, and I've been having it in my mind to do it again. I saw Slim many times, always in those colorful clothes ' red, green yellow, purple."
The stamp of those formative years is all over Louisiana Country Boy. Like his peers Gatemouth Brown, Lonnie Brooks and Phillip Walker, Hypolite's guitar playing sings with the influence of the Gulf Coast, blending sweet single-note runs as wide open as Texas with greasier, syncopated licks cooked up for Louisiana swamp grooves. He takes a no-nonsense approach to playing zydeco and the blues.
"Zydeco is simple music," muses Hypolite. "Guys who try to play jazz and put big chords in zydeco make it hard on themselves. You just need to know how to phrase it right, and it has to have a feeling and a meaning to it."
Hypolite does just that on this recording by honoring Clifton Chenier with fresh versions of four songs from the King of Zydeco. He also pays homage to early blues inspirations. "Big Bad Girl" takes a cue from the school of slurred Jimmy Reed chords, and the brooding intro to "Someday" recalls the Fenton Robinson classic "Somebody Loan Me a Dime."
And as the album's title track reveals, Hypolite has bottled pure emotion by writing and singing autobiographical songs that reach all the way back to his childhood. He's been waiting for this moment for so long, played it over in his head so many times, that almost every song on this recording was done in one take, with no lyric sheets. On "Colinda," "You Used to Call Me" and "Hog for You Baby," Hypolite honors his heritage by warmly phrasing in Creole French. Three of the songs ' "For Better or Worse," "Big Bad Girl" and "Louisiana Country Boy" ' Harry improvised on the spot.
"My mind is like a computer," he says. "All these things that are on my mind, all the things I want to say, I could never forget. It's not a record where you go piece by piece. You've got to go straight up."
At a time when many blues artists are at the twilight of their careers, it's the dawn of Harry Hypolite's time in the sun. "This is like a dream for me," he says. "I'm proud of this record, and I've got plenty more tunes that I can do and that I think people are going to like. This is just the beginning."
Business organizations opposed the proposal, saying it would lead to job losses and higher prices for goods and services.
An attempt to repeal a six-year-old law that permits public school science teachers to use material outside a classroom's adopted textbook has been rejected by the Senate Education Committee.
New York Times poll shows Obama, Jindal have identical approval and disapproval ratings in the state.
OK, so they’re bentgrass, the type used on golf course greens. But grass is grass.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill Wednesday, despite opponents who argued it would shut down the storefront lenders.
A measure to allow the state to implement its own, less stringent plan for limiting carbon dioxide emissions unanimously passed the Senate.
FDA to regulate e-cigarettes, Jodie Foster gets married, Vermont to require labels on genetically-modified food, and more news for today, April 24, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
A push to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health care has been overwhelmingly rejected by the Senate health committee.
Louisiana welfare recipients would be prohibited in state law from spending the federal assistance at lingerie shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and jewelry stores, under a bill that received the support Wednesday of a House committee.
Senators will consider whether to prohibit private businesses in Louisiana from paying unequal wages to employees of different genders for the same job.
Rep. Joel Robideaux has delayed bill hearings and said unless a compromise can be reached, he won't bring up the legislation this session.
Once again, Lafayette Parish School Board President Hunter Beasley is focused on an issue that has nothing to do with the educational well-being of our public school children.
After exhausting his appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete has no legal remedy left save one: do an end run around the high court via a bill that would grandfather his “right” to keep a 550-pound tiger enclosed in a pin at his roadside business.
Louisiana poet Darrell Bourque has won the 2014 Louisiana Writer Award, given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to Louisiana's literary and intellectual life.
Drivers would have to secure dogs riding in truck beds while on interstate highways, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed by the House.
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Louisiana won't lessen its penalties for marijuana possession, keeping laws on the books that allow people to be jailed up to 20 years for repeat offenses of having the drug in hand.
“This is one of the oldest divides that exists, and that divide is about the haves and the have-nots.”
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
A bid to limit the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana stalled Monday in the Louisiana Senate.
A Shreveport lawmaker said Monday he's scrapping his proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana's official state book.
Attorney hopes fellow lawyers will join him in urging the D.A. to step aside and allow a competent, ethical challenger to take over the scandal-ridden office.
An official with the Louisiana Department of Education was arrested on a range of charges Friday after allegedly breaking into a home and brandishing a knife.