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Jo-El Sonnier

There have been better-known figures than Jo-El Sonnier within the Cajun music tradition of Louisiana. And there have been Louisiana musicians, such as Doug Kershaw, who have taken simplified versions of Cajun music to Nashville and experienced greater success in the world of country music. But no one has moved as easily between Cajun and country music as Sonnier, and no one is as well respected as a bridge between musical traditions. A fixture of the traditional Cajun scene, Sonnier has also reached the top levels of the country charts and brought his energetic accordion sounds to recordings by artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Steven Curtis Chapman.

Sonnier was born the son of French-speaking sharecroppers near Rayne, LA. He was raised in extreme poverty, often working in the cotton fields with his parents. Sonnier began playing his much older brother's battered accordion at age three and was soon known as something of a Cajun-music prodigy. He first performed on the radio when he was six (on Crowley, LA, station KSIG) and was recording by 11. As a teenager Sonnier became a well-established Cajun musician, recording four albums and at least a dozen singles on regional Louisiana labels. (Some were reissued in 2000 on the Cajun Valentino album, whose title referred to Sonnier's billing at the time.) He moved to California in search of wider fame in the early '70s, landing session work and making friends among the Los Angeles music elite, and he seemed to have stardom within his grasp when he was signed to the Mercury label's Nashville division. Sonnier's Mercury releases attempted to make him into a Lousiana version of the wildly successful Freddy Fender, mixing his accordion with Nashville electric bass guitars and including French-language passages in some songs. Sonnier experienced little commercial success at the time, but his Mercury material continued to amass fans and was reissued in its entirety in 1992.

Meanwhile, Sonnier temporarily gave up on country music and returned to Lousiana, cutting the Grammy-nominated Cajun Life album for the Rounder label. Merle Haggard tapped Sonnier as an opening act in the early '80s, and renewed contacts with California musicians such as Albert Lee, who was then helping to spearhead Nashville's traditional-country revival as part of Emmylou Harris' Hot Band, led Sonnier to take another shot at recording in Nashville. Signed to RCA, he released the album Come On Joe in 1987. The album coincided with the crest of the late-'80s neo-traditionalist wave, and Sonnier soon was sharing country airwaves with the likes of Randy Travis as the album spawned two Top Ten singles, the ballad "No More One More Time" and a ferocious cover of British folkster Richard Thompson's Cajun-inspired "Tear-Stained Letter."

Sonnier moved to Capitol in the early '90s, but the new trend toward country music rooted in '70s rock left him behind. Although his country career never really recovered, Sonnier remained in heavy demand as a Nashville session player. Sonnier appeared on recordings by Alan Jackson and Harris and went far beyond country music with guest slots on releases by Elvis Costello and Edie Brickell & New Bohemians. He also had success as a songwriter; both Patty Loveless and George Strait recorded Sonnier's "Blue Is Not a Word," and he consistently placed songs on albums by other artists in the late '80s and early '90s. Sonnier also dabbled in acting, appearing in the films Mask, They All Laughed, and A Thing Called Love. Finally he returned to pure Cajun music and to the Rounder label, where he teamed with Beausoleil's Michael Doucet on several 1990s releases. A second Grammy nomination came Sonnier's way for the 1997 release Cajun Pride, and he joined fellow Louisianan Eddy Raven for the album Cookin' Cajun. Sonnier toured widely, performing at the New Orleans Jazz Festival and the Grand Ole Opry (in 1999) and visiting Europe and South America. His self-released album Cajun Blood won him a third Grammy nomination, one for the 2001 Best Traditional Folk Album award. By the early 2000s, Sonnier seemed to have found his niche: He was a true ambassador of French-descended Louisiana. ~ James Manheim
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Cajun Tradition

