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A History of the Accordion in Americana Music

 


CarterSisters_Cover

Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Invented in 1829, the accordion came to be embraced by people in North America early on….

Soon, up in the mountains and down in the bayous….

in big cities and in small towns….

in the country and in the deserts of the West, as well as deep into Mexico,

on the Great Lakes and the Great Plains…

northern states and Canadian provinces….

the accordion thrived, entertained,  delighted, inspired and brought folks together, to dance and sing….

 

Some of the first to become proficient on the accordion were French educated Creoles from the South,  just a few years after the instrument was invented.

Early Accordionist

This photograph, taken about 1850, just 21 years after the invention of the accordion, indicates that the instrument was already being mastered by African American musicians in Louisiana.

Creole musicians were very well schooled in music and provided entertainment at elite house concerts and elegant parties in Louisiana.

historical African American Accordionist

This musician, probably Creole from Louisiana is unknown to us, but from his fine clothing, he may have been well known in 1870

Young people were eager to make some noise with the accordion. Although it was expensive, it was new and it was radical. With its bellows providing the “lung power”, the accordion impressed women, who saw that they could participate and make music with this rather tiny, relatively light weight and very expressive instrument.

Young woman with her accordion c. 1870

As this “steampunk” teen age girl looks directly into the camera, she proudly and defiantly displays her accordion c. 1870

Because it was loud enough for sound to be carried above the “din”, the accordion was heard in music that emanated from front porches, weddings, social gatherings, dances and as entertainment in theaters and taverns for over 150 years..

The piano accordion evolved from the smaller bisonoric diatonic accordion or “button box”, into a completely different, unisonoric musical instrument. It grew larger when the piano keyboard was added along with the innovative Stradella bass section which used preset chords. These changes empowered players of other types of keyboards to more easily adapt to the instrument.

Historical accordion boys

Brothers NYC c. 1900

The piano accordion was played by artists who were immigrants….

Guido Diero 1910

Guido Diero studied the accordion in Italy,  immigrated to America and worked in a mine in Oregon.  Photo c.1910

PietroDeiro1920

Guido’s younger brother, Pietro, also studied the accordion. Both were very influential for the spread in popularity of the piano accordion in America, as performers and as music publishers. Photo c. 1920

….And it was played by artists who were sons and daughters of  immigrants

Violaturpeinen

Viola Turpeinen was probably the first woman accordionist to record, and certainly the first female accordion star in America. A second-generation Finnish-American, starting in the 1920’s she played the Finnish dance circuit in the upper mid-west region of Michigan / Wisconsin / Minnesota. Eventually based out of New York, she toured widely and it became a tradition for dancers to see her headlining travelling shows every summer. (Accordion Noir) c. 1920

The accordion was popular in live stage productions in Vaudeville

Father with Daughters Vaudeville 1920's

A father and daughters act c.1920’s

The accordion was heard in early recordings of Gospel, Blues and Boogie Woogie………

 

Lead Belly c. 1930

Huddie Ledbetter , known as  Lead Belly,  with his diatonic “Windjammer” c.1930

The Death of Amede Ardoin

amede-ardoin-1075

Amede Ardoin, a diatonic accordionist beloved in  Louisiana, was highly influential in Cajun music. Ardoin died from being horrifically beaten after performing at a white dance in Eunice, LA. This heart breaking event haunted African American musicians who, from that point on, began to shy away from the accordion. Photo c. 1930’s.

 

Through the Great Depression into the war years, the piano accordion was widely used because dances were an important source of entertainment. By the mid 1940’s, so many immigrant Catholics and returning soldiers wanted their children to play the songs of their ancestral homelands on the accordion, that the Roman Catholic Church forgave the instrument its “tavern” reputation and gave it a special status allowing it to be used in church.  Because of this, the piano accordion was suddenly deemed respectable and, like never before, “pent up demand” fed the market for instrument sales and lessons. After World War II, Americans were all working, had more discretionary income and were more likely to be living in cities, towns and suburbs than in the past. To be able to afford musical instruments and lessons became very important to parents as evidence of status, as well as to help their children to become  better students and well rounded individuals.

gang of accordion players

Retro accordion poster II

Some of the roots musicians had, early on, incorporated the accordion into their music. They chose the piano accordion over the diatonic because they wanted to be seen as more “mainstream”.  Anita Carter was the accordion player for Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, in what would have been strictly a “string band” in previous years.

Mother Maybelle, the Carter Sisters with Chet Atkins

Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, along with Chet Atkins. Photo c. 1945

The first woman to play Bluegrass, professionally, was an accordion player….

Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys II

The first woman to be hired as a professional Bluegrass musician was Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester who performed with and was a member of Bill Munro and his Bluegrass Boys. Photo c. 1947

Pee Wee King reinvented what was known as “Hillbilly Music”, and founded a new genre of music known as “Country & Western” music. His Western Swing Band was the first to wear the spangly “Nudie Suit” that came to be associated with Country music.

Pee Wee King V

Probably the most influential musician in Americana music, Pee Wee King helped to create a new genre of music, Country & Western music, combining the two under “one roof”, in the city of Nashville, Tennessee. He even co-wrote the state song! C & W music was among the first genres that was not inspired by the music of Europe. c. 1948

The piano accordion continued to evolve and became synonymous with “class”. The big band dance scene died after World War II, but small combos in swanky clubs became popular.

Art_VanDamme3

Art Van Damme brought the accordion into the world of Jazz. He toured internationally for forty years, performed brilliantly with the instrument and elevated it to an unprecedented level of sophistication. Photo c. 1950

Dick Contino V

Teenager, Dick Contino was earning $4000 a week billed as the “World’s Greatest Accordionist”. He was an enormously popular star who even had a brief film career until he found himself in the middle of a military draft scandal, disappearing for a week when required to report. Although he did serve honorably in the military, in the press, he was tried and convicted as a “draft dodger” for decades, even though he was not. He performed for fifty years and was the most frequently seen guest on the Ed Sullivan Show. c. 1950

The accordion establishment, those that made the marketing and business decisions for the piano accordion, were a highly conservative group.  They set out to sanitize “their” instrument, to prevent it from being rocked by another scandal. They also determined that it should never be associated with social unrest, as the bandoneon later came to be in Argentina (Astor Piazzolla). Through their own fear,  they effectively began to “starve” their own market.

Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla

Through the 1950’s in “Cold War” America, the accordion establishment did not trust, approve of or support the current music of the day or anyone associated with it. They believed that Rock ‘n Roll was contrary to conservative American values.  As a lot of people during the McCarthy era felt, they feared that “Commies” lurked around every corner and suspected that Folk music was a breeding ground for Communism.

With those excuses, publishers felt justified not to use and pay for current hit songs to be reformatted for the piano accordion. It was cheaper to push the “same-old, same-old” European style tunes to a changing demographic. As young people advanced in proficiency with the piano accordion, classical music was promoted because it was the path of least resistance and was already in the public domain.

In the 1950’s, the piano accordion was a white man’s instrument, but males were also leaving the accordion in favor of other instruments. In response to this, women sought recognition and status among performers but were not even spoken of as legitimate musicians and drifted, instead, into teaching the instrument.

 

JoAnne Castle c. 1957

Jo Ann Castle is significant for what she didn’t do, as much as for what she did. A gifted and rare female musician, she performed in Las Vegas clubs as an underage teen, had a best selling instrumental album in 1957 that scored #67 on the Billboard Hot 100. The pretty 18 year old created a lot of excitement and had real star potential. Castle was promptly hired by a well known variety show as an accordionist. After a short time,  as a condition of her employment, it was required that she change her instrument to honky-tonk piano, which at the time, was not her specialty (her repertoire consisted of three songs).This was done to make way for a male accordionist of average proficiency to displace her.

From that point the deflating “bubble” was finally crushed flat as demand for the piano accordion plummeted to a fraction of what had been seen a decade before.

 In the years of post war popularity, the accordion establishment managed to shift the identity of the piano accordion from one of American “grass roots”  to one perceived as  “off shore”. Jazz accordionists found that they had to leave America and travel to Europe to find an audience. Curiously, accordion players stopped singing with their instrument in the 1950’a and 1960’s, which they had freely done in the 1940’s.

In America in the 1960’s, the immigrant’s children had moved on and were protesting and urging “Make Love, Not War”.  The Civil Rights movement had inflamed the cities and the South.  The Viet Nam War and the draft angered America, especially young people. Women were agitating for equality and rights. Music galvanized American youth because they knew that they had a lot to gain or lose. It became their weapon of choice with which to fight back and they were determined that their message, suggestive lyric and angry protest be heard.

The accordion establishment was afraid of it and the musicians and songwriters who created it.

As their market crashed around them and with draft able males defecting from the ranks of accordion players in favor of the guitar and other instruments, the accordion establishment did little to explore new markets for the instrument.  The accordion community had insulated itself so well from the times that there was nothing new allowed in, nor out.

What occurred for the piano accordion was a “brain drain” as creative energy was sucked away from the stylistic evolution of the instrument and refocused on other instruments. Young people could not imagine how the piano accordion could fit into their music because there existed no young innovative players for them to emulate that could have developed the chops to play it.  Young people were not mildly disinterested in the instrument–they loathed and scorned it as it was played in the 1960’s! Their attitude  stuck to the instrument, and is the reason for the “hairy eyeball”  and stupid accordion jokes that so many accordion players are subjected to, today.  Instead of the piano accordion being an option, talented musicians found other instruments with which to express their musical vision. The Hammond B3,  Hohner harmonica, saxophone,acoustic and electronic piano and both electric and acoustic guitar defined the music of the 1960’s,70’s, 80’s, and still do.

In retrospect, the accordion establishment places blame on the conservatism of music teachers or that the piano accordion “fell out of fashion”.  They also blame the invention of the electric guitar for the decline in the accordion market.  They imply that both can’t coexist together, while in the rest of the world, the accordion actually thrived alongside both the electric and acoustic guitars.

New Orleans is not afraid of music or the musicians who create it.  That is why New Orleans is the epicenter for the emergence of major new genres of music.

Zydeco music came out of New Orleans in the 1960’s and it was there that the piano accordion was put to good use by Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band.

Clifton Chenier

“Zydeco” music gained popularity in the early 1960’s with Clifton Chenier, considered by many to be the Father of Zydeco, in his landmark 1965 song “Zydeco Sont Pas Sale.” The word “zydeco” is popularly associated with the French phrase “les haricots sont pas sales,” or “the snap beans are not salty.”

Without a doubt, The Beatles were the gigantic “elephant in the room” during the 1960’s.

Paul McCartney with Accordion

Paul McCartney’s first instrument was the accordion. He frequently used it as he wrote songs for the Beatles. c 1965

Titano Tiger

The Titano Tiger

Ernest and Faithe Deffner, owners of their newly acquired Titano Accordion Company decided it was time to design a more radical accordion to appeal to the youth of America. The Deffners saw the void in the market in the mid-1960’s and looked at it as their great opportunity. They were bold and right to embark on their idea. The Tiger Combo’Cordion was a compact, colorful instrument featuring a ‘quint’ treble tuning for “piercing lead or swinging chords…to flip the crowd”(Hullabaloo Magazine). The main feature of the instrument was the resurrected slanted keyboard which was ergonomic for the position of the human hand, thereby allowing faster finger work.

Faith and Ernest Deffner

Ernest and Faith Deffner

After substantial research and development, the Titano Tiger was rolled out, but, sadly, the Deffners chose a spokesman to endorse their product who was a prominent member of the very “same-old, same-old” accordion establishment from whom young people so desperately wanted to escape. After all their fierce determination,  the Deffners didn’t recognize that by choosing someone not relateable, it was to be their critical error and a “big wet blanket” on their efforts to sell the Tiger to their target market–America’s youth! The futuristic vision of Ernest and Faithe Deffner was derailed because they were afraid of youth culture and its music.  As a result, young musicians didn’t buy the Titano Tiger, which sits today in collections of rare instruments and in museums gathering dust.

The “Blue Accordion” is a Tiger, recently acquired by accordionist Mark Yacavone.

 

But, there were accordionists who thrived outside of the establishment.

