For years now, Courtney Granger has been best known as the fiddle player in the renowned Cajun band the Pine Leaf Boys. Now Granger is taking things in a different direction with the release of his debut solo album Beneath Still Waters, which comes out on October 14th on Louisiana label Valcour Records. Cajun music and country music often overlap, perhaps most notably in Hank Williams’ timeless “Jambalaya (On The Bayou)”. Like many people in Louisiana, Granger was raised in a household that embraced both styles of music, and even though he pursued the path of a Cajun fiddler, he always nurtured a deep love of country music.
One of his favorite country crooners is George Jones, and Beneath Still Waters is essentially a tribute to Jones. Granger puts down the fiddle for much of the album to focus on nailing the classic country sound as he covers songs by the likes of Jones and others. We may know Granger for playing Cajun music, but within seconds of listening to Beneath Still Waters you’ll think he’s been a country singer all his life. This is the kind of stuff that is increasingly popping up with the success of acts like Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton, and we should all be happy for that. Recently Granger took the time to chat about falling in love with George Jones and country music, and keeping a little bit of Cajun in the new album. We’re also excited to share an exclusive listen to a couple tunes from the album.
The obvious question is, what motivated you to go and make an album in the vein of George Jones after being in a Cajun band for so long?
Well, I love George, but I didn’t deliberately go in trying to sound like George Jones, although I admit my vocal style is heavily influenced by him. I just wanted to make a record of the style of Country music that I grew up with. I grew up loving Country music and Cajun music at the same time, it’s always been a part of my life, but it was something I did privately or at a jam session somewhere. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to pursue this professionally.
What drew you specifically to George Jones?
I grew up playing Cajun music, and the style in which you sing Cajun music comes straight from the heart, from the soul, and that’s the way George sang it. It was very familiar to me. His music touched me quiet like the Balfa Brothers did singing Cajun music. I was just drawn to that.
Can you talk about some of the similarities and links between Country music and Cajun music that you have found?
It’s hard for Cajun and Country music not to be influenced by each other, with Texas and Louisiana being neighboring states. Lots of Cajun fiddlers were influenced by Bob Wills, including Harry Choates and Dewey Balfa. During WW2, lots of Cajuns went to Port Arthur to work in the Merchant Marines and learned a lot from the Texas Swing musicians there. Country musicians were very influenced by the Cajuns as well. Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” was said to be learned from a Cajun song named “Grand Texas (Big Texas)”.
Do you remember who first played you Country music?
My mom and grandmother. My grandmother was a huge Conway Twitty fan. She loves him. My mom is just a lover of music. Any music that makes her feel something, she loves.
How did you go about choosing the songs on the album?
Well, I’m not a songwriter, so I had to do a lot of searching. I searched for songs that touched me, songs that made the hairs on my arm stand up. I also didn’t want to put a lot of well known number one hits on there either. Dirk Powell and I did a lot of research for that perfect combination and I think we came up with a really good final list of songs.
Can you talk about some of the personnel you worked with on this album and what they brought to the table?
Well, I can’t answer this question without first mentioning that I’m one lucky guy to have such amazing friends helping me out on the recording. To have Alice Gerrard agree to sing some harmonies with me was so exciting. She is a true master and a lovely human being. I originally wanted her to sing, “Don’t Put Her Down” with me because she originally recorded this song with Hazel Dickens and I thought it would be so special to have her on there, but she ended doing a few songs with me, it turned out amazing. I was also honored to have Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum play and sing. Years ago, Laurie made me promise her that if I ever did a Country project she had to be on it, so I had to keep that promise. I’m glad I did!
The album was produced with Dirk Powell. How did you connect with Dirk and what did he bring to the table as far as musical direction and tone for the album?
I’ve know Dirk Powell for over 20 years. We were in a Cajun group called Balfa Toujours together and he was also married to my cousin, Christine Balfa. It was just a natural decision to make. I’ve had people offer to produce the record, and I was thankful for that, but I knew I needed to work with Dirk. He knows me, he knows my life, he knows my soul, and he knew exactly which songs that I would be able to reach deep into. It was just natural.
Fiddle playing has a strong presence throughout the album and on some tunes it has that distinctly Cajun sound. Was this intentional or do you find you’re naturally drawn to playing like that after all this time?
Well, I’m not a great Country fiddler, I leave that to the professionals, but there were a couple of songs that suited my style of playing and that I knew I could pull off, but Jamey Bearb did most of the fiddling on the record. He’s also an amazing Cajun fiddler from the Lafayette, La. area. I’ve always admired his playing and we have the same taste in Country music, so I just felt he’d be the best man for the job, powerful and tasteful.