Sunday, July 21, 2024
Sunday, July 21, 2024

Musician Gary Newman

First published March 26, 2024; republished May 21, 2024

by KAREN LAGRANGE COX

Musician Gary Newman was raised during the rock and roll era, but the music and stories of the Golden Age of Country Music surrounded him. His father, Jimmy C. Newman, a native of Mamou, Louisiana, was an American country music and Cajun singer-songwriter and long-time star of the esteemed Grand Ole Opry. Gary’s exposure to country music and the Opry was largely due to his father’s contributions to the genre.

As a young child, Newman witnessed his father’s performances on the Louisiana Hayride Show (1954-1956) in Shreveport, Louisiana. Jimmy shared the Hayride stage with Elvis Presley and other renowned performers before joining the Opry in 1956.

In August 1956, Jimmy moved his wife, Mae, and son to Nashville, Tennessee, so he could perform on the Grand Ole Opry. This was after his hit song “Cry, Cry, Darling” became popular nationwide.

Newman remembers as a child, on their way to move from Evangeline Parish in Louisiana to Nashville, a flat tire in Baton Rouge interrupted their trip. After reaching Nashville, the family moved into a small studio apartment where Jimmy, Mae, Gary, and Rufus Thibodeaux, Jimmy’s fiddle player, lived. Thibodeaux and Jimmy became lifelong friends.

The only people the Newman family knew in Nashville were T. Tommy Cutrer and Tom Perryman, whom Jimmy knew from performing on the Louisiana Hayride. The two men had become announcers at the Grand Ole Opry.

Later, the family relocated to Hendersonville, Tennessee, near Johnny and June Carter Cash’s house. When Cash’s house was built around 1967, Newman shared how he and a friend wanted to see it inside, but the caretaker refused to let them in. However, they convinced the caretaker by offering him a six-pack of beer, and he let them in. He also recalled Patsy Cline being one of his babysitters as a younger child.

Newman’s musical influences include the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, and his father. He has a deep appreciation for country music’s traditional and authentic sound.

In 1967, Newman’s musical start was playing in rock and roll cover bands in high school. He later followed in his father’s musical footsteps; he became a musician playing upright bass, electric bass, and rhythm guitar.

When he turned eighteen during the Vietnam era, Newman had to choose between going to college and being drafted into the military. His parents had always encouraged him to obtain a college education, and he ultimately decided to attend college.

After graduating, Newman worked for American singer-songwriter Tom T. Hall for a while. He ran Hall’s publishing company and considered him one of the wisest men he had ever met.

His first time playing at the Grand Ole Opry was alongside his father in 1972. He acknowledges being nervous playing at the esteemed country music institution. They also appeared on popular television shows like Hee Haw.

Some of Newman’s memories of being around the Grand Ole Opry were seeing actors from The Andry Griffith Show – Howard Morris, who played Ernest T. Bass, and George Lindsey, who played Goober on the Andy Griffin Show. Morris was flipping his rock at the Opry as he did on the Andy Griffith Show.

Newman relocated from Nashville to Lafayette, Louisiana, when outlaw country music was gaining popularity among artists such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash.

Looking to establish a band, Newman hung out at the Brass Rail at The Strip, searching for talented guitarists. The band, which performed Cajun rock and was named Coteau (meaning “Ridge” in Cajun French), was active from 1974 to 1977.

Coteau consisted of Cajun fiddler Michael Doucet, currently of Beausoleil, electric guitarists Bruce MacDonald and Dana Breaux, accordion player Bessyl Duhon, drummers Danny Kimball, who left the band to go to farrier school and was replaced by Kenny Blevins, and Newman, who played the bass. Like The Allman Brothers band, Coteau used twin lead guitars. Newman said their music was considered the “Cajun” Grateful Dead, and Jimmy loved their music.

Coteau played at places such as Boo Boo’s Nite Club in Lafayette, Jay’s Lounge and Cockpit in Cankton, and around the Acadiana area in south central Louisiana. Jay’s was a popular stop for musicians such as Asleep at the Wheel and Stevie Ray Vaughn to play when traveling the I-10 corridor. The Red Beans and Rice Revue also frequently performed at Jay’s. Coteau was dismantled because some wanted to go with jazz while others wanted to play more traditional music.

Newman often joined his father on tour.

One of Newman’s biggest thrills was spending a week with singer-songwriter Neil Young around 1978. Young had reached out to Thibodeaux to play fiddle on his upcoming studio album, Comes a Time. Not knowing who Young was, Thibodeaux asked Newman about Young. Newman encouraged Thibodeaux to play with Young on the album. This allowed Newman to hang out with Young and Thibodeaux while enjoying rides throughout Nashville in Young’s 1956 Chevrolet Nomad, listening to tracks recorded day.

The father-son duo and members of Jimmy’s band played at the Cajun Country 1979 Wembley Festival in London, England. The audience well received their performance (see video below). According to Newman, of the places Jimmy played, he loved playing at Wimberly the most.

Jimmy C. Newman and Cajun Country 1979 Wembley Festival London, England featuring Jimmy C. Newman, Ray Kirkland, Gary Newman, Bessyl Duhon, Wade Benson Landry, Burt “Sasquatch” Hoffman, and Terry Wendt. Songs include: Big Bayou, Diggy Diggy Li, and Cajun Stripper

While visiting members of the Red Beans and Rice Revue in Lafayette, Newman met Sharon. They later married and have been living in Broussard, Louisiana. While raising his family, he stopped playing music and went to work at different companies to support his family. He worked for Acadiana Bottling, Mesa Supply Company, and Chiles Drilling Company. After twenty-six years as a buyer and procurement manager for Morton Salt, he retired and started playing music again.

Newman played bluegrass with The Clickin’ Chickens and the Louisiana Purchase Bluegrass Band, and with the American folk band Native Sons.

For ten and a half years, Newman has played with Stop the Clock, a Western swing band, at the Feed & Seed in Lafayette.

In addition to playing with Stop the Clock, Newman plays with The Bucks, where he does most of the singing. The band plays the music of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and others in that genre.

Last month, Newman celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday with family and friends at the Feed and Seed in Lafayette.

In addition to rock and roll and country music, he enjoys listening to rhythm and blues, and world music. He was a board member and Vice-President of Programming for Festival International de Louisiane in the early 2000s. These days, he still enjoys playing music, traveling, and spending time with his family.

One of Newman’s greatest sources of pride in playing music is his opportunity to perform alongside his father.

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