D L Menard
DL Menard plays guitar on Bryan Ferry's Frantic album on the Ledbelly song Goodnight Irene. D L is a weel respected Cajun Musician and has worked with many musicians.
Biography of Erath's native son D.L. Menard
ERATH - D. L. (Doris Leon) Menard was born April 14, 1932 in Erath, Louisiana. When people ask Menard what D.L. stands for, he will usually say, with a twinkle in his eyes, 'darn lucky'. The only child of Acadian farmers, Menard worked in the cane fields and the cotton fields of south Louisiana as a young child. At night, he would listen to an old battery powered wooden radio and tune in country stations from Del Rio, Texas and KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana, home of the then famous "Louisiana Hayride." Aired live on 50,000-watt AM radio, the show was relayed nationally by CBS and overseas by Armed Forces Radio. As Saturday night entertainment, it was addictive.
Times were hard and Menard had to often wait for months before he could sell a bale of cotton. He used those funds to purchase a new radio battery. He learned to sing country tunes in English long before he sang in French. His father was a popular harmonica player and his uncle played guitar. Menard purchased his first guitar from a Sears Roebuck catalogue when he was 16 years old and asked a member of his uncle's band to teach him how to play basic chords. A year later, he played his first Cajun dance for pay at the Palombo Night Club in Abbeville, Louisiana. He has been playing music and writing songs ever since.
An Acadian with ancestral roots going back to Nova Scotia, Menard began his education in public school speaking only French. During this period in Louisiana history, speaking French in school was prohibited. Dropping out of school at age 16, Menard began working and playing musical "gigs" to help make ends meet. In those days, in agrarian south Louisiana, quitting school and going to work was a common occurrence. He followed this path and it's a decision he regrets to this day.
Menard is nicknamed the "Cajun Hank Williams" because of his deep nasal inflections similar to that of Hank Williams Sr.'s singing style. Menard performs today in the post-war-Cajun dancehall style that has spread to the entire nation in recent years: the band plays in restaurants where entire families gather to share a social event together. When asked to describe his music, Menard pauses and looks you in the eye. "I don't know," he says, "I don't study myself! I just play my music! All I can tell you is it's Cajun music, with a real strong rhythm for dancing."
In 1951, the 19-year-old Menard had the opportunity to meet and talk to his long-time idol, Hank Williams Sr., at the Teche Club New Iberia when Williams performed there. Naturally, Menard was the first patron in the place and was able to sit and talk to Williams while the band tuned their instruments. When the other patrons discovered where the famous Williams was seated, they all wanted to meet and greet him and that proved to be the end of their conversation together. Williams encouraged Menard to be proud of his heritage and play his own type of music. D. L. tried to explain to Williams that his music was all French music and he was worried that people would not accept him if French music was all that he played. . During this time period, many people ostracized Cajuns; therefore, they were reluctant to buy records of their own music. Hank Williams Sr. told Menard, "All music is good if it's yours," and to "sing like you're singing to one person in the audience." Those simple, yet profound words have stuck with Menard all of his life and have indeed proved to be very helpful.
Today Menard is an accomplished guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and composer. He has visited 33 foreign countries such as France, Italy, Thailand, Norway, Brazil, Germany, Egypt and Japan due to the success of his best known song, "The Back Door," or, as it is pronounced in French, La Porte D'en Arrier. Folklorist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Dr. Barry Ancelet, has said that The Back Door is the most often played and recorded Cajun song. This song was penned while Menard was pumping gas in Erath in the early 1960's. It has catapulted him to the status of being a "Living Legend." He has performed for Mayors, Governors, Ministers, Congressmen and Presidents.
As a goodwill ambassador, D.L. Menard has received some of the most important awards in music and culture, including a Grammy Music Award nomination for the "Best Traditional Album" in 1993. His Lifetime Achievement Award denotes Menard as a Master Traditional Artist whose influence on generations of Cajun musicians has been immeasurable. He is in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, and the Cajun Music Hall of Fame. In 1993, D. L. and his "Louisiana Aces" band received the Times Music Award. In 1994, he received The National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, their highest honor, along with ten thousand dollars, which was presented to him by First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mrs. Clinton said of the honorees, "Each is an inheritor of the best of our cultural past, someone who has upheld the highest standards of achievement forged by generations of people who came here before. They also represent the very rich, collective, multi-stranded traditions that made up our country and made up the arts, which are so critical to the definition of who we are as a people."
Menard has written and recorded thirty-eight Cajun songs in French. He has performed at the Frontier Folklife Festival at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Kent State Folk Festival, the Border Folk Festival in El Paso, Texas, the Smithsonian Festival in Washington, D.C., the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, the Keerville Folk Festival in Texas, and the 1996 Olympics in Olympic Centennial Park among others.
Menard was recently featured on the Public Broadcasting System in an acclaimed 1999 Smithsonian documentary on ethnic music, "River of Song," which was favorably reviewed in Time magazine. Interestingly, the magazine article highlighted the town of Erath, which has been called "the most Cajun place on earth." Menard is indeed Erath's best-known native son. He never misses an opportunity to promote his hometown.
In 1973, D.L. Menard and the Louisiana Aces were invited to attend the National Folk Festival at Wolftrap Farm in Vienna, Virginia. The reception he received there was unusually enthusiastic and the event forever impressed Menard with the beauty and uniqueness of his culture and his music. Standing on stage before thousands of admiring fans in Virginia next to the most talented folk artists in the country, Menard said, "I never really understood the value of our music until now."
Menard and his wife, Lou Ella, live in their modest home, on the southern periphery of the Erath town limits. Lou Ella, always his mentor, is also an accomplished craftsperson and songstress. Together they own and operate a small chair factory. All chairs are lovingly hand made. Menard builds his chairs and rockers out of ash wood. His handmade rocking chairs are now sought after as collectors' items. DL Menards wife, Lou Ella, passed away April 7, 2001 after a brief illlness
Besides his music, D. L.'s favorite past time has been greeting tourists and journalists. A significant number of writers and fans from places such as France, Belgium, Canada and England regularly travel to Erath to visit with Menard and his wife Lou Ella. Tourists are always pleased to be able to meet this larger-than-life Cajun musician. Menard enjoys taking photos with tourists and signing autographs. Menard is always very jovial and loves to visit with musicians from every walk of life.
Seven years ago, the Menards experienced a terrible fire that destroyed their chair factory along with all of the vintage tools, equipment, and many rare antiques from the now closed Erath Sugar Refinery. With the community's support the Menards are rebuilding the factory and replacing the homemade equipment in order to continue the manufacture of chairs and rockers so that future generations will be able to enjoy the unique crafts of this most remarkable and talented man.