Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Fiddler David Greely departs the Mamou Playboys for the quiet of acoustic music. By Hope Rurik
|Photo by Hope Rurik|
On March 8, surrounded by Eunice’s drenched Mardi Gras revelers, David Greely said a tender and tearful goodbye to Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys — the band he and Riley founded more than 20 years ago.
“I always wanted to play Cajun music,” Greely said from the bandstand. “Not only did I get to play Cajun music, but I got to play with the greatest band.”
“He made the greatest Cajun band,” guitarist Sam Broussard countered.
The divorce is a necessary evil in order for Greely to maintain his hearing. Two years ago, the fiddler learned he was losing his ability to hear high frequency sounds. He suffers from a condition called tinnitus, meaning he hears a constant ringing that drowns out subtle tones and cues.
“You know what cicadas sound like in the summer?” Greely asks. “That’s what it’s like all the time.”
He says the sound is still low enough to ignore, but playing in clubs aggravates the problem, and it sometimes takes three days for the ringing to subside to a normal level. He can no longer play at the sound level clubs and dance halls require, and his retirement from the Playboys is actually a retreat into acoustic music.
“There are a lot of situations where it’s actually kind of unusual to set up bass and drums and be as loud as a Cajun bandstand is,” he says. “I love exploring Cajun music that’s more designed for house music. There’s a whole huge area of Cajun music that is designed for that and is really beautiful. It has its own kind of energy for sure; it’s not all mellow, but it’s joyous, gorgeous music played on acoustic instruments.”
Where many successful Cajun musicians are born into the culture and the art form, Greely studied it from a distance. The Baton Rouge native had the fascination and lineage, but no immediate connection. While living in San Antonio, he “bluffed” his way into a gig at Boudreaux’s restaurant.
“I thought, ‘Cool. I’ve got a gig playing Cajun music. Now, I’m gonna learn to play it,’” Greely recalls.
His stint at the restaurant was the catalyst for an increasing passion for Cajun music and culture that Greely continues to feed through constant research and at least two hours of daily practice. Although this new chapter means he will have the opportunity to explore new elements of his craft, Greely says he’ll miss his old audience.
“A Cajun dance hall audience is the most entertaining thing to people on the bandstand. Like when we play at Pat’s in Henderson, there’s not too many hipsters out there. It’s all down-home folk and, man, they have a blast, and they’re just such characters,” he says. “Just about every time I play, I get overcome with laughter, and I can’t play on one song or another.”
Greely may have started out faking it, but he made it and is still making it and says he hopes to keep making it for as long as he can.
GumboJet, GreelySavoyduo, and Marce LaCouture and David Greely are his current acoustic projects and the names to look for when longing for the Balfa-inspired whine of Greely’s fiddle.
“I’m having more fun playing music now than I ever have. I work on it constantly. I’m still involved with it — obsessed with Cajun music. I love it more than ever,” he says. “I’ve got 20, 30 years to go, if I’m lucky, and I want to be able to play music all that time, but if I keep punishing my hearing, I’ll have to quit.”
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