Jambalaya (On the Bayou)

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"Jambalaya (On the Bayou)"
Single by Hank Williams
B-side "Window Shopping"
Released 19 July 1952
Format 7"
Recorded 13 June 1952
at Castle Studio, Tulane Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee
Genre Country, pop
Length 2:52
Label MGM
K-11283 (U.S. 7")
Writer(s) Hank Williams
Hank Williams singles chronology
"Half as Much"
"Jambalaya (On the Bayou)"
"Settin' the Woods on Fire"
Audio sample
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"Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" is a song written and recorded by American country music singer Hank Williams that was first released in July 1952. Named for a Creole and Cajun dish, jambalaya, it spawned numerous cover versions and has since achieved popularity in several different music genres.


With a melody based on the Cajun song "Grand Texas", some sources, including Allmusic, claim that the song was co-written by Williams and Moon Mullican, with Williams credited as sole author and Mullican receiving ongoing royalties. Williams' biographer Colin Escott speculates that it is likely Mullican wrote at least some of the song and Hank's music publisher Fred Rose paid him surreptitiously so that he wouldn't have to split the publishing with Moon's label King Records.[1] Williams' song resembles "Grand Texas" in melody only. "Grand Texas" is a song about a lost love, a woman who left the singer to go with another man to "Big Texas"; "Jambalaya", while maintaining a Cajun theme, is about life, parties and stereotypical food of Cajun cuisine. The protagonist leaves to pole a pirogue – a flat-bottomed boat – down the shallow water of the bayou, to attend a party with his girlfriend Yvonne, and her family. At the feast they have Cajun cuisine, notably Jambalaya, crawfish pie and filé gumbo and drink liquor from fruit jars. Yvonne is his "ma chaz ami-o", which is Cajun French for "my good girlfriend" (“ma chère amie” in French). Williams uses the term "ma chaz ami" as one word, thus the "my" in front of it. The "o" at the end of "ami" is a poetic/lyrical device making the line match the phrasing of the previous line and rhyme with it.

Recording and release[edit]

Williams recorded the song on June 13, 1952, his first recording session in six months, at Castle Studio in Nashville with backing provided by Jerry Rivers (fiddle), Don Helms (steel guitar), Chet Atkins (lead guitar), Chuck Wright (bass) and probably Ernie Newton (bass).[2] Interestingly, the recording Williams made differs significantly from Mullican's. Since the original melody of the song was from "Grand Texas," the song is a staple of Cajun culture. However, although Williams kept a Louisiana theme, the song is not a true cajun song, and it is precisely because of this that song gained such widespread popularity:

"Ethnic music is usually unpalatable for a mass market unless it is diluted in some way (Harry Belafonte's calypsos, Paul Simon's Graceland...the list is endless). The broader audience related to 'Jambalaya' in a way that it could never relate to a true cajun two-step led by an asthmatic accordian and sung in patois."[1]

Released in July 1952, it reached number one on the U.S. country charts for fourteen non-consecutive weeks.[3] After Williams released his version, Cajuns recorded the song again using Cajun instruments. However, they used Williams' lyrics translated into the Cajun French language. "Jambalaya" remains one of Hank Williams' most popular songs today; it is likely that every cajun and zydeco band is obliged to play it whether they want to or not. International, translated or derived versions do exist at least in Chinese, Dutch, Finnish, French, Italian, Polish German, Spanish and Estonian.

A demo version of Williams singing "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" with just his guitar, likely recorded in 1951,[4] is also available. Williams composed a sequel to the song from the female perspective, "I'm Yvonne (Of the Bayou)", with Jimmy Rule, recorded by Goldie Hill. It was not as popular. As with "Jambalaya" there is speculation that Williams may have purchased this song from Mullican.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1952) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 1
U.S. Billboard Most Played By Jukeboxes 20

Cover versions[edit]

Sheet music of "Jambalaya" with Jo Stafford
Single by Jo Stafford
Released 1952 (1952)
Genre Traditional pop
Writer(s) Hank Williams
Jo Stafford singles chronology
"You Belong to Me"
"Early Autumn"
Single by John Fogerty
from the album The Blue Ridge Rangers
Released 1973 (1973)
Genre Country
Writer(s) Hank Williams
John Fogerty singles chronology
"Blue Ridge Mountain Blues"
"Hearts of Stone"
Preceded by
"It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" by Kitty Wells[7]
Best Selling Retail Folk (Country & Western) Records
number one single by Hank Williams and His Drifting Cowboys

September 6, 1952[7]
December 18, 1952[7]
Succeeded by
"It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" by Kitty Wells[7]
"Back Street Affair" by Webb Pierce[7]


  1. ^ a b Escott, Colin & 2004 214.
  2. ^ Escott, Colin & 2004 347.
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 387. 
  4. ^ Escott, Colin & 2004 328.
  5. ^ Carpenters UK chart history, The Official Charts Company. Retrieved March 20, 2012.
  6. ^ "Hunter Hayes Bio | Hunter Hayes Career". CMT. Retrieved 2014-07-31. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Whitburn, Joel (2005). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2005. Record Research, Inc. p. 604. ISBN 0-89820-165-9. 

External links[edit]