The Ragin’ Cajun
by Doug Kershaw with Cathie Pelletier
Mercer University Press
I’ve read loads of musical memoirs, but rarely have they been as compelling as The Ragin’ Cajun from the “Louisiana Man” himself, Doug Kershaw. Born in the southern Louisiana bayou in a little town called Tiel Ridge, Kershaw describes a way of life that most would find completely foreign. Raised on a houseboat, Kershaw and his brothers (Rusty and Peewee) lived in the deep swamps where simply getting by was extreme. They lived off whatever the bayou gave them, from mink hides to fish. He grew up speaking Creole French, didn’t own a pair of shoes until he was sent to school and suffered the loss of his father due to either a suicide or a drunken accident with a shotgun. He was surrounded by Cajun music and was able to play most any instrument but settled on fiddle, and he used it to take him from grinding poverty of the bayou to sharing the stage with jazz violinist Jean Luc Ponty and renowned classical violinist Itzahk Perlman.
His first national recognition came from appearing on Johnny Cash’s TV show from the Ryman, where he first met Bob Dylan. Kershaw’s mix of cajun, rock and roll and rockabilly were new to ears in 1969 (a situation that hasn’t changed much since then) and he had his first hit with the autobiographical “Louisiana Man”. It made him a star, but the downside was steep.
The Ragin’ Cajun documents Kershaw’s struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, starting with pep pills that musicians used to combat fatigue. Soon a potent combination of uppers and Chivas came to rule his life, ending his first marriage and rendering him nearly destitute. He is unsparing in his account of that part of his life, and by all accounts Kershaw is a real SOB – or as Mama Rita, his mother said it a fils de putain, – high or sober.
Thankfully Doug Kershaw survived, and at age 83 still performs a bit, and has written one of the most enjoyable accounts of a musical life in The Ragin’ Cajun. The Louisiana Man is a unique voice, a genuine rarity in American music. Laissez les bons temps rouler – Doug, you did good.