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Garth Hudson was a proficient accordionist long before he was hired by Bob Dylan, as a member of The Hawks, renamed The Band. (Photo by Barry Wenzel c. 1968)

Large_Nitty GrittyDirt Band_5

Americana band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had a huge accordion-based hit song in 1972, the now classic “Mr. Bojangles”.

Danny with accordion III

As a child prodigy on the accordion, Danny Federici won Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour in the 1950’s. He graduated from high school,  co-founded a band which became The E Street Band and enlisted a young Bruce Springsteen as his lead singer. Danny performed for nearly 40 years with  The E Street Band until his death in 2008. Photo c. 1973

Jon Hammond

Musician Jon Hammond deliberately pushed the envelope for the accordion in the 1970s. Photo c. 1974

billy-joel-philadelphia-1978

Singer/ Songwriter Billy Joel frequently incorporates the accordion in his music to this day. photo c. 1978

Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac c. 1980

Christine McVie and Lindsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, in their live performance of “Tusk”, used the accordion to replace the entire USC marching band! c. 1982

Tom Waits II

Singer/Songwriter Tom Waits is a prominent advocate of the accordion in his performances and recordings since the early 1970’s. Photo c. 1990

NY Underground artist Phoebe Legere

A classically trained pianist and vocalist, Phoebe Legere used the accordion when she opened for David Bowie in 1990, and still uses it as an underground artist in New York. Photo c. 1990’s

220px-CharlieGillingham

Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows c. 1990’s

Buckwheat zydeco III

Stanley Dural was a break through artist for the piano accordion and was well known in Louisiana as a blues organist even before associating himself with the piano accordion or with Zydeco music. Stanley Dural continued the blues tradition as Buckwheat Zydeco and was the most successful Americana accordionist until his death in 2016. Photo c. 2000

Sheryl Crowe

Sheryl Crowe, prodoucer, vocalist, guitarist, pianist and top recording artist caused quite a stir using the accordion on tour and in her recordings. In doing so, she made a tremendous contribution to the presence of the accordion in Americana music. Photo c. 1998

C.J._Chenier

C.J. Chenier took up where his father, Clifton, left off and performs as a blues and zydeco musician throughout the world. c. 2005

Regine

Regine Chassange shreds on the accordion as a member of Montreal’s Arcade Fire. Photo c. 2000’s

corey-pesaturo-iii

In the 21st Century, Cory Pesaturo became recognized as the most internationally awarded American accordionist of all time. Photo c. 2010.

Ben Lovett with Mumford and Sons

2012 Grammy Award for Best Americana album, “Babel”, featuring the piano accordion, made Mumford and Sons a household name in North America

Johnny Kongos

In 2012, out of the Phoenix Valley arose Arizona’s own homegrown band, KONGOS, who composed and recorded the most successful, piano accordion-based hit song, “Come With Me Now”.  It shattered all records, blew the roof off of perceptions about the instrument, and earned Johnny Kongos and his brothers plenty of contracts and a world wide following.

Bill Haley and the Comets

Also, 2012 was the year that Bill Haley’s group,  the Comets, along with Johnny Grande, were recognized by their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Danny and Bruce

Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, co-founded by the late Danny Federici in New Jersey in 1969, were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 2014.

The piano accordion continues to participate in Americana music, today.

Buxton

Buxton (Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff of Mother Jones, Americana Music Awards, Nashville, 2016)

The+Band+Perry

The Band Perry

 

Not the end…….

 

 

 

 

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Ten Things You Can Do to Promote the Accordion

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana  As a performer, if you want to be noticed–play the accordion, but read this first. (Please note that I am not creating a list of ‘rules’, but, rather, ‘talking points’. Use what you can, but it’s expected that there may be some point that you don’t agree with, or have found that it works differently for you. This article is protected by copyright and can only be used with my permission.)

1)    Safeguard your instrument.

  • It is expensive and not a toy.
  • It is your property so don’t allow anyone to touch it, put it on and try to play it without your permission.
  • Set your boundaries and stick to them.
  • Treat your accordion like it’s your best friend, your child, or your pet by not leaving it outside in the rain, in a hot car, or alone.
  • On a gig, carry it with you when you take a break.
  • Remember that you are responsible if anything happens to your instrument.

2)    Stand up when you perform so that the audience can see you.

  • You are more likely to interact with them, move more freely, play more expressively, make eye contact and be more entertaining. Seated accordionists have a tendency to look down and away from the audience, which makes the performer seem remote and aloof, and your audience could feel shut out. Your intention should be to ‘engage’ the audience in your performance and establish an emotional connection.
  • If you are unable to stand, perhaps your piano accordion is too heavy for you. You could exercise to build strength or get a smaller or lighter accordion. Accordions built today with new age materials, weigh substantially less than in the past. A disproportionately large accordion can be distracting. It should fit your body, be comfortable and have enough bass keys for you.
  • Perhaps getting more thickly padded shoulder straps for your instrument may help to distribute the weight and may also help If you have shoulder strap slippage.
  • A back strap will keep straps from slipping off of your shoulders, but if you need assistance or must go through some gymnastics to secure it, then it may look like you are having a problem with it. Having someone help you with your back strap, backstage, will mean that you will be walking onto the stage with your accordion already on. You may not be able to see equipment and electrical lying around and could trip and fall. And that may be a problem.
  • If you ask yourself, “What do other musicians do?”, the answer is:  they walk confidently onto the stage, put their instrument on, perform while standing, then easily remove their instrument and leave the stage when finished. Just as any professional musician would do with any instrument, you should strive to do the same with your accordion, without any problem. 

Jenny Conlee II

Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists

3)    Practice with a purpose. There is much to be said about how to practice.

