- Creative Commons / David Simpson cajunzydecophotos
- Doug Kershaw's autobiographical “Louisiana Man” was a career-defining Top 10 hit that’s since become an Americana standard.
But the higher-profile — and likely higher-paying — New Orleans show evaporated when organizers scrapped the fest over COVID concerns. The 85-year-old musician kept the San Antonio engagement, figuring he’d rather play a Monday night than not at all. The San Antonio show is capped at 100 tickets.
“I feed off the audience. That’s who I’m entertaining when I’m live: I’m one of them,” said Kershaw, best known for his fiddle prowess, although he’s proficient on a dizzying 28 instruments.
The need to perform took root early for Kershaw, the son of a South Louisiana alligator hunter. He played his first gig at the age of 9 at a bar called the Bucket of Blood with his mother accompanying him on guitar.
As half of Rusty and Doug, a duo formed with one his brothers, Kershaw cranked out singles in the ’50s and early ’60s that merged Cajun sounds with country and rockabilly. Among those was the autobiographical “Louisiana Man,” a career-defining Top 10 hit that’s since become an Americana standard.
A solo career followed, which included acclaimed releases such as Mama Kershaw’s Boy and performances with anyone from Bob Dylan to Hank Williams Jr. to Grand Funk Railroad. More recently, Kershaw has turned his attention back to singing in French, having released the album Face to Face with fellow Cajun musician Steve Riley in 2014.
We caught up with Kershaw by phone from his home in Colorado to talk about what keeps him performing, why he thought Cajun music could find wide acceptance and his connection to San Antonio musical icon Doug Sahm.
What made you decide that Monday night in San Antonio was still worth showing up for, even if you can’t tie it in with Jazz Fest?
Well, let me tell you something. I’ve run out of walls in my house to climb. I want to get back on the road. I just want to get back and play. I think — I know — this is going to be great. It’s going to be fun.
Prior to the pandemic, how many nights out of the year were you out playing?
Oh, at least 50, 60.
What keeps you so eager to stay on the road?
It’s my life. I just love it. I like to perform. I love to perform. I told them, with all of my family, they’ve seen my show, so I can’t perform it for them anymore. Getting out on the road with the fans and people, that’s my life, you know? I’m not going to quit. Never.
What was it about Cajun music that made you think that it could have an audience wider than Louisiana?
I’m going to talk culture. The first thing that got me is I grew up being ashamed of being a Cajun because nobody explained it to me. When I wrote “Louisiana Man,” I decided you know, bull with this. I actually took my culture around the world. Introduced the world to the culture, and the music just followed. Of course, there’s so much ... Cajun music is great. Even when I do it in English, it’s wonderful.
Are you surprised that music you recorded so many years ago is still beloved by so many people and that new generations keep discovering it?
Absolutely. I’m humbled. I had no idea when I was doing that stuff, you know? The Rusty and Doug catalog, it’s just an incredible thing. It came around, along with my solo career. Matter of fact, it probably helped a lot, but yes, it’s very surprising. Songs like, “Hey Mae,” a little song I wrote, big, big time. You go to England, and it’s an anthem. Yes, very surprised and appreciative.
I was fascinated to learn that you have a significant San Antonio musical connection. You introduced Doug Sahm to Huey P. Meaux, the record producer who helped launch the Sir Douglas Quintet.
Huey Meaux, I did. Yes. My brother and I, we brought him to Houston and got him started.
Were you surprised how fruitful that meeting of minds turned out to be?
No, no, because I saw the talent. I saw it. Doug Sahm is such a talent. There’s a lot of people with talent that don’t know what to do with it. Doug Sahm did. I heard him in the nightclub, and I could see right then that he could become a star. And he did. By golly, he did. We were friends up until he died.
$25, 7 p.m. Monday, October 11, Lonesome Rose, 2114 N. St. Mary’s St., (210) 455-0233, thelonesomerose.com.
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