"The Back Door"
Only one Cajun song has made the Billboard Hot 100, the chart that tracks the nation’s top pop hits. Way back in 1961, Cleveland Crochet and his Hillbilly Ramblers climbed to no. 80 with “Sugar Bee,” a rock ‘n’ roll and R&B-flavored, English number that’s considered a standard today.
D. L. Menard’s “La Porte dans Arriere,” or “The Back Door,” never landed on any Billboard charts. But Menard’s song is easily the No.1 Cajun song of all time.
Since it was released in 1962, “The Back Door” has been played every day, somewhere in the world. The tune is just that popular.
Whether it’s on radio, TV or on stage, in the studio, in a jam session or on a jukebox, someone has played “The Back Door” today. It’s the first song many Cajun--and Zydeco--accordion players learn. Fans swarm to the dance floor each time they hear it.
If they don’t know all the lyrics of Menard’s anthem about carousing, drinking and false friends, they know at least one--”J’ai passe’ dedans la porte dans arriere,” or “I passed through the back door.”
Menard and his immortal song were honored with a 50th anniversary celebration Oct. 7th at the Begnaud House, 110 Benoit Patin Road, in Scott. The Begnaud House, a tourist information center for the city of Scott, is easily accessible from I-10 exit 97.
According to “Mama” Redell Miller, tourism coordination for the city of Scott, and overflow crowd turned out for stories, photos and autographs with Menard.
“It was remarkable,” said Miller. “More people than I imagined showed up. It looked like Mardi Gras.”
“Mr. D. L. was so excited. He got to tell stories about his life and adventures. We had musicians, from Mr. Terry Huval, down to a 9-year-old doing renditions of the song. The people went wild.”
Inspired by the Hank Williams classic, “Honky Tonk Blues,” “The Back Door” has reportedly sold more than 500,000 copies since its release. The tune has brought Menard, a lifelong resident of Erath, to more than 35 countries.
In the book “Cajun Music: A Reflection of the People,” Menard told author Ann Savoy that he wrote the song at work--in less than a half hour.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Menard told Savoy. “It just was some words that I had and I just put it together and by golly, it made a hit.
“...I was working at a service station in Erath when I wrote it. I had a little pad in my pocket; I’d write a few words and then there’s a car that would come; I’d have to go pump gas or grease a car, service a car … It would stop me… when I had a little time I kept on writing the words.”
Menard’s artistic creation at a service station has enjoyed international notoriety, but its 50th anniversary almost didn’t happen. Miller had been anxiously awaiting news of a golden anniversary celebration.
Nothing was mentioned in early 2012. The song’s 50th birthday in July came and went without notice. Miller finally asked Menard, who regularly plays for tour groups at the Begnaud House, if anyone was honoring his song.
“He looked me with the saddest eyes and said, ‘No Mama, nobody is’,” said Miller. “I told him ‘I’m the smallest fish in the pond here, but can I do a little something for you?”
“He got so excited and both of us shared a couple of tears. But he said OK.”
“I don’t know how this is going to turn out, but I wanted to do it with all the visitors coming from overseas this time of the year for all the festivals. All these people know him, so I’m hoping to get the word out to all of them.”
Miller hopes to have Menard sign 45 rpm, vinyl copies of the song from Swallow Records in Ville Platte, where he originally recorded the tune with Elias “Shuk” Badeaux and the Louisiana Aces.
It’s hard to leave Festivals Avadiens et Creole and other great events going on this weekend. If possible, stop in Scott Sunday to show some well-deserved gratitude for the No. 1 Cajun song of all time.
Written by Herman Fuselier, Fall 2012