  • Practice systematically every day for an hour.
  • No matter what type of instrument you have, practice the bass section of your accordion. Other musicians don’t ignore half of their instrument!  Knowing the bass is essential to give your music dimension and depth, so, know them and don’t be afraid to use them.
  • Practice your bellows action so it is as smooth as possible. Work with your accordion teacher on phrasing, or when to inhale, and exhale (much like a singer does) with the bellows.
  • Have a list of songs, about 6 at a time. Systematically play each, one after the other, every day for a week. At the end of the week, the best one drops off (assuming you know the piece well enough) and is put on a different list of songs that you already know. At some point, perhaps once per week you will revisit those songs and refresh your memory.  Another song that you plan to learn is placed on your practice list, to replace the song that you removed from the list. This system will guarantee that you are always working on new songs, yet not forgetting the songs that you took time to learn. Or come up with your own system.  It’s all about managing your time and effort, and you shouldn’t waste either.
  • Work with a metronome to check that your speed and timing are consistent.
  • Practice your performance by beginning with a quick introduction, getting into the piece quickly, taking your time with it to play it well, then end it smoothly. Why do you need an introduction? So you can settle into the song and draw the listener in. It gives you a chance to get the right tempo and reminds you if you are in the right key.
  • The piece should be arranged and appropriate for the accordion, for you and for the setting.
  • Do not just “wing it”. Put a great deal of thought and care into how you present yourself. Dress to fit the setting and for your performance. Strive to perform each piece from memory, not sheet music or an Ipad. As a musician, you are not just playing music, you are interpreting it and giving a performance.
  • Time each piece so you know how long you will need for your performance. Really great performers spend copious amounts of time on preparation, so that it is second nature after awhile.

4)  Choose music that is special. Song choice is important to your audience and affects their perception of you.

  • Don’t feel you have to “play everything”, then perform passably or even badly; or comply with requests to “play a polka” if you are unwilling to learn to play them well–they are a very demanding genre.
  • Choose a musical genre that you love, dedicate yourself to those songs, and get proficient at playing that type of music. Develop a clearly thought out vision with goals and objectives and decide what you are trying to accomplish, as a musician. Depending on that vision, selecting from multiple genres might be a good objective. Whatever you decide to do is up to you.
  • If you can’t find any songs you care about, compose your own music. Take time to arrange and practice your songs so you can perform them well and subject them to the same care and high standards as you would had they been written by a well-known composer.

5)    Be sensitive to how the accordion is presented to others.

  • By not being well presented, any musical instrument can be annoying. Getting together with fifteen other accordionists (or fifteen of any one instrument, for that matter) is fine if you have a club and want to share ideas. But, please recognize that more than two at a time in public, especially in unison, is too intense for most audiences. To those maniacs that think it is fun, as a group, to use accordions to assault diners with obnoxious performances, I am sure that these events are counterproductive. This approach does not teach people to care about the accordion. In fact, it’s easy to predict that a negative impression of this instrument will be formed or reinforced by such shenanigans.

gang of accordion players

  • Referring to it as a “squeezebox” is inaccurate because the accordion is a musical instrument, not a silly noisemaker.
  • By using the accordion as a prop or as a lame joke, the image of the accordion is seriously diminished.

accordion cartoon

Accordion sign

Welcome to Heaven 001

 Substitute ‘guitar’ for ‘accordion’, and suddenly it’s not funny.

  • This doesn’t imply you can’t strive to be humorous and entertaining. But, take the accordion or whatever instrument you play, seriously, and have some respect for your time and effort.   Think of it this way: if you owned a business and produced a product for sale, it would be a bad business strategy to teach people that your product was a joke. People will not buy your product.  If you are a musician/singer/songwriter,  you want your audience to “buy” into your music, support you and respect you. They won’t if you treat yourself and your instrument as though it is a joke. If you are making fun of the accordion, you are not promoting it, effectively. Perception begins with you because you are the one in control at that moment. Reach higher, and set grander goals for yourself as an artist. Sell your audience on the concept that you are special and  have something special to show them on an instrument that is special. But, before you can accomplish that objective, you have to believe it, yourself.
220px-CharlieGillingham

Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows

  • Know who you are and who your audience will be. The more you understand, the better you can anticipate and plan your performance.
    •By showing pride in yourself, your performance and your instrument of choice, your audience will respect you and recognize that you care about them.

Tink Lloyd

Tink Lloyd of the Grand Slambovian’s Circus of Dreams

6)    Try to mainstream the accordion by starting a band where the accordion isn’t the usual instrument and you are the only accordionist in the group.

  • It can be an unexpected delight to both the audience and to the other musicians in the group.
  • By treating the accordion as though it’s just like any other instrument, ironically, enhances how special and how cool it is. This, more than anything else, promotes the accordion.
  • To be a good accordionist, you don’t have to be the fastest or the loudest player, although that may be a part of what you do. But, keep in mind that music is not an athletic event, and musicians are artists.
  • A good musician is one who is sensitive and knows when to alternate between using restraint and showmanship, when to blend in and when to stand out.
  • A musician is always attempting to emotionally connect with the listener and also to make any artistic judgement as to what the music needs at that moment.

7)    Find your voice! 

  • Sing with the accordion, and learn harmony. Singing with the accordion is seen more now than in the recent past. Sheryl Crow gave a fantastic performance accompanying herself with the accordion, when she sang her hit song, “Strong Enough”.

Although she does nothing with the bass section of her instrument, what I particularly love about Sheryl Crowe’s method of playing is that she is a ‘partner’ with her accordion, harmonizing with it and giving it equal time to be heard along with her voice. She could have simply left the accordion in the background, blandly structuring chords to support her voice. Instead, she chose to use a more dynamic approach, which gives her song fullness and warmth and it allows the accordion to have a real presence in her music.

Mewithoutyou Aaron Weiss

Aaron Weiss of Mewithoutyou

8)    Be visible.