1. Vien Dans My J'oin

2. Les Flammes D'enter

3. Jolie Fille

4. Midland Two Step

5. Allons A Lafayette

6. Chere Bassette

7. One-Step De Chameau

8. Lake Arthur Stomp

9. Chere Yeaux Bleu

10. Port Arthur Blues

11. Les Grande Bois

12. Rolling Pin

13. Ma Chere Bebe Creole

14. Step It Fast

x

Track List: Cajun Hymns

1. When The Saints Go Marching In

2. I Saw The Light

3. I'll Fly Away

4. Precious Lord, Take My Hand

5. This Little Light Of Mine

6. O How I Love Jesus

7. Will The Circle Be Unbroken

8. Peace Like A River

9. Just A Little Talk With Jesus

10. Rock Of Ages

11. Victory In Jesus

12. Blesses Assurance

13. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

14. Amazing Grace

x

Track List: Cajun Blood

1. Sang Cadien

2. I'd Like To Know

3. The Back Door

4. Eb' Tit Fille

5. Lafayette Waltz

6. Jolie Coeur

7. Flammes D'enfer

8. Cherokee Waltz

9. Quelle Etoile

10. Yo Yeux Noir

11. Allons A Lafayette

12. Bayou Teche

13. Cajun Blood

x

Track List: Cajun Pride

1. Lake Arthur Special

2. Juste Une Affaire

3. Pine Grove Blues

4. Lawtell Two Step

5. La Valse De Grand Mamou

6. French Blues

7. Mamou Two-Step

8. Midnight Waltz

9. Step It Fast

10. Jolie Fille

11. Amede Ardoin

12. Johnnie Fais Bien

x

Track List: Live In Canada

1. So Long Baby Goodbye (Live)

2. Big Mamou (Live)

3. Jolie Blon (Live)

4. Jambalaya (On The Bayou) (Live)

5. Johnny B. Goode (Live)

6. Rainin' In My Heart (Live)

7. Sugar Bee (Live)

8. Tear Stained Letter (Live)

9. Jolie Blon (Solo) (Live)

10. Interview With Jo-El Sonnier & Cajun Accordian Demonstation (Live)

x

Track List: Cajun Roots

1. J'etais Au Bal

2. La Valse Du Grande Cheims

3. Church Point Breakdown

4. La Branche Du Muriee

5. Evangeline Special

6. Calcasieu Waltz

7. Huppes Taiauts

8. La Chere Toute-Toute

9. Chere Joues Rose

10. Amedee Two Step

11. Laisse Les Bon Temps Rouler

12. La Valse Des Chere Bebe

x

Track List: Cajun Life

1. Jambalaya

2. Tes Yeux Bleu

3. Allons A Lafayette

4. Bayou Teche Waltz

5. Les Flammes D'enfer

6. Jolie Blon

7. Lacassine Special

8. Chere Alice

9. Lousiana Blues

10. Les Grands Bois

11. Perrodin Two-Step

12. Cajun Life

Comments

Report as inappropriate
vedkurt
Love Jo-el's music but I don't know why so many reviewers of Cajun musicians feel the need to dis Doug Kershaw in their reviews.
Report as inappropriate
Cajun to Cajuen ,Your the best Jo-el!!!! If Your song I will leave you like I found you is the most heart warming song ever wriiten. Thanks you for recording this song. I is so dear to my heart.
Report as inappropriate
johtd81
Do not know French but this is good stuff!
Report as inappropriate
We're at a concert in a small town in deep East Texas. Joseph El was the only performer that night. And wow what a Great guy he is. He played for 3 hours straight never enough for the fans. Wish he played places like Vegas, the American people just don't no what a jewel of a man and a top notch artist John El Sonnier is.
Report as inappropriate
Great sounds from Jo El here great beat. I can't understand this language but the music is outstanding.
Report as inappropriate
I know Jo-El, the comment left by Alan Siegel is spot on, Jo-El is the real deal! A caring, kind and talented man.
Report as inappropriate
Real deal!
Report as inappropriate
Still listen
Report as inappropriate
I can't speak any French but I like the songs
Report as inappropriate
Idon't speak alot of french but i understand it.
Report as inappropriate
He is great.
Report as inappropriate
can I get the lyrics pleasr
Report as inappropriate
I was born and raised in Eunice I spoke only French as a boy. French music is as sweet to ear is it is to the heart Jo-El is one of the best. Jo-El if you ever read this …… As a Cajun to a Cajun…from the bottom of my heart I THANK YOU for Cajun blood and for doing it in French and English….. so none speaking Cajuns can understand the words to Cajun Blood and its value to a Cajun
Report as inappropriate
wadeh8
Even though I cannot understand the French lyrics, Jo El Sonnier music will bring tears to my eyes from the emotion and soul that he puts into his music. He feels it, I can feel it. Life is good. Thanks Jo El for making my life sweeter.
Report as inappropriate
heard this fella on pandora .......best thing couda happened ...wife has alzheimers .....but she sit's all day listenin'n and it makes her so so happy ..!

thank u ...... Jo El Sonnier..... . ! ! ! ! !

Tanks from CTcowboy


Report as inappropriate
I to have LOVED Jo El Sonnier and his music....I got a chance to see him years ago in Lake Charles, Louisiana... . H e is so handsome and such a kind soul....I love a man that can play an accordion... . J u s t saying....LO L . . . .
Report as inappropriate
it good one
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wallace.mary 2 1
I have loved Jo El Sonnier since the first time I heard him. I wish we had a cajun music station that could be picked up in Pensacola, FL
Report as inappropriate
creolelorrai n e d u l e c h e
one of the best ever, but i wish he would make more albums with french lyrics...gre a t vocalist in the dance hall traditional style and his accordian playing is one of the best ever regardless of cajun, creole, zydeco, ranchera, tejano, polkas...etc
Report as inappropriate
I love the older traditional cajun music I grew up with but love joel.
Report as inappropriate
I Don't Think You Can Get Any Better Then JO-EL Sonnier,I Think He Is The Very Best.Keep Playing His Songs,I Love Them.

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