In 1952, Hank Williams earned a No. 1 hit with his track, “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” for a remarkable fourteen non-consecutive weeks. Williams recorded the track in Castle Studio in Nashville, with a top-drawer band including Chet Atkins on lead guitar, Jerry Rivers playing fiddle, and Don Helms on steel guitar.
The song was among the last to be released by Williams before his untimely death. Today, it is still noted as one of his most popular songs.
The Story Behind The Song
There were speculations that Hank Williams may have written “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” with country singer Moon Mullican and their friend Jimmy Rule; however, it could not be credited to Mullican because of his contract with King Records.
The song tells the tale of a man headed to the bayou for some fun. There will be drinking liquor from fruit jars, terrific company, and plenty of food: “Jambalaya, crawfish pie, and fillet gumbo.” Yes, the song is not just about the Cajun dish; it’s a two-minute musical look at American Cajun culture.
“A good-bye Joe, you gotta go, me oh my oh. He gotta go-pole the pirogue down the bayou. His Yvonne the sweetest one, me oh my oh. Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou,” the song begins.
Yvonne is the man’s “ma cher amio,” a Cajun French term that means “my good friend” or more likely “my girlfriend.” Regarding Cajun culture, “ma cher amio” means my dear, which refers to Yvonne in this song. Williams composed a sequel to “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” from the female perspective, titled “I’m Yvonne (Of the Bayou)” and was recorded by Goldie Hill; however, it was not as popular.
“Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” also spawned numerous cover versions and has since achieved popularity in several different music genres. The most notable one was of The Carpenters, who featured the song, in an uptempo pop version with country flourishes, off their album Now & Then in 1973. Their version was released as a single outside the United States in 1974, and it sold well in the United Kingdom (peaking at No. 12 in the charts), Mexico, Germany, and Japan.
Hank Williams’ Rare Live Performance of “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)”
Thanks to the 20-disc box set that was released in 2017, we got the opportunity to access over five hundred tracks of lost performances from our favorite country legends – that includes one from Hank Williams.
The box set was named after the Louisiana Hayride Show that took place at the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport, Louisiana, where music fans would flock every Saturday night for the best entertainment of their lives. Hank Williams would regularly play there at the start of his career and then towards the end.
Williams first performed in the Louisiana Hayride four months after it was launched in 1948 and another one when his career finally took off, so did the show’s popularity. In the introduction to the previously unreleased version of “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” emcee Horace Logan told the audience that Williams’ might sing another if they enjoy his song. If the audience approves, he’d be back the next week to sing even more songs.
After Logan’s introduction, Williams gave one of the best performances of “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” and the audience went absolutely wild! A little over two months later, Williams sadly passed away at just 29 years old.
You can watch Hank Williams belting out his classic “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” in the video below.