  • Leave your comfort zone and go out and busk! “Busking” is giving a live performance in a public place. You should check with your city about any ordinances that prohibit busking and where it is permitted. If you get out of your comfort zone you will become more comfortable, confident and perform better each time.
  • Live performance is a great way to “test market” your sound, your songs, your image and your ability to relate to an audience. It gives you a chance to assess their reaction to you and what you do. It also helps you to get over your apprehension about appearing in front of others. After a very short while, you are “over it”. You realize that nothing bad will happen to you. People may laugh….but, guess what? You haven’t melted and run away.
  • To those that try to heckle you with their demands because they think they can, just smile, and ignore them (or if they cross your boundaries, either call the police or call it a day.) Performing helps you “build a backbone”, develop patience and character and helps you to learn who you are as a creative individual. Joey Cook presented a totally different image for accordion players when she busked for quite some time. Then she tried out for American Idol in 2015, as a vocalist, and rose to be one the top seven finalists! Even after several years, people remember how noticeable she was. Good for you, Joey! Rock on!
Joey Cook

Joey Cook

  • Look for opportunities to perform in front of others. Some hospitals and nursing facilities look for live performers to entertain their patients. Seniors at your local Senior Center may enjoy a performance from you.
  • Join a musical “meet up” group where there are people who play a variety of musical instruments.
  • Take advantage of “open mic” nights that are locally held at restaurants, coffee shops and theatres in your area.
  • Listen to others as well as perform.  Look for those who are positive, empowering and who enjoy being creative with their music and performance. Good people generate good energy and they can get everyone excited about being there.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for inspiration or collaboration. Also, competition can be interesting. When two collaborate on a song, one can challenge the other to solo to see what you both can create, individually.
  • If available, there is nothing better than an old-fashioned talent contest that will require one to focus and rise to the challenge.
  • In addition to hiring an accordion teacher, take a class about performance to enhance your professionalism.
  • Even if you don’t become a professional entertainer or musician, what you learn by being visible is “portable” and can be transferred to other pursuits in your life. It can make you a stronger person and less likely to feel intimidated by uncertainty or by others.

Bruce Hornsby

Bruce Hornsby

9)    Never give up.

  • If something does not work for you on the accordion, revisit and find out what or how it can work on this instrument. It may be the smallest of details that you haven’t considered that might be bogging you down.
  • Ask your accordion teacher or other musicians for their opinion about your song choice and delivery and how you may improve on your instrument.
  • Listen to others that are more experienced than you are.
  • Model yourself after someone you admire. Your idol doesn’t need to be an accordion player. Art Van Damme, the great Jazz accordionist, admired Benny Goodman, the big band leader and clarinetist. Art successfully learned Goodman’s techniques and applied them to the accordion.
  • Do not listen to anyone who recommends that you change to another instrument. They are not well-intended and do not have your interests at heart.
JoAnne Castle

Jo Ann Castle c. 1957 .

10)   Pass on your knowledge to other people.

  • Try to engage their interest by showing them a different kind of music than has been associated with this instrument. The accordion was removed from mainstream American music at a critical time in pop music history. Someone decided that the accordion should not be involved with American music , when it really could have been. As a result, it was left out of the music scene for decades.
  • For performing accordionists that seek publicity, keep in mind that information control is everything. What is said or written about you and your efforts instantly forms an image and an opinion in the minds of the public. It can get people motivated to come out and hear you play. That’s the point of publicity. Or it can completely turn them off, so that they simply stay home. Don’t allow anyone to define you, your music, or your instrument of choice because they don’t know any better. Don’t allow them to tell the “same old, same old” story all over again, and reinforce stereotypes at your expense.  Move the article forward and away from the stupid accordion jokes, and the distant past of the accordion. All of these are a waste of your time and a ‘road to nowhere’ for you. Tell the writer what you expect them to say about you by providing a bio that outlines interesting points that will help them find an angle for your write up. Insist that they focus on your music and you as an artist.  You deserve the best publicity that you can get, so be involved and be prepared to established the ground rules. If you aren’t sure, write your own promotional material.
  • If you are living in America, doesn’t it make sense to promote the music that is rooted in America, and not just play the music of the rest of the world? By the way, those folks perform their own music, brilliantly. Like us, their music represents who they are as a people and has evolved from their shared experience. It is their identity. They have lived it, and they own it. But, after four hundred years, America has developed its own identity, and surrounding us is music that reflects that fact.

  • People in the U.S. don’t seem to realize that the accordion is not new to American music. It has been a part of our pioneer experience and has been in America since the mid 1800’s. It has been played, not only in the mountains and the bayous, but by folks in the city and in the country, on the prairie and in the desert, for a long, long time. It was played solo and with orchestras, at weddings, dances and social gatherings for over 150 years. Because it was portable, the accordion was used when pianos and organs were too heavy or delicate to transport. Accordions continued to participate throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st, along with pianos and organs, fiddles and guitars. It was used in the early Blues, the Boogie Woogie, Gospel and every American genre of music. The accordion is a critical piece of our music history and we should be proud of that connection, celebrate it and hold the accordion in high regard because of it.

  • But, the accordion must participate in current music to survive. So, please, take your accordion–whatever type you prefer– go and find your audience, and make the most out of any opportunity!

List of Bands that Feature the Accordion

Punk’s 10 Best Accordion Players: A Tribute to accordion Rockers
Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 12:18 PM (PST) by connor_maoil

The sound of the accordion is, in my opinion, one of the best, weirdest, and most unique additions to the punk genre. For most it’s easy to see the instrument as nothing more than a novelty but the truth is there are a lot of very talented musicians whose squeezebox skills can’t be overlooked as a gimmick. As an aspiring punk rock accordionist myself, I wanted to spotlight some of the best in the field.

Check out the list here.

10. (Honorary mention): Eugene Hutz (Gogol Bordello)

Things might have ended up differently for the gypsy troubadour Eugene Hutz if he stuck with his attempt at learning the accordion. In a video interview, Hutz jokes about the difficulties he had trying to learn the instrument:

“Learning the accordion was just impossible. Have you ever tried an accordion? It’s insane. It’s f*cking nuts man, it’s like, to play accordion you must have your brain wired differently. I worship people who can play accordion. I tried for 2 years and ended up withminor scoliosis and, anxiety problem. And that’s when I picked up [guitar].

9. Eric Melvin (NOFX)

While the accordion is rarely up front in the ranks of NOFX, founding guitarist Eric Melvin busts out his giant squeezebox to time to time to please the crowds. Wailing minor waltzes about sleepless nights, Melvin really puts a lot of character into the instrument

I, Melvin

8. Katie McConnell (The Mahones)

I’ve gotta admit that I’ve had a crush on this punk for a long time. McConnell really does a great job of bringing the punk style and hardcore energy to the accordion. Her style of playing seems to draw a good deal of inspiration from The Pogues (above). Seeing any performance by her with The Mahones is an awesome experience that I highly recommend to any lover of celtic punk. Watch for them in your town!

