Louisiana’s Debbie Hardy LaGrange Fights Parkinson’s Diagnosis, Enlists Louis Michot’s Melody Makers To Realize Lifelong Dream

If ever there was someone who personifies resilience and possesses a can-do spirit, it’s Arnaudville, Louisiana native Debbie Hardy LaGrange. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2010, just a few short years after her husband had passed away, the former operating room nurse decided it was time to fulfill a lifelong dream. In 2017, at age 65, she wrote and recorded her first song, and American Songwriter was a big part of the song’s creation.

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Now, three years later, the 68-year old firecracker blessed with a Southerner’s gift for storytelling releases a new song, “La chanson des moustiques” (“The Mosquito Song”), in advance of an upcoming full-length album featuring LaGrange’s lyrics and collaborations with other musicians, vocalists and writers.

“La chanson des moustiques” (“The Mosquito Song”) is co-written with Grammy-winning Cajun musician Louis Michot. Both shared a commitment to ensuring that the language of their parents, grandparents and forebears — Cajun French — will survive to enrich the lives of their children and those that will come.

The track features Michot’s Melody Makers members Bryan Webre, Kirkland Middleton and special guest, Zydeco eminence Corey Ledet. The song was recorded and mixed by Mark Bingham at Nina Hwy in Henderson, Louisiana and mastered by Mike Hogan in New Orleans.

“La chanson des moustiques” (“The Mosquito Song”) is a hypnotic journey through Bayou country, filled with Southern charm and mystery. Michot’s fiddle sets the tone with ominous mosquito-like sounds while the Melody Makers lay a modal-sounding groove for LaGrange’s metaphorical tale of never letting the naysayers and pests steal your love of music.

Congratulations to you! How does it feel to be able to say you’ve finally released a CD?

I’m feeling a little more than full of myself. I’m feeling accomplished. These past three and a half years I’ve been living on Fantasy Island with only a dream of becoming a songwriter. I can say with certainty, if I sacrifice sleepy days and dim lit nights, study hard and work, work, work to bend words and phrases, fish for adjectives, wrap them up,  straighten them out, put ‘em all in a box, spill them onto the floor, reposition them, then, write that rewrite # 101 fresh as my first draft, some musically gifted person like Louis Michot will come along and together, we’ll make my lyrics dance!

To see all of my mixing harden into something I can hold is priceless! Yep, I’m feelin’ good!

Most important, I’m feeling beholden to so many people who bought shares of “Debbie’s Stock” based solely on my promise to deliver the goods. They came to believe in my talent and commitment to the art and business of crafting a song after that fact. They heard it in my voice. They listened to my unabating drone and dramatic drawl. They patiently tolerated my incessant repetition of rhyme. The honesty of their encouragement fueled more writing with a need to make it better. They know who they are. I love ‘em all! Merci, Merci, Merci pour toutes les annees! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for all the years!

Tell us about how you decided you wanted to write a song.

In 2010 I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which had been chasing me for 10 years prior. Now I had a name for that beast. I knew that eventually I would need someone to help care for me in my home. The price for that privilege is high.  Since I couldn’t work in the operating room anymore, I went looking for a job. I googled stay at home jobs for retirees.

I was making a very short list out of that long list of opportunities, fast running out of enthusiasm. Then, there it was, Songwriting! Glory Hallelujah! I’d found my calling! Daddy left me with a world of words and a love of music.

What do the lyrics for “La chanson des Moustiques” (“The Mosquito Song”) mean?

La Chanson des Moustiques! The Song of Mosquitoes! The Mosquito Song! If you’re gonna write words for a good Cajun French song they better add up to a smart and straightforward lyric. Witty goes a long way!

My initial reason for writing this song was to bring people to my Mosquito Tees website, where they could buy one of my newly designed mosquito T-shirts. As I started to write, it came to sound more of an anthem that could’ve been written by my Cajun ancestors.

“La Chanson des Moustiques” is a tale about a late afternoon gathering for a Cajun throw-down where people are sitting along the banks of a bayou, a band is playing, friends are boiling crawfish. When out of nowhere, they hear the drone of a swarm of seriously big suckers directly in front of them. No time to move, they sat there and swatted the stickers while the pesky mosquitoes did their sadistic stinging! For that moment, the mosquitoes stole the music!

When the dust settles and instead of packing up and heading home, the determined group get up on the dance floor and come back for more! They scratch and dance!

Some advice on befriending the positive (good mosquitoes) and swatting away the negative forces of living (bad mosquitoes): In Louisiana, when you talk about mosquitoes it cooks up an étouffée (smothered mix) of words and feelings. You go from laughing to crying, ecstasy to pain in 1.2 seconds. Those stinging drones are here to stay. We have to learn to live with them and their injections of pain, but, under no circumstances do they get to steal our music and ruin our dreams!

Grater et Danser! Laissez pas les moustiques voler la musique!

“Scratch and Dance! Never let the mosquito steal the music!”

How did the musicians help you achieve your dream of recording this song? Take us inside the session.

I’d been working with Louis Michot for some time. I was beginning to understand his methods and absence of madness. After testing his patience by sending him only a few dozen emails and receiving responses like awesome, this is great, where’d you find this, keep sending, I knew I was clear for takeoff! The bombardment began!