“A Great Night On The Lash” (from “The Black Irish,” 2011, True North Records)

7. Marc Orrell (Dropkick Murphys, 2000-2008)

He’s the one who brought you Shipping Up To Boston. Enough said?

6. Tim Brennan (Dropkick Murphys, 2003-present)

The current recording and touring multi-instrumentalist Tim Brennan has continued to make the accordion a more part of the band’s staple sound.

The Hardest Mile (off 2011′s Going Out In Style)

5. James Fearnley (The Pogues)

One of the pioneers of the punk accordion, James Fearnley, the original and current member of The Pogues, was originally a guitar player. According to Fearnley’s memoir, “Here Comes Everybody: The Story Of The Pogues,” founding banjo member Jem Finer, desperately seeking an accordion for his new band, showed up at Fearnley’s flat with an accordion in a laundry bag and persuaded him to try and learn the instrument.

“Turkish Song Of The Damned“ (from “If I Should Fall From Grace Of God,” 1988, Island Records)

4. Seamus O’Flanahan (The Dreadnoughts)

I’ll just let Seamus speak for himself. (Off “Polka’s Not Dead”, 2010)

3. Matt Hensley (Flogging Molly)

Hensley, a former skateboarder, picked up accordion from guitar like so many others on this list. In addition to skillfully adding to the work of Flogging Molly with his accordion, Hensley is also frequently featured on the concertina and more traditional Irish diatonic button accordion. That’s the kind of thing that tends to really impress the geeky accordion junkies.

“Tomorrow Comes A Day Too Soon” (from “Within A Mile Of Home,” 2004, SideOneDummy)

2. Yuri Lemeshev (Gogol Bordello)

Although not a founding member of the New York gypsy punk band, Yuri Lemeshev has been a vital part of the band for over a decade. Hailing from Russia, Lemeshev has to be one of the most technically skilled members of the scene. And not only can he knock down tunes masterfully, he can also move around and have a good ol’ punk time on stage while doing it.

“Supertheory Of Supereverything” (from “Super Taranta!”, 2007, SidOneDummy)

1. Franz Nicolay (World/Inferno Friendship Society)

In addition to that moustache, Franz Nicolay brings in the background of a converted rock piano player (most notably in The Hold Steady) and has spread the use of the accordion all over the genre. Nicolay probably has the most impressive resume of them all; in addition to being a former longtime member of the punk circus collective World/Inferno Friendship Society and his own collective Anti-Social Music, Nicolay has recorded and toured with the likes of Against Me!, Leftover Crack, The Dresden Dolls, The Loved Ones, and Mischief Brew. Check out a complete list of his recording and producer credits over here.

“Your Younger Man” (from “Red Eyed Soul,” 2006)

Had enough yet? If not, check out some up-and-coming bands featuring the accordion.

The First Chairs (ska)

Roughneck Riot (celtic punk)

Larry And His Flask (cow punk)

The Real Mckenzies (celtic punk)

Mad Caddies (ska/swing punk)

The Mighty Regis (celtic punk)

Crash Nomada (gypsy punk)

Joey Briggs (solo from The Briggs)

Ramshackle Glory (folk punk)

Feudalism (folk punk)

Lucero (cow punk)

This is a list of articles describing popular music acts that incorporate the accordion.

Band or musician Accordionist Style
Agalloch  ? Folk metal, doom metal, black metal, neofolk, post-rock
Arcade Fire Régine Chassagne
Richard Reed Parry[1]
Indie rock
The Band Garth Hudson Americana
Beirut Perrin Cloutier Combines elements of Eastern European and folk sounds
Calexico Martin Wenk Rock
Counting Crows Charlie Gillingham Rock
The Decemberists Jenny Conlee Folk rock
Deep Forest Michel Sanchez Combines electronic beats with world music
Del Amitri Andy Alston Rock
Detektivbyrån Anders Flanders Combination of electronica, folk and French pop
DeVotchKa Tom Hagerman Indie rock
The Dropkick Murphys Tim Brennan Celtic punk
The E Street Band Danny Federici
Charles Giordano
Rock
Equilibrium  ? Viking metal, folk metal, symphonic black metal
Finntroll  ? Folk metal, black metal, humppa
Flogging Molly Matt Hensley[2] Celtic punk
Folkearth  ? Viking metal, folk metal, black metal
Gogol Bordello Yuri Lemeshev Gypsy punk
Gotan Project Nini Flores Tango, Electronic
Great Big Sea Bob Hallett Traditional Newfoundland folk and rock
Green Day Tré Cool Punk rock
The Hooters Rob Hyman Rock
Jason Webley Self Combination of traditional music, romani music, punk
John Mellencamp  ? Rock. Has included the accordion in most of his music since 1987’s The Lonesome Jubilee.
Julieta Venegas Self Latin pop
Jump, Little Children Matthew Bivins Combines Irish influences with an alternative rock sound
Katzenjammer  ? Pop
Korpiklaani Juho Kauppinen Folk metal
Lemon Demon Neil Cicierega Indie rock
Mägo de Oz Sergio Cisneros Folk metal, folk rock
MewithoutYou Aaron Weiss Alternative Rock
Moonsorrow Henri Sorvali Folk metal
Motion Trio (Accordion Trio) Collaborations with other artists (such as Bobby McFerrin and Michał Urbaniak)
The Pogues James Fearnley Irish punk, pub music
Skyforger  ? Folk metal, black metal
Silvestre Dangond Juancho De la Espriella Vallentos, Modern and very popular Colombian music
Sound Horizon Revo Combination of many genres, ranging from heavy metal to classical
Stolen Babies Dominique Lenore Persi Avant-garde metal
Styx Dennis DeYoung Hard rock, progressive rock
Svartsot Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen Folk metal, Viking metal
That Handsome Devil Jeremy Page and Andy Bauer Alternative rock, alternative hip hop
They Might Be Giants John Linnell Alternative rock
Tiger Lillies Martyn Jacques Brechtian and gypsy cabaret
Tom Waits  ? Jazz, rock, blues, folk, experimental
Tosca Tango Orchestra Glover Gil Nuevo tango, classical music
Turisas Janne Mäkinen Folk metal, Viking metal
The Twilight Sad Andy MacFarlane Scottish folk rock, indie rock
Vitas Vitas (studio), ? (live) Eclectic Russian pop
“Weird Al” Yankovic Self Parody music
Windir Valfar Folk metal, Viking metal, black metal
The World/Inferno Friendship Society Franz Nicolay[3] Cabaret punk

Ten Best Accordion Rock and Roll songs

http://ultimateclassicrock.com/accordion-songs/


A History of Blues Accordion

ACCORDION

By Edward M. Komara The accordion reached its peak popularity with African American musicians between the end of Reconstruction (1865-1877) and the early twentieth century. Clarence Tross, a West Virginian musician, reported that it was ”mostly the colored man” playing accordions in that period, and a contemporary from coastal Virginia remembered that accordions were ”the only kind of music we had back then.” In Mississippi, some of the earliest ensembles playing blues used accordions, and one accordionist, Walter ”Pat” Rhodes, was among the earliest Delta blues singers to make records.
As the first mass-produced instrument marketed to rural blacks, the accordion served as the precursor to the mass marketing of guitars that fueled the growth of rural blues. Even so, few early blues musicians played accordions and by the mid-1930s a number of factors combined to bring about the demise of its use in almost any popular black music. With the emergence of zydeco—the blues-influenced music of the French-speaking African American population of southwest Louisiana—in the late 1950s a new bluesy accordion sound emerged. Zydeco showcased accordion virtuosity the way blues bands featured the electric guitar. In the hands of master accordionist Clifton Chenier, the accordion achieved unprecedented credibility as a blues instrument.
Types of Accordions
Two types of accordions concern us here: the diatonic button accordion and the piano accordion. All accordions are two rectangular boxes connected by a bellows with the melody notes on the right side and the accompaniment chords on the left side. As the name implies, the button accordion has buttons for both melody and accompaniment. The diatonic scale is the same scale found on the single-key harmonicas (such as the Marine Band) commonly played by blues harpists. Like the slots on those harmonicas, each button on the accordion produces a different tone depending on whether the bellows are pushed or pulled. The original design was for a single row in a single key, but later models featured two and three rows in related keys allowing the accordionist to play in multiple keys. The accompaniment may have as few as two buttons or up to twenty-four in various configurations. This single-row design is the model still popular with the Cajuns of southwest Louisiana.
Diatonic accordions dominated sales to the general populace from the 1840s to 1925 when sales of the piano accordion began to dominate. This instrument offered several immediate advantages over the button accordion. First, the piano keyboard offered a full chromatic scale that sounded the same note regardless of the bellows direction. secondly, the accompaniment provided up to 128 buttons arranged in bass-chord combinations to allow playing of almost any chord progression. The button accordion was reduced to a niche instrument while the piano accordion became wildly popular in America and remained so until the advent of rock ‘n’ roll.
Pre-Blues Usage
One of the earliest photographic images of an American accordionist is a daguerreotype from 1850 of a black man from a southeast Louisiana plantation playing a button accordion. The slave narratives collected by the works Progress Administration in the 1930s contain recollections of accordions being played as accompaniment for dancing. The largest concentration of accordion players occurred in the post-Civil War period, a time referred to as Reconstruction (1865-1877). The newly emancipated slaves purchased instruments with their own earnings and they seem to have bought accordions in significant numbers. Accordions were cheap, lightweight, durable, loud, and provided built-in accompaniment.
Mississippi Blues
In Mississippi, older relatives of Big Joe Williams, K. C. Douglas, Jim Brewer, Eli Owens, and Henry Townsend all played accordion. Two of the most important Mississippi accordionists were Homer Lewis and Walter ”Pat” Rhodes. Lewis performed with blues guitarist Charley Patton at Dockery’s plantation in the early part of the twentieth century in an ensemble made up of one or two guitarists, Lewis, and a fiddler. It was likely a popular sound—Rhodes, a street singer from nearby Cleveland, regularly played in an ensemble with similar instrumentation. In 1927 he became the first Sunflower County musician to record. His recording of ”Crowing Rooster Blues” accompanied by Richard ”Hacksaw” and Mylon Harney on guitars precedes Patton’s own more famous recording of ”Banty Rooster Blues” by two years. This record, backed with ”Leaving Home Blues,” is the only commercial blues recording in English that used the accordion until the emergence of zydeco. Folklorist John Lomax did record another Mississippi accordionist in 1937 for the Library of Congress. Blind Jesse Harris sang ballads and reels for the most part, but did perform a memorable version of the popular blues tune ”Sun Gonna Shine in My Door Someday.”
Both the Harris and Rhodes recordings show how hard it is to play blues on the diatonic button accordion. The instrument is incapable of playing many of the slides, glissandos, and flatted notes that are dominant features of blues music. Both men stop playing while they sing and play simple melodic lines using only bellows shakes to emulate the vocal line. These shortcomings made it easy for a number of musicians who started on the accordion to decide to switch to guitar as soon as one became available. Some of those young musicians included Big Joe Williams, Blind Willie McTell, and McKinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters. Huddie Ledbetter or ”Leadbelly” was born in 1885 in the far northwest corner of Louisiana where he learned to play the button accordion for the local dances called ”Sukey Jumps” with the older musicians in the area. As a young adult he switched to the twelve-string guitar, but continued to play the accordion, eventually recording four tunes on it for various small New York record companies in the early 1940s.
Amede Ardoin and Creole Blues
A unique blues accordion tradition, unrelated to the northwest Louisiana style played by Leadbelly, developed in southwest Louisiana among the French-speaking people of African descent. Their music synthesized elements of the French Caribbean, Cajun, American Indian, French, and African (Wolof and Bambara) cultures. The music of English-speaking African Americans made a relatively late entrance into this mix. For example, accordionist Sidney Babineaux recalled first hearing the blues on a Bessie Smith record in the late 1920s. Blues were considered risque and crude and were banned from Creole dances. Still the most influential musician of the period, Amede Ardoin, recorded a handful of ”blues” songs. These did not follow the chord structure common to the twelve-bar format, but instead followed the harmonic pattern caused by the left-hand accompaniment of the accordion. Ardoin played his blues in the ”cross position” that blues harmonica players commonly use and this caused the instrument’s standard accompaniment to be reversed. Accordionists cannot play the critical fifth chord; they can merely imply it, leaving the blues with an unresolved feel.