At first, hesitant, I finally handed off my ballad to Louis, wrapped up tightly with every fiber of my being and, I imagined, with the blessing of my Daddy, who had an ongoing love affair with his precious language Francaise! I talked myself down from the edge.

I thought I’d done a bang-up job with “La Chanson des Moustiques.” Only something like 182 redrafts! I was certain he would convey the message that from here on out there was really no need to send him a rewritten transcription when I substituted a period for a comma. No, Louis never mentioned my tendency for prolific revisions!

My latest rendition had across the top of each chorus a line of lowercase m’s (mmmmmm). I included a video on how to make Mosquito sounds on the fiddle and for good measure a TED Talk on the real reason why mosquitoes buzz.

I’d only met some of the band members casually. I’d heard about the famous Mark Bingham, but I’d never laid eyes on him. I’d danced to the brilliant music of Corey Ledet, yet, I had no idea how masterful he was at squeezing that box of notes.

Early morning, on the day of recording, Louis came over to my house to go over a few questions he had about the song. I remember telling him that it had to be one of the best dance songs ever written. I told him it had to be bluesy.

After our conversation I walked him into the kitchen then proceeded to handoff to him the ultimate bribe for a bunch of guys going into the studio to do what they love to do best, create music. It was incentive to ensure that no one would leave for lunch or snacks.

I’d prepared my special version of sloppy Joe’s with tender strips of sirloin, finely ground premium round steak, a bushel of onions, every color of bell pepper under the sun, fresh garlic, green onions, parsley etc. and homemade buns they could slather it all on. I think I made a fruit salad and some other vegetable. They could wash it all down with 2 gallons of fresh pressed lemonade.

Later that afternoon I went to join “The Band” at Mark’s Nina Highway Studio to record my part. I figured by then the players were needing a little more sugar. I brought with me my malt-making machine and all the necessary trimmings. As lagniappe, I threw in 3 or 4 pounds of boudin.

Bingo! I hit Play Dirt! It turned out that Kirkland loves chocolate malts. Now, I was certain that my favorite drummer in the world would hit those sticks for as long as I could spin out his ice creamy beverage. We were good to go!

Ms. Betty, my partner in crime, had perfectly spaced and expertly typed out my lyrics on crisp white sheets of professional paper.

Louis placed a stool in front of my microphone.

He and I had already covered every bit of musical ground possible concerning this mosquito song. He had earlier shared our thoughts with Mark, Corey, Kirkland and Bryan. Tracks were already recorded.

By the time I walked in our song was close to becoming a reality. The boys thanked me profusely for the bounty Louis had carried in a few hours before. What they did for me was warmly welcome me as an equal. That was all I needed to recite my piece of the pie with as much conviction as Master P (Parkinson’s disease) would allow.

Before leaving I took another look around Mark Bingham’s room of registration, littered with all manner of music madness and felt the need to genuflect.

Louis had listened and he delivered … BIG-TIME!

That evening he and his band made music at a wedding reception in Arnaudville. It was late that night when I vividly remember walking into the kitchen and seeing what looked like a giant bouquet of the most beautiful wedding flowers walking past my windows. Louis’s head was hidden behind this huge spray of splendor!

He walked into the house and handed me this magnificent bouquet from one hand and a CD of “La Chanson des Moustiques” hot off the presses.

I swiftly slipped the disc into my Bose machine and cranked up the volume to almost full tilt. We listened in absolute amazement to what sounded like the deafening drone of a surge of silvery mosquitoes colliding with the vibrations of one of the best dance songs ever written! Oh My! My first thought, THIS IS GOOD!

You wrote your first song only a few years prior to The Mosquito Song, correct?

My first structurally correct and fully completed song is, “One Love Song Away.” Hate to disappoint, but I finished it maybe three years ago. I was 65 years old.

You recorded that song at Beaird Music in Nashville. They’re great at helping people achieve their goal and I understand you didn’t have much in terms of music when you contacted them.

Actually, I stumbled onto them with an, at best, second-rate lyric and no melody anywhere in sight or sound.

I was trying to enter the American Songwriter Lyric Contest. The computers were down, and instructions were to try again later. I began reading about the judges, one of whom was Larry Beaird, who owns Beaird Music Studios, where Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard recorded two of their tracks for their last duet album, Django and Jimmie. I thought Larry looked like a nice guy who might help me.

Nothing to lose, I fired off an email to his studio manager Tytus. I typed my heart out. I told him that I have two children and then, my husband died and then, shortly afterwards I found out that I had Parkinson’s disease and then, I was in need of money for my in-home care. All true and sounding just a little too dramatic. Finally, I confessed to him that I was going to raise that money by attempting to write a hit country song! I shared no shame. I couldn’t even spell the word.

Whatever went through that poor boy’s mind didn’t phase him. He fired right back, do you have a melody for your lyric? I told him I didn’t. He suggested that I go to Sandy Ramos’s website, thesongtuner.com . He said that Sandy could help me tighten up the lyric and develop a melody for my song. After that, he instructed me to come back to him to set a date to record. 

I was on my way! Nashville, here I come! Everybody but a teaspoonful of people thought I had LOST MY MIND!

All that kept buzzing thru through my brain was: Follow your dream! Laissez pas les moustiques voler ta musique! Don’t let the mosquitoes steal your music!

What words of musical inspiration can you offer other people affected by Parkinson’s disease?

Sing! Sing! Sing! https://spinditty.com/learning/What-Singing-Does-To-Your-Brain

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