Ardoin’s blues conceded structure to this harmonic reality, but not to the spirit ofthe blues. His vocals are blues inflected, full of flatted thirds and sevenths and the slurs and glissandos associated with the best Delta blues singing. His most distinct blues records include ”Blues de Basile,” ”Les Blues de Voyage,” and ”Les Blues de Crowley.” Ardoin’s playing career ended in late 1930s when he was beat up by a group of white patrons at a dance, run over, and left for dead. The incident caused Ardoin to lose his mind and led to his eventual commitment to a Louisiana asylum for the insane where he eventually died. His two steps and waltzes are still performed by both Cajuns and Creoles, but it is his blues in particular that influenced zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier.
Zydeco
Ardoin’s final recordings made in December 1934 were the last by a Creole musician until 1954. During this undocumented period, musical influences from the greater English-speaking African American culture became more important in Creole music. Blues, which had often been taboo even in Ardoin’s time, became an integral part of the repertoire of younger Creoles. The ”rub board” or ”frattoir” became the standard for accompaniment of the accordion and accordionists began to favor multiple-row accordions. In 1954 a Lake Charles appliance dealer named Eddie Shuler recorded one of these younger accordionists, Boozoo Chavis. Shuler recruited Houston-based bandleader Classie Ballou to accompany Chavis and the resulting record, ”Paper in My Shoe,” became a huge regional hit. Chavis’s success gave a visibility to this new music outside of the French-speaking community. The success of Paper in My shoe” was partially responsible for getting Clifton Chenier signed by Specialty Records in 1955.
Clifton Chenier
Clifton Chenier has the distinction of being the first Creole musician to master the piano accordion. With a full four-octave piano keyboard, Chenier could emulate the licks of any blues pianist, but the bellows-driven free reeds created a much more nuanced, vocal quality similar to that of blues harpists. Chenier also used the full 128 accompaniment buttons to approximate the left hand of boogie-woogie and blues pianists. His recordings for Specialty Records such as ”Boppin’ the Rock” and ”All the Things I Did for You” display the masterful blues playing that garnered him a large regional audience throughout the Gulf Coast.
While other Creole musicians remained local or, like Chavis, retired, Chenier embarked on endless touring, both nationally and internationally, and slowly developed a following for his style, which was now labeled zydeco. The name derived from the title of a traditional Creole dance Les Haricots Sont Pas Sale” ( The Snap Beans Are Not Salty”) cut to a phonetic spelling of the Creole pronunciation of haricots (snap beans). Chenier, billed as the ”King of Zydeco,” scored his largest regional hits with his blues tunes: Louisiana Blues,” Black Gal,” and Black Snake Blues.” As a national presence, he performed at venues that commonly presented blues performers, which created a large crossover audience for zydeco. For Americans he presented a completely new image of the accordion as a soulful instrument that contrasted greatly with their preconceptions of saccharine sweet accordion music that were drawn from Lawrence Welk’s popular TV show.
Chenier’s talent combined with tireless touring and consistent recordings brought zydeco a national popularity that allowed other zydeco performers to follow on the path that he had blazed. This included Chavis, who returned from retirement to have enormous success with his own more rural version of the music. Still Chenier remained the King until his death in 1987. His legacy is heard in the playing of his son, C. J. Chenier; Stanley Dural, aka Buckwheat Zydeco,” his former organist; and Nathan Williams. All play piano accordion in a blues style that owes greatly to Chenier. The success of zydeco and quality of Chenier’s blues performances have inspired many to pick up the accordion and will continue to inspire more.
Bibliography
Savoy, Ann Allen. Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People. Vol. 1. Eunice, LA: Bluebird Press, 1984.
Snyder, Jared. ”Boozoo Chavis, His Own Kind of Zydeco Man.” Sing Out! 44, no. 1 (Fall 1999): 3441.
___. ”Breeze in the Carolinas: The African American Accordionists of the Upper South.” The Free-Reed Journal 3 (Fall 2001): 19-45.
___.”Leadbelly and His Windjammer: Examining the African American Button Accordion Tradition.” American Music 12 (1994): 148-166.
___. ”The Legacy of the Afro-Mississippi Accordionists.” Black Music Research Journal 17, no. 1 (Spring 1997): 37-58.
Tisserand, Michael. The Kingdom of Zydeco. New York: Arcade Press, 1998.
Discography
Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Music (1978, Blue Ridge Institute BRI 001). (This recording includes non-blues accordion by Isaac ”Boo” Curry and Clarence Waddy.)
Ardoin, Amede
Amede Ardoin: Pioneer of Louisiana French Blues 1930-1934 (1995, Arhoolie Folklyric 7007).
Chavis, Boozoo
Refer to The Kingdom of Zydeco and Boozoo Chavis, His Own Kind of Zydeco Man for a more complete discography. The Lake Charles Atomic Bomb (1990, Rounder 2097). (Contains some of his earliest hits.)
Chenier, Clifton
Refer to Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People for a more complete discography. Some of his earliest recordings and greatest hits include the following: Bayou Blues (1970, Specialty Records SPCD-2139-2). Zydeco, Volume One: The Early Years (1989, Arhoolie Folklyric CD-307).
60 Minutes with the King of Zydeco (1994, Arhoolie Folk-lyric CD-301).
Harris, Blind Jesse
”Sun Gonna Shine in My Door Some Day.” LC-1331-A-1. Reissued on Field Recordings, Volume 4, Mississippi & Alabama 1934-1942 (1998, Document DOCD-5578).
Leadbelly
Each of Leadbelly’s accordion pieces are on different records:
A Leadbelly Memorial Volume, Volume II (1963, Stinson Records SLP 19).
Take This Hammer (1968, Folkways FTS 31019).
Global Accordion: Early Recordings (2001, Wergo SM 1623).
Rhodes, Walter “Pat”
“The Crowing Rooster” (Columbia 14289-D). Leaving Home Blues (Columbia 14289-D).

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Clifton Chenier, Louisiana Blues Accordionist

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifton_Chenier